Sunday, January 22, 2012

Parks and Recreation, "Campaign Ad"

Season 4, Episode 12
January 19th, 2012

My dad made them!
Rating: 8.0/10
Watch this episode on Hulu Plus.

Sexual tension between characters in Parks and Recreation is like sexual tension between your friends- You can't wait until they shut up and screw. Shutting up being the important part. After putzing along for the back half of season three, harping on the supposed impossibility of Ben and Leslie's relationship, then resolving it only to reopen the can of worms immediately in season four, the writers finally let the two get together and now the show can, at long last, move on.
I've never been partial to so-called "heart" in comedies, as I tend to like my humor a little dark, but once P&R stops playing the will-they-or-won't-they game (of course they will), the show is terrific at mining laughs from the altered social roles. Specifically I'm thinking of Leslie's "Barack Obama said 'Yes we can!' and now he's the president of the United States. Ben Wyatt said 'No we can't' and now he's working for his girlfriend.'
This willingness on the writers' part to allow the status quo to evolve is one of the factors that constantly impresses me about the series. As much as I complain about the doting on relationship strife, it must be admitted that the writers don't milk those relationships for a frustratingly long time, as The Office did with Jim and Pam for three seasons, or as they're desperately trying to recapture with the thoroughly uninteresting Andy and Erin. Andy and April's marriage, Ben moving in with them, and Tom's departure to Entertainment 720 have all been pleasant surprises. This sort of organic evolution makes Parks and Rec feel more real than other sitcoms, which are content to convince us that an ensemble cast will remain in the exact same situation for 7+ years.
That appreciation in mind, I truly hope that the plot in which Chris attempts to replace Ben with Ron is explored. Nick Offerman and Rob Lowe have a great on-screen chemistry which has, to this point, been largely unexplored. I loved the continuity in Ron's attempt to block Chris out of his office with the automatic door remote that Leslie gave him for Christmas. His muffled frustration when Chris got in just in time was palpable.
I've gone on a while now without mentioning Paul Rudd. There's always a danger bringing a big actor onto a quaint show like this, in that the guest star can be too much of a distraction. Rudd, however, has such an unassuming (and in this case, moronic) everyman quality to him that I found him to be an outstanding addition to this episode. His entire performance was so monochromatically self-entitled; I noticed upon rewatching that as he takes the podium in the cold open he says "Thanks, guy!" with boyish glee to the campaign speaker who introduced him. Of course Bobby Newport doesn't know the names of his own campaign (Sorry, campleasure) staff. I really look forward to watching this character in future episodes.
Speaking of which, I found the campleasure moment to be out of character for Leslie. She cringes as if she recognizes just how terrible a joke Newport just made, but it's just the sort of terrible pun I could see Leslie herself making while onlookers grimaced. By the end of the episode, Bobby Newport seems like such a bonehead that he's probably capable of much worse quips.
Unfortunately that wasn't the only out of character moment of the night. Let me just take a moment to ask: What has happened to Tom Haverford? Ever since the episode where he had to come to terms with being back in the Parks department, he's been either absent or forgettable, and tonight he was peculiarly un-Tom. His entire theory about kissing up to Leslie and Ben (because he bets on every horse) lacked motivation. In the past Tom has always been extremely candid, even rude to his superiors. Why was he holding back now? I would expect the Tom of the past to be the first person to shoot down Leslie's abysmal campaign ad, for example.
The reason his kiss-ass approach is so out of the blue is that for him nothing is actually at stake. No matter whose campaign video wins, he still has the same role at the office and in the campaign. If there had actually been some sort of significant power struggle occurring I could understand Tom taking care not to curry favor with the wrong party, but this plot felt extraneous, as if the writers had no idea what to do with Tom. This is a shame, because Aziz Ansari has been such a dependable player in the past.
By far my favorite scene of the episode- and probably my favorite scene in a while- was the Jerry/Ben/Tom scene where they practiced the voice acting for the slam ad. This sort of shameless silliness is what Parks and Rec thrives on, and where it really shines.
Overall a very solid episode. The campaign looks as if it will prove to be a great ongoing plotline. I wonder- Does P&R's aforementioned penchant for character evolution allow for the possibility of Leslie being elected city counselman? Maybe season 5 (hoepfully there will be a Season 5) will feature all of these characters in a new office? This would be a great way to introduce some new characters and really shake things up. It would also allow for an interesting new dynamic in which Leslie is Ron and Chris' superior. Let's see some balls, writers.

Stray thoughts:

- I loved the look on the campaign security guy's face when Bobby asked "I'm running unopposed, aren't I?"

-Andy worries about eating a Twix wrapper and then never seeing it come out the other end. As a fecal expert, I don't think he has anything to worry about. It could have been broken into segments or completely concealed. Someone should tell him.

-Jerry takes a lot of flak this week after having secured a pretty substantial crowd at last week's ice rink presentation. Cut the guy a break.

-Pretty disappointing Andy/April plot this week.

- I spent a good 10 minutes pausing hulu and copying down all of the things Leslie Knope approves of. I should have known that the folks at Buzzfeed would save me the trouble. Here are some of the highlights:

Better Better Business Bureau
Fewer Libraries
Shutting Down the Child Left Behind Act
One police officer for every 5 citizens
One park ranger for every 10,000 raccoons
One school for every student
Regulate height of trampolines
Memorial for those lost in the trampoline "incident"

"Fewer Libraries" is a pretty terrific slam aimed at Tammy 2, the evil librarian.

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