Paro goes to Hollywood

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Emily Mongan
Emily Mongan

It's not too often that I see topics that we cover at McKnight's spill over into pop culture. Especially not on a brand new, critically acclaimed Netflix comedy series.

“Master of None” was created by and stars comedian Aziz Ansari, who played Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation, so I expected it to be funny. And it is, incredibly so. But it manages to tackle a lot of real-life issues, like growing up with immigrant parents, racism on television and misogyny.

I had reached episode eight of the series — lovingly titled “Old People” — during my new Sunday ritual (binge watching a TV show while cleaning my apartment) when I heard a familiar name: Paro.

In the episode, Ansari's character goes along with a friend to visit his grandfather. They first viewed the visit as a boring, time wasting chore until they started asking him for stories about his time in the army. Their visit ends with him introducing them to Paro, a robotic seal he received at the VA hospital to keep him company.

From there, the episode split. One storyline follows Ansari's friend after he inherits Paro from his grandpa, and goes on to gift the fluffy faux seal to an older man in his apartment building. The other shows Ansari's character visiting his girlfriend's grandmother in an assisted living facility, and then “breaking her out” for a dinner at an Italian restaurant after hearing her complaints about her living situation.

The majority of the episode focused on the unlikely duo's dinner, where they swap stories about her life before she got married and had kids, and any regrets she had about the life she lived. She gives him relationship advice, confides in him that she felt abandoned by her family when they “stuck” her in the facility after a fall. She then proceeds to blow his mind, and his preconceived notions about seniors, when she shares that she once hitchhiked on an ice truck from New York to New Jersey to see Frank Sinatra perform.

A lot of the episode is played up for laughs, but the stories it depicts are a clear message to the show's 20- and 30-something demographic: Don't write off your elders as boring or uninteresting. They've lived full, exciting lives, and paved the way for you to be here.

In long-term care facilities, the Paro robots have been used to calm, entertain and reach out to residents with dementia. In a way, the “Master of None” episode used Paro in a similar way, to reach out to its millennial audience and use its adorable charms to teach a lesson.

The series as a whole has been getting rave reviews and praise for opening up a conversation about topics that can be difficult to talk about, or have been overlooked by other shows. If “Old People” resonated with other viewers as much as it did with me, I'd speculate (and hope) that your facilities may see a slight uptick in visits from residents' grandchildren, asking questions about their lives, interests and experiences before age brought them to a long-term care facility.

At the very least, we can expect an influx of Google searches by young people wondering if Paro is real, and how they can get their hands on one.

Emily Mongan is Staff Writer at McKnight's. Follow her @emmongan.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.