“Parks and Recreation: Campaign Shake-Up” – a blog recap

Last week’s episode of Parks and Recreation had Leslie (Amy Poehler) move away from the parks department and work on her campaign. Her chief competitor for city council, Bobby Newport (an absent Paul Rudd), is losing ground on his campaign and has hired a crackjack manager, Jennifer Barkley (Kathryn Hahn) to get his numbers back up. Leslie’s campaign is run by her beau, former child-mayor Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) who is being outrun at every turn by the more-experienced Jennifer.

The b-plot involves the rest of the characters: Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) is terrified that Chris (Rob Lowe) will follow through with hiring someone to replace Leslie, so he corals everyone to see through one major project. He looks to Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) who has been trying to fix the issue of Pawnee citizens putting their mouths on water fountain spigots. After an epic water fight, the group present a deceptively simple, yet brilliant idea of removing the splash guard, and Chris promises to hold off hiring a replacement. Ron finds out that April (Aubrey Plaza) came up with the idea, but trying to maintain her facade of indifference, gave credit to Ann. Because he sees April as a surrogate daughter, he encourages his assistant to take more initiative, and announces that she’ll be taking over some of Leslie’s duties.

I found last week’s episode to be slightly disappointing and unfortunately, this week’s wasn’t  better. It’s getting a bit strange to see Leslie removed from her parks department office with all her friends. Also, the campaign isn’t all that interesting, really and the writers are slowly making Poehler’s Leslie into a straight man which is a pretty bad idea, given that the comedienne is brilliant, and should be given ample moments to shine. The good thing about these excursions outside of the parks office is that at least Scott gets a little more to do – last week he was all but absent, and he’s funny. The writers gifted him with quite a bit of his patented reaction shots – this happens whenever Leslie says something disturbing or surprising – like when she readily admitted to Jennifer that Vice President Joe Biden is her celeb sex fantasy and the two women go back and forth while Ben shoots his pissed-off-deer-in-the-headlights-look to Leslie and the camera.

Another positive worth mentioning is the inspired guest casting: Hahn is pretty awesome as the shark-like Jennifer. The trick with the character is that she’s tremendously efficient like Leslie, except she doesn’t give a damn (very unLeslie)…Also comedic legend Carl Reiner shows up as a leader of a local elderly rights organization. It would’ve been nice to see him do more, but he’s given a priceless moment when he describes his brother (also named Leslie) who lost a third of his body in a motorcycle accident – the middle third.

The b-plot was pretty disappointing too – though there were some solitary moments of comic joy. Overall, though this was a huge wasted opportunity, as nothing’s funnier than seeing the whole gang at work together. The relationship between Ann and Tom (Aziz Ansari) is still going – thankfully, both characters maintained their personalities: Tom’s still endearingly douchy, while Ann’s funnily uptight – still I’ve been campaigning (pun intended) against their union (though her easy pet name for Tom, “dummy” was pretty funny).

The water balloon fight was funny, and Chris Pratt takes the prize for funniest gag when his Andy ran to Chris Treiger, covered in water balloons and enveloped his boss in a watery bear hug. Still, it was a bit disconcerting to see such talented comic actors like Ansari, Offerman, Jones and Plaza essentially shunted to the sides in a mediocre b-plot.

This loosening of the tight brilliance of the show is a worrying trend, especially in light of Leslie’s campaign – if she wins, then the writers will have to keep writing more plots taking her away from her parks department family, which would be the death of the show. Which obviously means unless the writing team has a trip up its sleeve, the only option would be for Leslie to lose.

Some high spot moments:
– Jennifer’s ingratiating and friendly – she continuously interrupts Leslie after a particularly bruising TV spot, while Leslie is trying to get out one of her well-thought out insults. Finally, exasperated, Leslie demands that she be allowed to finish her insult.
– Chris doing upside chin ups. Rob Lowe’s also becoming more ill-used, though.
-Ann snatching April’s book and throwing it across the room and insisting that she be minded.
-Andy screaming “Kamikaze” and rushing Chris, while having water balloons strapped to his body.
-Leslie’s giddy fawning over Joe Biden
-Leslie’s running joke of referring to Ben’s slight frame in a loving, if condescending manner (she refers to him as a hummingbird at one point).

Moving on, I’d like to see more Leslie/Ann pairings – those two work particularly well together. With April taking on more responsibility around the office, that might mean more Aubrey Plaza which suits me just fine.

Overall, this is the second episode to dip in quality. This week Sean Hayes (Will & Grace) guest stars as a journalist who travels to Pawnee to profile Leslie for a magazine. Hayes – an Emmy-winner, is a great talent, and it’ll be interesting to see he and Poehler bounce off each other. Hopefully the show runners will make better use of his talent than Reiner.

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Filed under Comedy, Sitcom, Television

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