Parks and Rec Recap: ‘Campaign Ad’

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Parks and Recreation has always found strength in its characters, boasting a nine-person-deep bench of specific and well-drawn characters who manage to be both broad and grounded at the same time. I don’t want to get too hyperbolic, but the Parks cast is one of the best TV comedy ensembles in history, and that’s just as much a reflection of the sharp, characters that are perfectly-matched to their respective actors as it is of the talented and wide-ranging performers that make up the central cast. One of the most effective ways the writers have found to use this great cast is to pair up the performers in different combinations each week to find the duos with the best chemistry. The writers don’t pair up Ron Swanson and Chris Traeger — two of the show’s most popular personalities — often, but it’s always worth the wait.

The episode begins with a fake-out at a campaign rally in which a man introduces “the next City Councillor for the great city of Pawnee,” only to usher Leslie’s new political rival Bobby Newport (played by super famous guest star Paul Rudd!) to the stage. Newport is the clueless heir to the Sweetums candy fortune and he’ll no doubt become a recurring character on Parks as the campaign continues. When it comes time for Leslie to make an attack ad, she resists the urge to go negative against Bobby Newport, but, with Ben’s help, she eventually finds an acceptable way to criticize Newport in her ads by using his own words.

Back at City Hall, the two planets that are Ron Swanson and Chris Traeger align when Chris asks Ron’s help in relaying some bad news to his employees. With Ben working on Leslie’s campaign full-time, Chris needs someone new to be the bad cop to his good, and Ron’s love of slashing government programs makes him more than willing to handle Chris’s dirty dealings. Ron and Chris are two of the broadest characters on Parks and Rec and they have two of the biggest personalities on the show. It’s great to see them interacting with each other for an entire episode, and the writers spacing these meetings of the mind out is what makes it so special when they team up.

When Ron becomes worried that Chris’s eagerness to spend time with him means Chris wants to be his friend, he drags in Andy’s old shoeshine stand nemesis Kyle (the only City Hall employee who’s less-liked than Jerry) to try to pawn him off as Chris’s new buddy. Chris informs Ron that he was just trying him out as a potential replacement for Ben as Assistant City Manager. It seems like Ron’s hatred for government spending may actually be helping him to move up the civil service ladder, but the conflicted expression on Ron’s face shows that this potential promotion doesn’t sit right with him.

The episode’s third plotline sees Andy and April making a series of rare trips to the doctor’s to deal with Andy’s back catalog of medical maladies. It’s not the most complex arc, but the April and Andy plot was intended to be all laughs and little story and it definitely delivered on that.

Whereas Parks and Rec’s sister show The Office avoided casting big-name actors in guest spots in its first few seasons*, Parks and Rec has never shied away from finding famous faces to play Pawnee’s residents. Paul Rudd, though, is easily the most famous guest star Parks and Rec has ever had (sorry, John Larroquette!) It’s no surprise to see Rudd pop up here. He’s been best friends with Adam Scott for decades and has worked with a lot of the cast before (most notably with Rashida Jones in I Love You Man and Our Idiot Brother). Bobby Newport is, I think, the dumbest character I’ve seen Paul Rudd play before (prove me wrong, commenters!), but Rudd is adept at portraying boneheads like this guy. Bringing a funny and game actor in to play Leslie’s political rival is a smart move and one that indicates that Pawnee’s upcoming City Council election will be an exciting one.

(*Tim Meadows was just about the biggest name to appear on The Office during its first four seasons).

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.