I’m not suggesting that Parks and Recreation should be viewed as anything beyond a belly laugher that occasionally will endear us with acts of kindness and friendship (and this CERTAINLY is not a slight), but I felt as though this episode had a pretty visible thematic undercurrent. Besides being a relevant social satire (perhaps) of the ongoing tete a tete between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney-endorsing Super PACs, I saw “Campaign Ad” as a commentary on idealism vs. realism. In both subplots, we saw the extremes employed. Andy and April chose to ignore their abysmal financial situation and hope that insurance would cover an absurd amount of medical care that evidently both have been neglecting for some time. And Ron F***ING Swanson was cruel and ruthless in crushing the dreams of the Public Works Department who hoped to build a dam. Of course, both incarnations of these world outlooks were hysterical, but obviously flawed. Ron surely could have been more compassionate, and based on Chris’ offer at toward the episode’s end, if he could remain open-minded a more lucrative and influential position of assistant city manager would await him. Could you imagine a Libertarian like him with the power to cut spending in any (and just maybe all) departments? And Andy certainly sees the world through rose-colored glasses. And according to his eye test, he needs actual glasses. According to his testimony it sounds as if he has been suffering from nearsightedness for oh…his whole adult life.
What we got with the main plot was the true face-off and subsequent compromise of these perspectives. Leslie is the idealist. When an opponent, played by movie star Paul Rudd, born of the Pawnee royal family, the Newports, pops into the race with his daddy’s corporate backing she firmly believes that although Bobby Newport is charismatic and affluent her status as a lifelong bureaucrat and champion of her city will propel her to victory. But frankly, Sweetums (the Newport family business), a candy conglomerate that employs half of Pawnee’s population, carries too much political sway. Ben, the realist, immediately sees the competition as the Goliath to their David. This does not necessarily discourage Ben either. He just is willing to play dirty. Leslie, however stands atop her principles, while reluctant to undermine her boyfriend’s strategy. His fairly sound plan is to buy airtime during halftime of the Pawnee vs Eagleton high school basketball game (more popular in town than the Super Bowl) to run an attack ad against Bobby Newport. With most of the gang in support, Leslie hesitates to voice her opinion, but once Ben senses her discomfort she refuses to ever do a negative ad. Though her ambition, to win on her merits alone and not by demeaning the opposition, is admirable but Ben aptly breaks it down. She does not have room for error. She is down 70 points, and needs something, anything, that will make her stand out before she’s DOA. An attack video could be that lynchpin.
Being the reasonable and supportive boyfriend he is, Ben suggests a competition. Leslie and he will pick teams and whichever team produces the better ad wins. During Leslie’s shoot there is the sight gag of Bobby Newport’s bus with that big smiling mug of his right behind Leslie as she hands a child a hot dog (how patriotic). This pales in comparison, however, to the funniest moment of the episode as the team of Tom, Ben and Jerry try and nail the perfect voiceover for their cliché slam against Bobby. Just replaying in my head that unlikely trio taking turns, showing off their most gravelly, menacing, and authoritative versions of the condescending narrator in these commercials (we all know the type), makes me break into howling laughter. Once they screen their respective submissions the victor is clear, though Leslie is swimming in the De-nial River. Ben quickly points out that, positive or not, her ad is ineffective. It never mentions that she is running for office nor ever says the words city council. Plus, her list of “some more things she’s pro” is miles long and in painfully small typeface. Eventually, she accepts defeat and trusts her boyfriend to do what’s best. It’s curious that this strong-willed woman would stroke her boyfriend’s ego, even if he may be right, but we are soon vindicated as loyal viewers.
Despite Leslie’s claims that she’s “very zen about it all,” she tackles Ben at the TV station as he is about to hand over the DVD. Another great bit of slapstick from a comedy that has limitless range. But the award for best use of physical comedy goes to Chris “Pratfall” Pratt a.k.a Andy. Not once, but three times he was called upon to fall over in this episode and every one had me (and hopefully not him) in stitches. As stated above, Andy and April were doctor’s appointment shopping after Ann told them about the wonders of health insurance when they came to her wondering what could be causing Andy’s symptoms. He’s saddled with a headache, seeing double, a song stuck in his head, his teeth hurting and he’s hungry—to which Ann quips, “Kay, well some of those things are symptoms and some of them are just being a person.” Then once inside the Pawnee Medical Center he opens up about a number of issues ranging from allergies to broken bones, to April needing a tooth pulled. But as I mentioned it is his spills that brought the whole bit together, the most prolific being when he decides to “dine and ditch” the hospital when he realizes the insurance required a $500 deductible. His response is then to rush out of the building, and in his haste he runs into the side of an ambulance. If you don’t burst out after seeing Pratt bounce back, you are a lifeless drone or one of the dementors from Harry Potter that suck out people’s souls.
Once Leslie sabotages Ben’s marketing strategy he decides that they can combine elements of their ads together to create an appealing and sweet, yet tactfully pointed argument for why she would be a much better councilperson. In the instant Youtube sensation, we see footage of 10-year-old Leslie making fake campaign ads promising cleaner streets and a more progressive tax on residential properties. In Bobby’s ads? He promises to…figure it out when he gets there. The widely viewed viral hit causes young Newport to call LesBen (my trademarked couple name) to dinner. Here’s where the episode hit its only real snag. Paul Rudd, like most of the cast, can charm the paints off me on a consistent basis, but the writers also know exactly who these characters are to the point where nothing they say is inauthentic.
In Bobby Newport’s pleas to Leslie for her to “just quit” he comes across as a spoiled version of Andy. Now, there is nothing wrong with the lovable loser. Andy executes it flawlessly almost every week. And Homer Simpson has done it for 25 years. But when you have two dudes who are dumb as rocks and man-children in terms of their grasp of responsibility on one show, it comes across a tad lazy. I buy that Bobby would think he’d get his way every time, but he might convey that in a way douchier than “Gimme it.” I was hoping for a Bush-like baffoon, who in the media’s perception tried very hard and often succeeded in sounding smart and put-together, but would on select occasions negate his efforts with mispronunciations and vagaries when discussing foreign and domestic agendas. At this point, I will lay off though, because I have the utmost faith that Harris Wittels (Emerson alum, REPRESENT) and the rest of the staff writers will re-write the ship (see what I did there) and utilize Paul Rudd’s smarmy delivery to make him closer to spoiled douche than spoiled dimwit, or possibly an unfounded mixture.
In lieu of a mixed reaction to Paul Rudd’s introduction to Pawnee, my inclination is to downgrade from last week, but the jokes hit everywhere else, and the April/Andy hospital buffet even topped the main thread with Leslie/Ben. Although, admittedly, the re-affirming moment where Leslie tells Bobby to toughen up, as Ben told her when debating the ad’s merits, in preparing for their debate did inspire in me a Tiger Woods fist pump. I imagine, sadly, that has less acceptance as a gesture post-scandal, but I felt triumphant all the same. The Ron/Chris subplot could have easily fallen under the radar, but it exhibited more precision in character authenticity. Again, that’s what made Bobby so strangely inferior in comparison, but in fairness Ron Swanson wasn’t the epic and thoroughly manly man from day one as I recall, so slack is being cut. There was also a nice callback to Ron’s Christmas gift as he tried to shut out Chris with his remote-control door, but quick as he is he snuck in. Also getting a callback—Andy’s gold record. Turns out his gift sparked the incident that jarred his “brain helmet,” him violently sneezing into the wall as he tried to mount the frame. Chris also served the purpose of adding a bit of intrigue that could mainfest itself as the election draws closer. With Ron being offered the position of assistant city manager that leaves the Parks director position. Obviously, he hasn’t made a decision, but once again the neurotic optimist throws a wrench in the machine and Leslie’s well-earned victory may not be so inevitable.
With all that in mind, factoring in my favorite lines, deliveries, and plain silly moments, I find myself compelled to edge Parks and Rec into A range as I have done with every P&R episode I have reviewed thus far, BUT due to the cathedral scale ceiling the series has set for itself in comparison to nearly all other comedies in rotation, I must reluctantly award “Campaign Ad” with a B+.*
*Be aware of this caveat, however, that the 2/3 letter deduction is mostly for its lapse in quality establishing Rudd’s character, who will have a multi-episode arc as Leslie’s only legitimate opponent, thus far. Also, when I considerd my lofty expectations of this show’s ability to combine barrages of emotional gut-punches with waves of uncontrollable giggling, it should be noted I never really felt a kinship with Leslie’s struggle, in spite of my disdain for mudslinging. I would have buried the rich prick. Therefore, I was less moved by her empowerment in the end (thanks in large part to Ben’s patience and support) as it felt overdue. Regardless, let the record show, this does not mean “New Girl” surpassed “Parks and Recreation” in producing a higher quality episode this week since they are evaluated on different scales with “New Girl” being in its infancy. Nice try though!
L.O.L.Ls: Laugh Out Loud Lines:
- “Hey Ann, are you still a nurse or did you get fired for sleeping with all the doctors?” “Wanna try that again?”
- “This is exactly how I dreamed it would be as a kid. Except I wasn’t 70 pts. behind and my campaign manager was Mr. Belivedere.”
- “I think I got a weird rash in my knee pit area.”
- “I once ate a Twix with the wrapper on it, and I’ve never seen the wrapper come out.”
- “When I bet on the horses I never lose. Why? I bet on all the horses.”
- “Ron Swanson! I just want to thank you for being so ruthless and cruel in that meeting the other day.” “You are going to have to be more specific.”
- “I rejected his lunch offer, then he started laughing and I ended up here. Did he drug me?!”
- “Here are some more things I’m pro…” Examples on the scrolling list included: Start talking to Cuba again, Better Better Business Bureau, Memorial for those lost in “trampoline” incident, No more conflict diamonds and making it illegal to refuse a hug
- Bobby Newport: Vice President of Nougat
- “I got my ankles microwaved!” “X-rayed…”
- “You get Jerry. You wanted to go negative, you get the biggest negative in the world.”
- “My dad’s friends with John Cougar Mellencamp. That’s pretty cool.”
- Ron tries to replace himself as Chris’ new friend with city hall regular, Kyle (or as he dubs him, Dennis). Chris asks if he is a “brother Japanophile?” Kyle says to Chris ” I was eating rice, and Ron told me to come up here, but sure that sounds fun.”
- “Call an ambulance! A different one than the one I ran into!”
- No, no more doctors. They’re a bunch of scam artists! Reel you in eight the free stuff, next thing you know…BAM! You ran into an ambulance. Every time.”