This episode starts with Tom Riley minding Whit’s End for Whit, while he visits the cemetery on the anniversary of his wife’s death. Connie is curious about her, so Tom tells a story.
Five years ago, Jenny Whitaker was advocating the renovation of the Filmore, an old rec center, which meant taking on new, modern, profit motivated Councilman Glossman. She opens with a passionate appeal to the council on its long history and nostalgic value to the community. Glossman tears this down in a moment. It’s old, but not even close to historically significant. At best, it has sentimental value. The council takes a break and Whit expresses some concerns to Jenny about how worked up she is. He admires her dedication, but doesn’t think it’s the most important issue in the world, and besides she’s been fighting one of those lingering colds that just hasn’t gone away. I’m sure that won’t come up again.
So what does Glossman want, and why does Jenny feel so strongly about this issue? Well, at first Jenny gets a policemen up to testify about juvenile delinquency, which made me think the Filmore used to have programs that effectively rehabilitated teens who were into drugs or something. But nope, Odyssey doesn’t have a delinquency problem. Of course not. Jenny argues that the reason they don’t have a problem is that places like the Filmore keep kids off the streets… you know, I should just cut to the point they take forever to make. The center is going to be torn down and the land sold to a mall, and that mall will have video games! Video games!!! VIDEO GAMES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Apart from saying “video games” in a voice most of us reserve for “North Korea,” Jenny’s main argument is that kids these days grow up so fast and they need a place where they can be children. I can’t honestly say I agree with that. I can’t honestly say I disagree either. I can’t figure out what the hell that means. Does Jenny mean that children are constantly required to sit and be quiet, and not given enough opportunities to move? Does she mean that we sometimes expect adult self-control from a two year old? If so, I’m right there with her. Is “growing up too fast” code for “know about sex”? Or even, “being taught sex ed that isn’t abstinence only”? If so, I’m not putting up with that bullshit from the same people who tell six year olds to cover our knees in case they remind grown-ups of breasts.
To be honest, given how often people in this episode say generically nostalgic things about the good old days, I suspect what she really means is that modern childhood is not identical to her childhood. Ideas and technology that she saw invented are the new normal for today’s children. Some things that were normal to her, in turn have gone away. To feel a sense of loss over that is natural but to actually expect the world to work differently is extremely silly.
Anyway, big bad modernizing arcade loving Glossman points out that renovating the center will cost money, selling the land will raise money, and she has provided no real reason to keep the building except for some sentimental value and moral panic. Which, based on the debates that have taken up half the episode is, um, accurate. You wouldn’t guess that from Jenny’s reaction, though. She storms on with won’t somebody please think of the children and what happened to the good old days when people cared about each other, and faints in the middle of the council.
Yup, she’s fallen prey to the literary cough of death. Of course, Whit’s initial reaction is to blame the building and the activists, but then he takes a trip to the building, and meets a little girl who is just so sad that its going to be torn down. She loves coming to play house, a game that she clearly can’t play anywhere else. She doesn’t want a mall with video games, because “you see one space alien, you’ve seen them all.” All she wants is to keep coming to the old building with her Mommy. Oh, and her name is Jenny.
So naturally Whit storms the council and buys the building out from under Glossman’s nose, giving him a lecture on how some people like the old things and we need to look after our kids. Oh yeah, despite living a very modest lifestyle Whit is insanely wealthy. This comes up every now and then.
So that’s how Whit’s End happened.
What honestly bothers me most about this episode, apart from the overuse of saccharine cliches, is that there’s the nugget of a good idea here. I don’t actually have a problem with promoting recreation that isn’t about staring at a screen all day. I do think the desire to make everything profitable can remove all entertainment that costs under twenty bucks, and that’s a problem. Above all, I think communities need spaces to just have fun together, whether they are rich or poor. In fact, one of my favorite shows of all time is largely about that.
What makes that show great is that it doesn’t boil issues down to simple, two sided good guy bad guy teams. I mean, sometimes there are arbitrarily obstrictive jerks, like Councilman Jam, but then the show actually bothers to establish that he’s an asshole. Glossman is talked about as if he was utterly despicable, but every stance he takes is completely reasonable, and he doesn’t have a bad personality. He doesn’t have a personality, period. On Parks and Rec, the writers would have bothered to characterize him, and also had the cast address his valid objections, regardless of their personal dislike. Perhaps they would have saved the Filmore with a fundraiser, or rented some concession stands to local businesses.
And, you know, then I would find myself able to have a complex opinion on events as they unfold, instead of being forced to side with the bloodsucking politician.