When Parks and Recreation left off for winter break over a month ago, Ron Swanson and the rest of the Parks Department crew had agreed to support Leslie by working as her campaign staff, despite the heavy setback her workplace romance scandal was to her City Council bid. Last night’s episode, “The Comeback Kid,” kicked off the second half of Parks’s fourth season and the home stretch of Leslie’s campaign, which I’m assuming will conclude with the election/season finale in May. The show will clearly be pulling out all the stops for this final leg of Leslie’s campaign, with Paul Rudd onboard to play her political rival in a multi-episode arc later this season.
“The Comeback Kid” kicked off with Leslie making Ann her campaign manager, despite Ann’s complete lack of political experience. While Ben seems like the most obvious choice, due to the fact that he won a City Council election on his own when he was 18, Leslie sees him as poison to her campaign in the wake of the sex scandal that almost derailed the whole thing. Plus, Ann has always been a supportive friend to Leslie, and she seems to have her shit together in a way that Tom, Andy, and April just don’t. Leslie enlists Ann to help her convince former high school basketball star “Pistol” Pete DeSillio (played by Tuc Watkins, Desperate Housewives) to make a slam dunk at her campaign rally.
The campaign stop goes about as disastrously as something organized by Tom, Ron, April, Andy, and Jerry could go, with them making a long, slippery journey across an ice skating rink to address the crowd. The ice rink scene is an expertly-performed bit of slapstick comedy that was the highlight of the episode for me – made all the funnier by the same 10 second blip of Gloria Estefan’s “Get On Your Feet” playing throughout Leslie and company’s treacherous path to the podium.
Meanwhile, Chris Traeger takes it upon himself to pull Ben Wyatt out of the unshaven, Claymation-filled stupor that is his life as an unemployed man. Chris and Ben were introduced to the show at the same time – the only new regular characters Parks has added since it began nearly three years ago – but the past season-and-a-half has seen the writers mainly exploring Chris and Ben’s relationships with the rest of the cast rather than with each other. The subplot with Ben and Chris is a welcome return to exploring the duo’s relationship.
This B plot shifted Chris and Ben’s dynamic a little bit, using Ben as the crazy one and Chris as the straight man instead of the other way around, which has been the norm for them. Chris is one of the broadest characters on Parks and Ben is one of the most level-headed, but it’s great that the writers can play with the mechanics here without betraying the characters. Although Adam Scott has been Parks and Rec’s resident straight man throughout the post-Brendanawicz era, it’s nice to get the occasional episode where his eccentricities come out in full force. It works every time, thanks largely to Scott playing Ben in a grounded way, no matter what weird obsessions and foibles the writers throw at his character.
“The Comeback Kid” is a fine episode of Parks and Rec that shows off everything the show does well and pulls off a thing or two that many other comedy series aren’t capable of, such as moving the ongoing plot ahead at the pace of a TV drama. Just about every episode of Parks brings about a major change in the life of at least one character in the ensemble. This week, we saw Ben getting out of his unemployed funk by accepting a job as Leslie’s campaign manager, and less significantly, Andy and April taking in a three-legged dog named Champion. I can’t think of another sitcom on TV that changes its characters’ lives so drastically from episode-to-episode, but it’s something that’s always worked well for Parks and Rec. It’s no wonder that co-creator/showrunner Michael Schur’s favorite TV show is The Wire, which has at least partly inspired the breakneck pacing of Parks and Recreation.
Bradford Evans is perfectly capable of coming up with something clever to put here but doesn’t feel like it.