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TV Diary | Parks And Recreation: “Campaign Ad”

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TV Diary | Parks And Recreation – Episode 4.12 – “Campaign Ad” – Original Airdate: 1/19/12

Episode Grade: A-

That Parks And Recreation managed to land Paul Rudd to play Leslie’s opponent in her run for city council is a testament to the quality of the show. Rudd is a comedy MVP – of this there can be no debate – and that he chose to do not just a one-time appearance, but a role that seems likely to play out through the better part of the rest of the season is just an awesome get for the show. Much of “Campaign Ad” was spent establishing just who his Bobby Newport character is. In the simplest terms, he’s the heir to the previously mentioned Sweetums fortune [1] and the easy way out would have been to make him an evil, spoiled, rich jerk – the clear black hat to Leslie’s underdog campaign. But no, Parks And Recreation is better than that. Instead, they decided to go with stupid, spoiled, rich buffoon which Rudd plays here to a T [2]. He’s the type of idiot who doesn’t realize that Leslie is actually his opponent [3] when he meets her for the first time at a meet-n-greet campaign stop [4]. He’s the kind of guy who, after Ben and Leslie create a campaign ad that uses footage of Leslie as a child talking about why she wanted to get into politics against footage of Bobby now (looking very childish himself) first asks and expects them to drop out of the race just because he wants to win, and then asks them if they could get the girl who was in their ad to be in a spot of his own. Positioning the character in this manner was such a smart move because it would have been too easy to make him a stereotypical villain. Hating him would be too easy. We’re already predisposed to be rooting for Leslie in the race and making him a bad dude would have made the conflict too clear-cut. By going this route, you almost feel sorry for a guy who’s so dim-witted that he has no idea what he’s doing, while he generates laughs at the same time via his stupidity. He’s the rich kid who’s never been told ‘no’ and it’s blowing his mind when he hears it for the first time. It’s such a great move by Mike Schur and his writers. There’s also the beginning of some conflict between Ben and Leslie as well as a result of the campaign spot that gives the episode its title. Ben wants to hit hard at Bobby via a negative ad to be aired during a key basketball game but Leslie is less enthused. She’s philosophically opposed to going dirty and would rather focus on her positives rather than on Bobby’s negatives [5]. This results in a great scene where Ben and Leslie screen their respective ads for the campaign team. Leslie’s ad lists the things that she’s in favor of very literally – a scroll showing each and every thing that she supports takes up almost the entirety of the ad – and, as Ben points out, “You literally never mentioned the words ‘city council,’” while Ben’s effort is much more effective, complete with the doom-and-gloom voiceover so prevalent in political ads that intones, “BOBBY NEWPORT…” on multiple occasions [6] before listing why voters should opt against voting for him. After everyone else on the team wants to go with Ben’s spot, he and Leslie are able to cobble together the aforementioned compromise but it’s the first hint of potential conflict between Ben and Leslie. This might be worth filing away for future reference: What’s the impact that a campaign failure could have on Leslie and Ben’s relationship? Meanwhile back at the office, Chris enlists Ron’s help as a hatchet man in denying project requests as a means of slashing the Pawnee budget since he’s loathe to do anything that could remotely be considered negative – while Ron is very enthusiastic in crushing people’s dreams, naturally – but his motives don’t immediately reveal himself. It’s not until he somehow gets Ron out to lunch against his will [7] that his intentions become clear – he’s grooming Ron as a Ben replacement, something that Ron initially resists but then seems to warm to a bit late in the episode. Touches like this and Leslie’s run for city council are what sets Parks And Recreation apart from its sitcom brethren. They’re not content to be safe with their characters. They’re more than willing to go into new territory if need be. That’s the mark of a good series and “Campaign Ad” was a big step forward from the show’s first 2012 outing. Really can’t wait to see more of this race play out now that Rudd is on board.

[1] Sweetums is the snack/sugar company that’s appeared in earlier episodes of the show and it’s been established that, thanks to its money, it has a large measure of influence over town matters.
[2] The first time we see him, he’s giving a speech which includes the following gem: “I don’t know why they call it a cam-paign because until now it’s been a cam-pleasure.”
[3] He’d been under the impression that he was running unopposed. Whether that’s what he was told or it’s that he was too stupid to realize isn’t made clear. Personally, I’m hoping it’s the latter.
[4] And he mishears her name as “Esney Lope.”
[5] Leslie: “Ben says ‘No, we shouldn’t’ and now he works for his girlfriend.”
[6] Featured in another great scene where Ben, Tom, and Jerry attempt to enact the foreboding announcer voice.
[7] In a great bit of editing, we see Chris extending the lunch invite in his office and Ron resisting, only to immediately cut to the restaurant where Ron’s as puzzled to be there as the audience is to see him there. “Next thing I knew, we were at lunch. Did he drug me?”

Miscellany:
*The episode’s C-story follows Andy and April as they discover the wonders of health insurance after Andy injures himself sneezing – because he’s Andy – by falling into a wall. It was a very light storyline that, really, had you removed it wouldn’t have done the episode much harm, but it did give us a nice improv’d Chris Pratt scene where he rattles off everything that’s wrong with him to an exasperated doctor – “I broke my thumb on the way over here.” – and another scene where Andy tries to pull a dine-n-dash on a hospital bill only to run headlong into a parked ambulance only to then call for ANOTHER ambulance to come help him. Andy As Idiot storylines are usually gold, even as this one wasn’t particularly essential to the overall point of the episode.
*There was a nice callback to Leslie’s Christmas gift to Ron (the automatic door-closer) but it’s not quick enough to close the almost cyborg-like Chris out.
*Nice nerdy touch with Ann answering the television screen during the questions in Ben’s ad.
*”Hey Ann, are you still a nurse or did they fire you for sleeping with all the doctors?”
*”I’m thinking something raw and cucumber-based.”
*”If you get glasses I’ll divorce you.”
*”I have personally put out several local fires myself, at no cost to the taxpayer.”
*”Oh my God… this magic marker smells like cherries.”
*”When I bet on horses I never lose. Why? I bet on ALL the horses.”
*”I think based on the redness, I might be allergic to getting stabbed by needles.”
*”I’m Leslie Knope and I do not approve this message.”
*As per usual, I’ve embedded the episode below via Hulu for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy.

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Written by jeremylikestv

February 1, 2012 at 10:50 pm

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