Parks and Rec Recap: “Campaign Shake-Up”

It’s been a rollercoaster of a city council campaign so far for Leslie Knope, and this week, the ups and downs continue. While her incompetent opponent Bobby Newport has made things easy for Leslie by going into hiding, his costly new campaign manager Jennifer Barkley (played by guest star Kathryn Hahn) is making things hard for her. Newport fleeing the country also made things easy on busy movie star Paul Rudd, who plays the character, allowing him to sit this episode out. He’ll be back later on this season, relax.

Leslie and campaign manager Ben have made great strides to recover from the mini-scandal the two were involved in, and their latest plan to advance the campaign is to capture “the gray vote” (aka the support of Pawnee’s senior citizens). Living comedy legend Carl Reiner guest stars as influential senior Ned Jones, the most popular octogenarian in Pawnee. Just when it looks like Leslie has earned the support of Jones and the town seniors, Jennifer Barkley pulls the rug out from under her, proving to be exactly the kind of worthy adversary that Bobby Newport is not.

Elsewhere in Pawnee, Ron and the staff are working hard – for once – so that Chris won’t force them to hire a new person to take on some of Leslie’s duties. Inspired by the residents of Pawnee’s insistence on clamping their whole mouths down on drinking fountain spouts when using them, Ron comes up with an idea for a water fountain hygiene initiative. I always love when the show portrays Pawnee’s residents in a revoltingly negative light, and the inability of everyone in town to drink water from a fountain without wrapping their mouths around the metal water-shooty-thing provides for some of the episode’s best moments and lowers my estimate of the average Pawnee citizen’s IQ level by double-digits.

While all of the staff’s ideas for solving the water fountain problem are funny and entertaining, April of all people has the most practical solution, wowing Chris and Ron into asking her to take on some of Leslie’s responsibilities. April has advanced a lot career-wise in the four seasons Parks has been on the air, starting as an apathetic intern and now she’s an apathetic sub for the Deputy Director of the Parks Department. Showrunner Michael Schur and his writing staff’s insistence on constantly keeping all of their characters moving forward is one of the most refreshing elements of Parks and Rec and one of the big things (besides how funny it is) that distinguishes the show from most other sitcoms on the air. Hardly an episode goes by that one of the show’s major characters doesn’t deal with a major change in their professional or personal life, and it’s what keeps Parks and Rec fresh week after week. It’s also what makes writing an up-to-date spec script for the show near-impossible. Am I right, aspiring comedy writers?

It would have been hard to predict April’s rise in the office when looking at her character in the first season (hell, even earlier this season), but the writers have managed to move her forward without betraying the character. April is climbing the ladder but she still has no desire to do so. On paper, giving April the pseudo-promotion sounds like it would be hard to pull off while staying true to who she is, but it’s done in an impressively natural way. April’s disdain for her job was a big thing that she and Ron Swanson bonded over early on, and even though she’s raised her status, her disinterest in anything related to her job is still intact.

Stay tuned next week for the last Parks and Rec before the show’s five-week hiatus. On the bright side, it’ll be the first-ever episode written by Nick Offerman!

Miscellanea:

  • “Campaign Shake-Up” was written and directed by Dan Goor, a longtime writer of Parks and an alumni of the Late Night with Conan and Daily Show writing staffs. This was his directorial debut.
  • Perd Hapley’s full name is Perderick L. Hapley. God, I want a Perd spin-off so bad!

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

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