“Parks and Recreation” Recap: “Campaign Shake-Up”
About time. The campaign for Pawnee City Council is heating up, meaning this season’s storyline is finally becoming compelling in a way everyone’s been hoping it would.
Like America, Pawnee is ruled not by how things are, but how they appear to be. Leslie and her dedicated city government colleagues (and Ron Swanson) can only do what they can convince the widely uninformed and easily swayed populace of Pawnee is necessary. To reach out to that populace, they are dependent upon the local media…and that’s when “Parks and Recreation” is at its best.
This week, we get a healthy dose of Perd Hapley, the dim-witted host of a “Nightline”-like evening news show, and a war of words between Ben and Leslie and Bobby Newport’s new campaign manager, Jennifer Barkley (Katherine Hahn), fresh from the Beltway and ready to tear it up.
Rarely does Leslie Knope seem overmatched, or really even matched, but Jennifer’s amoral, bare-knuckled focus on winning at all costs is something Leslie has yet to encounter. For Leslie, running for City Council is personal, the natural progression of a life dedicated to serving her community. For Jennifer, it’s just business, meaning she’ll sling mud, assassinate character, and steal ideas but still buy drinks at the end of the day, and wonder why Leslie is holding a grudge. It’s a sobering realization for Leslie of what it may actually take to go places in government.
The best thing about “Campaign Shake-Up” is that the ending isn’t happy. Too often, the producers want to make everything a-okay in twenty-one minutes. This time, we leave Leslie and Ben sucking down Jennifer’s conciliatory clean whiskeys, defeated and unsure of themselves. What is next for our Pawnee crusaders? We have to wait until next week to see what their next move will be, meaning an actual, bona-fide story arc this season.
Comedy legend Carl Reiner makes a brief appearance as a local leader in the elderly community, but does not distinguish himself. A secondary storyline sees April Ludgate getting an unwanted promotion, and a mandate to grow up at least a little bit.
“Campaign Shake-Up” manages, in twenty-one minutes, to make a show that occasionally seemed to be ossifying become dynamic and plastic once more. Now everyone is asking: what if Leslie loses? What if April takes her job? And that means they’re paying attention.