At the moment, Parks and Rec is my favorite comedy on television, but the first time I watched the show I didn’t like it. Actually, I refused to even give it more of a chance given what I saw in the first episode of the show and how much it irritated me. The episode was setting up a situation in which the ditsy Leslie Knope screwed up a situation and we got to watch as it imploded around her. I wasn’t interested in the dynamic. A year or so later and friends told me I needed to give the show another shot because it was amazing, and when I did so I fell in love with Pawnee and the direction the show’s taken since then.
“The Comeback Kid” is one of those episodes that best highlights what I like about what the show decided to do since then. In that first mini-season Knope is the character who screws everything up and wacky hijinks ensue. Afterwards, though, she’s the competent one in a department of misfits who are liable to fail at even the simplest of tasks. Under her leadership they can at times put together a spectacular success, but without it they’re liable to end up with something like Entertainment 720—a venture so wonderfully foolish it was dead before it even began.
Leslie’s main vice (not that there aren’t plenty of others to choose from) is that she’s so kindhearted that she doesn’t see how useless many of her friends are. This is particularly true because she’s so good at dragging out the best in them that they rise to the occasion and become more than useless, not realizing that the moment she leaves the room they fall to shambles again. With her love for them in mind, she decides that the Parks and Rec group, including Andy, will be her new campaign management since the old ones left her following the Ben scandal.
Ann Perkins is the point person in charge of managing the campaign, and she goes on the assumption that these people can carry out their tasks with minimal supervision. She is dead wrong, and each member of the crew finds their own way to spectacularly screw up their assignment. Tom obsesses about red carpet, but doesn’t get enough of it for their presentation. April and Andy wind up adopting a three-legged dog for some reason and bring it along and the basketball arena where they’re supposed to be showing off the endorsement of local legend Pistol Pete is still converted to an ice-skating rink. Worst of all, Jerry succeeds in drawing a decent-sized crowd, so that when the debacle of a political event finally goes off there are plenty of people watching. Yes, even when they succeed these people are screwups.
The complete disaster that occurs at the Knope rally is a wonder to behold. The entire affair has had twenty minutes of set-up time, making each part of it, from the red carpet ending early to Champion peeing on Ron, is another great piece of the puzzle. It’s one of the most awkward pieces of comedy I’ve seen in a long time and is the perfect culmination of what these characters achieve when no one’s watching over them. Not that this is really Anne’s fault, it’s just that it takes an extremely organized, micro-managing person to get them to succeed, and unlike Ben or Leslie she’s not one.
Speaking of Ben, while all of this is happening Ben is sitting at home sadly working on a claymation film and learning to bake calzones. Chris stops by to see how his friend is doing and is dismayed at the result, deciding instantly that Ben’s clearly depressed. He eventually confronts Ben with this, and Ben realizes that this is true, too, and at the end of the episode decides that he’d better take over as Leslie’s new campaign manager, a position Ann is more than happy to give him. My only concern here is that Leslie somehow managed to miss Ben’s struggles. Not that Ben didn’t frame his activities in the vein of “finding himself,” but Chris saw it in one minute. Presumably Leslie has seen Ben a lot more than that, but she’s too wrapped up in herself to notice much of what’s going on in his life.
“The Comeback Kid” is also wonderful to watch because it gives every member of the cast their moment. Parks and Rec has such a strong ensemble that you want to see every character every episode. I don’t really care if Toby has a moment this week on The Office, but there’s a good eight characters who I hope to see in every episode of Parks and Rec. Here they were all at their craziest, and it led to one of the stronger episodes this season and a memorable set-piece that didn’t rely upon a big budget or wacky gimmick. All it took was letting the characters be themselves.
•”Don’t listen to your head or your heart, just look in my eyes and say yes.”
•Mike Scully wrote this episode. For those who don’t obsess over comedy writers, he’s an ex-show runner for The Simpsons who fans sometimes credit with the downfall of the show. However, the episodes he presided over are mostly quite good (even if they’re not golden age Simpsons material) and I’ve long felt he’s gotten a bad rap. I’d say that he redeems himself pretty nicely here, which was the first episode he’s credited with writing.
•”There’s more to look at on the internet than naked guys, Ann.”
•”Be a man and sit on that girl’s lap.”
•I feel like this episode featured perhaps the most smiling we’ve ever seen from April.
•Regional ham loaves? Wait, ham loaves is a thing?
•I appreciate the reference to Louis C.K.’s role in the show.
•”And that girl, she tried to get that gimp dog to bite me.”
•Was the grey in Pistol Pete’s hair distracting to anyone else?
•Ben’s Letters to Cleo shirt was a nice touch.
•The campaign’s sign: LE
•The show insulted Ben’s hair in this episode, but actually it looked great.
•”Together we can defeat obese children.” – Wise words for us all.