Parks and Recreation: "Campaign Shakeup" (4.17)
The addition of Bobby Newport as Leslie’s competitor several episodes ago was great because it meant Paul Rudd made a (extremely) brief appearance on Parks and Recreation. However, Newport didn’t actually add much drama to the show, or tension, because his idiocy made it clear that he wouldn’t be much of a match for Leslie and her crew. “Campaign Shakeup” doesn’t make it seem any less possible for Leslie to win the race if that’s the direction the show’s creators want it to go, but it does make things less certain. It’s no longer a cakewalk in which the campaign can take a backseat to whatever randomness is going on back at the Parks Department. Now it’s effectively become Leslie’s full-time job, and one that she’s not even fighting against her opponent: it’s against his Washington D.C. campaign strategist.
Jennifer Barkley, the strategist played by Kathryn Hahn, is the perfect enemy for Parks and Recreation because she’s not evil. Neither is Newport. They’re the enemy because he’s pretty dumb and entitled, and she happens to like getting paid a lot of money. Their motivations aren’t pure, and Newport getting elected would certainly be worse for Pawnee, but they’re definitely still kindhearted people. While it may be naive, Parks and Recreation has always held that people are always essentially good, even if they’re also selfish and have beliefs that help themselves at the expense of their communities—Ron Swanson, as much as we all love him, is in that category with Bobby and Jennifer.
Another really great touch here is that as apathetic as Jennifer may be towards Bobby, she is fanatstic at her job. She lies and cheats in exactly the fashion we’d expect from a national politician. She does anything to win, knowing fully well that it’s morally wrong, but is also so jaded from Washington that she doesn’t care. Parks and Recreation dares you to hate her, while making it clear that personally she’s quite pleasant. The social commentary here is strong, but doesn’t overwhelm the episode, and I found this half of the episode to be as interesting a shakeup as the title promised.
The other half of the episode is goofier to counteract all of the politics going on elsewhere, but it’s still pretty good, even if I’m sure it’s pretty retcon heavy (I’m guessing that by now we’ve seen someone drinking from a fountain in a normal fashion on the show). With Leslie gone, Chris tells Ron that the parks department needs to keep apace and hire someone to take over some of her responsibilities. Ron says he doesn’t need this, and Chris tells him to prove that the group doesn’t need anyone and asks them to complete one major project. Said project is about water fountain sanitation, i.e. Ann’s complaint that everyone in Pawnee sticks their entire mouths around fountain spouts.
The solution turns out to be removing the spouts entirely so that water just shoots out of a hole. It’s one of the show’s sillier plots, and one that quickly turns into a water-fight, but in the end April ends up taking over some of Leslie’s responsibilities. Which is kind of weird, when you think about it, since those should probably go to, say, her assistant Tom. Or anyone else in the office, for that matter. Those matters aside, though, the show wants to start having April grow up and this is one way of doing so. Not my favorite plot, but it was full of great moments, particularly from Chris Pratt.
The best part about this plot wasn’t the physical comedy, though, it was that Parks and Recreation didn’t just say that once Leslie’s reduced her hours, there are no more consequences. Everything on the show causes changes, and those result in other changes as they do outside of television. There’s no equilibrium at the end of the day, it’s rather that, more realistically, people simply adjust to the new status quo. While the water fountain plot has a ridiculous premise, I’m certain that in the future when we do see people drinking from water fountains they’ll either have their mouths around the spouts or there won’t be one. It’s a little thing, but like returning to Li’l Sebastian or the littlest park or Duke Silver, it does add something to the show.
•The race between Leslie and Bobby is great, but we all know that the best candidate for the job is clearly Brandi Maxxxxx
•"Stairs are a young man’s game." – What a wonderfully terrible saying. Everytime it came up my brain ached.
•I should mention here that Carl Reiner was as wonderful as you’d expect him to be and stole the episode whenever he was around. No surprises there.
•"I didn’t realize that you were pro-landmine." – A perfect, one-sentence summation of what’s wrong with politics in America.