‘Parks and Recreation’ Recap: Leslie Vs. The Best Campaign Strategist Ever

ParksS4E17: I don’t want to overstate this, but watching this week’s Parks and Recreation might be the best possible way any human being can spend thirty minutes of his or her time. “Campaign Shakeup” is the perfect example of what a Parks episode is and should be—some high quality, pure, uncut P&R. The good stuff (as opposed to last week’s episodes).

“He lost a third of his body in a motorcycle accident. The middle third. But they sutured the hell out of him. He’s fine now. Much shorter. But a good-looking, young, flat man.” – Ned Jones

At the beginning of the episode, things are going just peachy for Leslie and her beloved campaign manager Ben. The numbers in their camp are up—pundits on Pawnee’s most biting political talk show, The Final Word with Perd, are speaking favorably of Leslie and denigrating Bobby Newport, who is currently vacationing in Spain while his opponent works tirelessly to better her city. But as one might assume from the title of this week’s episode, Leslie’s campaign gets a bit of a shakeup. Newport’s father has hired a new campaign strategist, Jennifer Barkley (Kathryn Hahn), to work his son’s race. And she is good. Washington D.C. good. Therein lies the shakeup.

Leslie and Ben meet Barkley, who, politics aside, is a perfectly sweet, amicable woman, who actually thinks quite highly of Leslie and does indeed recognize her as the superior candidate. But Barkley is a competitor. It is her job to win the race for Newport, and she is dead set on doing so. And unfortunately for Leslie, she is quite capable of this task.

“Not enough ramps is the number three complaint among Pawnee seniors, right behind ‘Everything hurts,’ and ‘I’m dying.’” – Leslie

The key to winning an election in Pawnee: clinch the senior citizen vote. And the key to Pawnee’s senior citizen vote: Ned Jones (Carl Reiner—who, if you’ve forgotten, can deliver a joke like nobody’s business). Leslie and Ben pitch their plan to make senior life better in Pawnee: introduce more ramps throughout town. At first, Jones is an eager supporter of the Knope candidacy, but Barkley hypnotizes him and the rest of his demographic with promise of electronic lifts attached to every staircase in Pawnee—a perfectly impractical and expensive plan that Newport would likely never actually carry out.

War breaks out between Leslie and Barkley. For everything Leslie says and does, Barkley effectively one-ups her, embarrassing Leslie publicly via a smear ad and a faceoff on Perd’s program, chastising her naïveté and bureaucratic ideology, and twisting every comeback Leslie manages into some good old public brainwashing. Even when Leslie and Ben attack Bobby Newport for his romantic rendezvous in Europe, Barkley turns it around to make Leslie look bad. Like I said, she’s good. Pawnee is won over—Newport’s numbers skyrocket.

Interestingly, about this episode is that it ends on this down note. Leslie is losing. Newport and Barkley are at large. The campaign will continue on, and we’ll have to see if she is able to bounce back from this falter. Knope ’12.

“This reminds me of when my dad made me choose between which of my pet calves to slaughter with my own hands for my sixth birthday.” – Ron

I do love the Leslie storyline. Kathryn Hahn more than keeps up with the incredible pace of this show. Leslie’s asides about Ben’s diminutive stature are endearing and funny. But the glory rests back at the Parks Department. Without Leslie, it almost literally turns into the Lord of the Flies.

Chris takes Ron aside to discuss hiring a replacement for Leslie. Ron resists, promising Chris that his existing team can take on any project to prove that they are more than capable of running the department alone. In case you’re new to the show: Ron hates both big government and people, so the idea of more people making his government bigger practically gives him an ulcer.

“Hello, Ann Perkins.” – Ron

“That’s the first time you’ve said my entire name correctly.” – Ann

“Nonsense. We are close friends.” – Ron

Ron puts Ann in charge of the project: designing a water fountain that Pawnee citizens won’t be compelled to put their mouths on. The joke here is that every single person in Pawnee seems incapable of drinking from a public water fountain without putting his or her mouth on the spout itself—a clear health risk. Ann’s delivery of this joke in the talking head is what sparks the idea that this might well be one of the best episodes of Parks and Recreation in the show’s run.

Pawnee is as much a character as any of the individuals who live in it—more so than many, as a matter of fact. Not only is Pawnee a unique town with a very palpable personality to it, the idea of Pawnee is so incredibly important to the storyline of Parks and Rec, and to Leslie’s character. It makes her political run that much more important—she’s not just running for office. She is working for a seat on this incredibly vivid, incredibly important character—the town of Pawnee. And the fact that it is so damn funny that all of these people seem unable to stop putting their mouths on public water fountains speaks volumes about how well this show has designed and presented its town.

“Everything I’m wearing is suede! Everything I’m wearing is suede!” – Tom

Of course, the project goes awry due to the general incompetence of everyone in the department. Ron and Chris arrive just in time to see the employees chasing each other down, spraying one another with water hoses. He is displeased (especially when Andy “kamikazes” him with a bodysuit of water balloons—never once losing his smile).

Ron breaks the message to April that their little family (they do not use those words—but you already knew that) will have to welcome a stranger in. Neither of them is comfortable with this. So, April does the one thing she vowed never to do: care about something. She designs a spout-free fountain—a simple enough notion that is completely free of the possibility of being “mouthed.” Chris is pleased and allows the department to stay as is.

The last scene of the episode depicts Ron speaking with April about her actions. April tries to pass the credit off on Ann (not wanting him to know that she actually worked at something), but Ron finds out that she is the one responsible. Thus, he asks her to step up and take on some of Leslie’s work. Not because it’d make his life easier, but because he understands how smart and capable she is, and he doesn’t want her to waste her life as his assistant. And so it begins (at least, overtly): April is growing up. Sigh happily, viewers.

How did you like this week’s Parks and Rec? What do you see in the future of Leslie’s campaign? What about April’s future—where might she be headed? Let us know in the comments section, or on Twitter @Hollywood.com and @MichaelArbeiter.