‘Parks and Recreation’ – ‘Campaign Ad’: Pros and cons

Senior Television Writer
01.19.12 78 Comments


A review of tonight’s “Parks and Recreation” coming up just as soon as the pretender to the crown of Alsace-Lorraine gives me a dog…

As mentioned this morning, NBC for some reason didn’t promote Paul Rudd’s presence in this episode, and as the bumbling, spoiled, entitled villain of the campaign arc, but he made a terrific first impression in a strong, very funny episode overall.

We’ve already seen (notably in season 2’s “Sweetums”) how charmed the rest of the town is by the Newports, and the idea of Leslie’s chief opponent being the clueless black sheep of the family feels like a very “Parks and Rec” choice. Bobby’s not evil: he’s just an overgrown kid who has gotten his way at everything in life and has no idea how to react when the world won’t give him what he wants. That’s exactly the kind of Goliath our plucky blonde David should be taking down in the context of the show. Bobby Newport is very rich and very powerful and a complete tool, but he’s too oblivious to be unpleasant. This is a nice show, and while I imagine it could have fun with a completely despicable, ruthless opponent, this seems more appropriate.

Similarly, Leslie is too nice to want to run an attack ad(*), and the episode did a good job both at showing Leslie freaking out about the idea (including her wonderful flying tackle of Ben at the TV station) and Ben coming up with the attack ad itself. Ben, Tom and Jerry all sitting around having a Don LaFontaine-off as they tried to come up with the most gravely, sinister voiceover narration for the ad was hysterical, and a scene that could have easily run much longer if the episode didn’t have two very funny subplots in their own right to keep cutting away to. (Since I’ve watched the episode, I’ve had to stop myself from growling, “Bobby Newport!” at random people.)

(*) There was a “Simpsons” level of detail to Leslie’s positive-but-lame ad, as the scroll of things she’s in favor of included “fewer libraries,” “unionizing ice cream trucks,” “free trade with Illinios,” “finally passing PR-61, formally recognizing South Korea” and “stop global terrorism.”

April and Andy’s complete naivete about how the adult world works has been a great fountain of comedy with this show. Usually, we need Ron or Ben or one of the other grown-ups around to act as their incredulous guide, but this time those two crazy kids did just fine getting laughs on their own, whether with the two incredible bits of slapstick that bookended the story (Andy sneezing himself into a concussion, and then Andy running into an ambulance and requesting that a different ambulance come to help him), Andy rattling off an endless list of goofy symptoms to the first doctor (the Twix wrapper gag killed me) or April repeatedly correcting Andy’s misstatements about what’s happened to them today. For all of Andy’s Homer Simpson-esque stupidity, what makes those scenes work is that April is fully aware of how dumb he is and not only doesn’t mind but takes pleasure from it. (If nothing else, it guarantees she’ll have someone around to feel superior to for the rest of her life.)

Ron and Chris, meanwhile, are a duo the show has been sparing in its use of, despite the obvious conflicts you can get from Chris’ relentless enthusiasm and Ron’s hatred of government, small talk and most people. This was a good one for the two of them together, as stepping into Ben’s old hatchet man role seems an ideal gig for Ron, and it was as amusing to see the pleasure he took in crushing dreams as it was to see his discomfort at Chris’ ability to get into the office before Ron could use the remote door-closer Leslie got him for Christmas(**). I particularly loved how seamlessly we cut from Chris laughing at Ron at City Hall to him doing it at the restaurant, putting us in the exact same confused, horrified head space as Ron. (“Next thing I knew we were at lunch. Did he drug me?”) Also, Nick Offerman’s delivery of Ron’s disinterested, barely-informed introduction of Kyle to Chris was a thing of beauty.

(**) Both the remote door opener and Andy’s gold record were plot points this week. Now I’m waiting for a subplot about Jerry’s socks.

Ron as assistant city manager is a concept with potential, particularly if Leslie loses the election. (Though I think the show could also make things work if she wins; we would just reorient our perspective on the local government a tiny bit.) If she loses, she takes over the parks department and still has Ron as her superior, but now in a more adversarial role where he can like and respect her and still try to thwart her dreams. Hmm…

The battle between positive and negative, between people who want to do things and people who just want their daddy off their back, between people who want to make friends and those who just want to be left alone, is where so much of the “Parks and Recreation” fun comes from. Sometimes we get episodes with one great story and a weak subplot, or an episode like last week’s that wasn’t great overall but had a brilliant bit of slapstick to save the day, but “Campaign Ad” was an episode that was firing on all thrusters. If NBC had been able to use Rudd’s name and face to promote the episode, and if stunt-casting still had the ability to draw new viewers to a show, this would have been a great introduction to what this is all about and why it’s so good.

What did everybody else think?

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