Parks and Rec Recap: ‘The Debate’

As Parks and Recreation barrels towards the Election Day finish line of its fourth season, the show’s approaching a potential plot shift that would be the biggest change it has ever faced. Parks showrunner and co-creator Michael Schur told the press last month that they shot three different endings to cover all the possible outcomes for Leslie’s City Council bid, but an election win for Ms. Knope could see the show take a whole new direction as she leaves the titular Parks and Recreation Department behind in favor of climbing the bureaucratic ladder. In the ramp-up to the finale, the folks behind the show are pulling out all the stops to add to the excitement, including a return appearance by super-famous guest star Paul Rudd and those expensive-looking, sweeping crane shots during the City Council debate.

Amy Poehler has written an episode of Parks and Rec every season since the show’s second, and “The Debate” was her writing contribution this year. It was on par with the previous snappy, hilarious episodes she scripted, “Telethon” and “The Fight,” which was a competitor in Splitsider’s Best Sitcom Episode of All-Time tournament. It’s amazing that Poehler still has time to squeeze writing an episode into her schedule ever year, given that she’s plenty busy starring in and producing the show, raising a family, working on movie projects, and overseeing the UCB comedy empire. To add to the heroic amount of comedy stuff already on her plate, Amy Poehler also directed last night’s show, marking her directorial debut. “The Debate” was a home-run and certainly doesn’t feel like the work of a first-time director – which says as much about Poehler’s natural talent as it does for how much know-how she’s absorbed from spending the last 20 years working hard in various facets of the comedy industry – and it was a big, exciting episode that effectively kicked off the climax of the election plotline and delivered laughs and pathos in equal measure.

While we’ve already met Leslie’s biggest opponent, silver-spoon-in-mouth candy company heir Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd), a lot of this episode’s biggest laughs came from rounding out the rogue’s gallery of incompetent candidates facing Knope and Newport.  From rootin’ tootin’ gun nut Fester Trim to porn star-turned-politician Brandi Maxxxx to militant animal rights champion Manrico Della Rosa, these new characters were broad without being too cartoonish. As those GOP debates last year proved, actual politicians these days are so wacky that it’s difficult to create comedy characters that seem more ridiculous than real elected officials and political hopefuls. These new (to us) City Council candidates each heightened on specific flaws of real politicians in an amusing way, never more effective than in the montage of debate responses from the various Pawnee Council contenders, which was the highlight of the episode.

In B-story-land, we got what seems like but probably isn’t the conclusion to Ann and Tom’s relationship. Although Chris Traeger makes a snap-decision to get Ann back this week, she turns down his advances. After being pursued by Chris and Tom the whole episode, Ann mentions that she might be giving up on dating altogether – a decision that’s been a long time coming given the endless procession of creeps and weirdos she’s dated over the course of the show’s four-year run.

Elsewhere in Pawnee, April, Andy, and Ron – a beloved trio of characters who always work well together – are tasked with throwing a party for Leslie’s biggest campaign donors. Unlike previous plotlines featuring this stellar triumvirate, April, Andy, and Ron didn’t fall into their usual father-son-daughter dynamic this around. Their storyline instead involved Andy and April putting on airs to pass themselves off as high society types – although their grubby ways and unpaid cable bill get in the way of this charade. Ron spends most of the episode using his Ron Swanson powers to fix said cable problem. While Ron had some funny moments (particularly the blunt speech he gave to the donors before turning on the TV), I was hoping to get some resolution to his story arc. The last we saw of him was partway through the episode when he was singing the Glenn Campbell song “Wichita Lineman” – about a lonely electric power worker - while rigging up an illegal cable hook-up for Andy and April’s debate viewing party. Here’s hoping he’s trapped high-up on that utility pole when next week’s episode rolls around.

We have only two episodes left in Parks and Recreation’s fourth season, and it’ll be just as many weeks before we know the outcome of Pawnee’s City Council election – win, lose, or draw. Who do you think is going to be crowned Pawnee’s newest City Council member? Will a Leslie Knope victory be as good for the show as it will be for Knope herself?

Bradford Evans could watch an entire episode of Andy doing that Sylvester Stallone impression.

Parks and Rec Recap: ‘The Debate’