It’s been over a month since Parks and Rec went on vacation, but don’t worry: the wait is over! The show came back from hiatus, and we’ll be getting a whopping three more episodes before Parks takes its summer break.
With Parks and Rec back from the forced vacation that NBC only reserves for its best shows, we picked up right where we left off in “Live Ammo.” Leslie’s City Council campaign is still barreling towards the finish line, Tom and Ann’s relationship still has a pulse, and April is taking on more responsibility around the office.
This has been a guest star-heavy season for Parks, and last night’s show was no exception, with Bradley Whitford, the second West Wing castmember to appear on the show after Rob Lowe, popping in to play Pawnee Councilman Pillner. Whitford and Lowe didn’t have any scenes together, but I like the idea of Parks continuing to use actors from another critically-acclaimed political show – albeit one that’s tonally opposite.
Councilman Pillner tells Leslie that the Parks Department’s budget is about to be cut, and she soon finds herself in a funding tug-of-war between her department and an animal shelter. Meanwhile, April is continuing to handle some of Leslie’s duties during the campaign, and she finds herself struggling to run the necessary meetings.
In the episode’s third plotline, we find Ron Swanson and Chris Traeger at odds with each other once again. As Chris says at the top of the episode, he and Ron “are very different people,” and it’s always great to see the show explore the vast gulf of differences that lies between the two men. These Chris and Ron stories are always great as they’re two really strong, broad characters, and it’s fun to see them clash. While we’ve seen Ron enter Chris’s world plenty – perhaps most memorably by visiting a health food store with him, the end of the episode represented a nice change by thrusting Chris into Ron’s dimension by having the two share a drink.
While Ron’s seemed content with his present position in Pawnee’s government, this is the first we’ve seen of him wanting to gain more power so that he can push his Libertarian agenda and take the whole Pawnee bureaucracy down from the inside. It’s a great, fresh motivation for the character, and I’d love to see Ron Swanson’s passionate hatred of all things government fuel him in a determined quest for political power like Leslie’s.
One of the many things I like about Parks and Rec is that even its goofiest characters can have poignant and heartfelt moments, and we get two great examples of this at the end of “Live Ammo.” While Tom Haverford and Ron Swanson are absurd comic characters, we get to see each of them give an emotional pep talk to a co-worker at the tail end of the episode, proving that the characters reach beyond just being amazing joke machines. Perhaps Parks and Recreation’s greatest strength is the show’s near-cartoonish, absurd characters who are simultaneously three-dimensional and real. It’s a tricky balance, but it’s one only the best sitcoms can pull off.
With a lot more suddenly riding on the City Council election than we’d previously thought and the future of most of the show’s central characters hanging in the balance, it’s going to be a tumultuous few weeks leading up to the election-centric season finale. If Leslie loses the election, we now know it’ll mean Chris Traeger is out of a job, along with Knope campaign manager Ben Wyatt. Who knows? If elected, maybe Bobby Newport may hack away at more of the Knope regime, leaving the entire ensemble on the unemployment line.
Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.