Parks and Recreation: "Campaign Ad" (4.12)
One of the things that Parks and Recreaction is great at, and that conversely few sitcoms have ever been even relatively good at, is being funny while still moving its story forward. Many of the best comedies ever made have been episodic, which is fine. The equilibrium that The Simpsons returns to makes a certain amount of sense for the show. Most sitcoms aren’t quite that extreme, but their plots either feel forced or temporary. Forward momentum can be difficult for audiences given that it often negatively affects characters.
Not that Parks and Recreation is all about change—after all, it’s still about the same department and cast—but it’s found an intelligent way to have lengthy plotlines be the center of the show without overpowering its characters. “Campaign Ad” had two stories changing up the show’s equilibrium in different ways, but they both felt natural and fit perfectly into the show. Plus, we had Andy and April’s slapstick hour, which was also great, although in a very different way.
The main thrust of the episode was about Ben and Leslie’s conflict over what to do for their first campaign ad. Paul Rudd, as the gormless Bobby Newport, has gained 70 percent of the vote simply by joining the race, a number that kind of seems like it should be even higher. His family basically owns the city, plus he’s Paul Rudd. How could you not love him? Ben wants to make an attack ad against him while Leslie wants to do a positive ad about what she’s for, and they agree that whichever one is better will air, a compromise Leslie makes because she’s unwilling to go negative.
Oddly enough, both ads are kind of good. Well, not good in the conventional sense, but good for a local political advertisement. Ben’s, however, is more straightforward and effective. Regardless of its popularity, though, Leslie just can’t let him do it because it goes against her ethics. Ben understands this, but tries something different, an attack ad based upon Bobby Newport’s ad and how absolutely insipid it is. This she agrees with, because it’s all material Newport produced himself, even though the result is more devastating than Ben’s original. Before the episode ends, Newport confronts them about the ad in person and they get a firsthand taste of just how dumb Bobby really is.
At the same time, Chris is reaching out to Ron. While Ron believes this is because the guy’s lonely now that Ben’s gone, Chris tells him that Ron’s being sized up for a possible promotion. So not only is Leslie trying to leave the Parks Department, there’s the possibility that Ron may as well. It’s also a strange pairing between characters, one so earnest about the government and the other so cynical. It works well, though, because despite their different outlooks they’re both goodhearted people. Parks and Recreation is happy to show that they can disagree about most everything and have opposite interests, but still respect each other. This helps keep either of them towards becoming a caricature, which is a trap the show frequently gets close to but since the first season has never fallen into.
And while all of this stuff is going on, April and Andy decide to use their health insurance to visit seemingly every single doctor in the world. This section is little more than a series of slapstick sketches in which Chris Pratt gets hit with stuff. Pratt is so good at this, though, that their medical journey was my favorite part of the episode. This is clearly a case in which the writers have noticed time and time again how great Pratt is at this material and wanted to write directly for him. The show’s cast and crew have been working together for long enough that everyone involved knew that Pratt could turn this throwaway story into something great, which he did.
Yet again the show balanced its elements so perfectly it made a sitcom like this look easy. Yet every episode that it continues with Leslie’s campaign it’s moving further from its comfort zone of dealing with zany parks stuff in the office. Parks and Recreation isn’t letting that status quo take control, and in the same way that Ben and Chris became part of the show, it feels entirely possible that Leslie and/or Ron will leave the Parks Department in a way that other sitcoms have rarely pulled off. When Michael Scott left The Office, the main problem with the show wasn’t that it couldn’t be as good as it had been, it was that it still wanted to remain the same as it was with him around. Parks and Recreation has always been willing to take the more difficult path and accept that maybe the status quo isn’t permanent, and because of that the stakes and the rewards are much higher.
•"Some of those things are symptoms, and some of them are just being a person."
•The what’s wrong with Andy’s montage is amazing. If Chris Pratt had been born in the early 20th century he could’ve been a great silent comedian.
•"Ben said no we shouldn’t, and now he’s working for his girlfriend." – Leslie has this special way of putting down those close to her.
•The match on action for Ron’s was some wonderful filmmaking. Again, Keaton would be proud.
•There are some weird things that Leslie’s for in her commercial, but nothing SUPER weird. I appreciated that they were funny, but not Simpsons-level wacky jokes. Nothing uncharacteristic of Leslie.
•I didnt say much about it above, but Paul Rudd plays dopey so amazingly well. I couldn’t be happier to have him in the show.
•"Bam, you run into an ambulance. Every time."