‘Parks and Recreation’ Recap: The Comeback Kid

Parks and RecS4E11: Look, the holiday season is fine. But what’s a gift-giving holiday, a champagne-popping New Year’s and time off from work without Parks and Recreation?! In my book, not much.

In comparison to the excellent seasons two and three, Season Four of Parks hasn’t been perfection, with occasional plot threads meandering into “where is this going?” territory, but enough heart-warming moments (see: “Citizen Knope”) to keep my devout love for the show alive. I’m always going to love this cast, these characters, the town of Pawnee, as long as they remain the same at their core. Put them through the grinder—but stay consistent. After tonight’s episode, I’m under the impression the writers know exactly how to balance the familiar with the evolving. Oh, and how to bring the funny too.

“Ann, don’t listen to your head or your heart. Just look at me and say ‘yes.'” – Leslie

The last half of the season capped off with Leslie losing her original campaign team and finding solace in her office mates, who lend their services to the election. Tonight picks up with their first real challenge as a team: a relaunch rally. Leslie tasks Ann as her campaign manager (she’s decided her relationship with Ben makes him toxic to the cause), and the two work together to nab a hometown hero to endorse Leslie. They settle on Pistol Pete Desillio, who continues to ride the fame of a slam dunk he made in high school. Unfortunately, while Pete wholeheartedly stands behind Leslie, he doesn’t feel too comfortable slam dunking in her honor. Ann tries her best to convince him otherwise, but Pete’s personal issues (plus a barrage of other hurdles that pull Leslie away), make the whole endeavor hopeless.

I was a big of fan of the last few episodes of the Fall, with an emotional payoff to Ben and Leslie’s long-gesting secret relationship, but it’s comforting to be back watching the gang work together on something. All the character dynamics are clobbered back together in “The Comeback Kid,” and it works perfectly.

“Well, we have a philosophical difference at what constitutes a law.” – Ron

Staying out of Leslie and Ann’s way, Ron, Tom, Andy, April and the married couple’s new three-legged dog Champion all throw in their skills to help construct a stage for the rally. Tom hunts down red carpet. Ron damns contractors in favor of building a platform himself. April and Andy book the event space (maybe). The group collects there things and heads to the event—just in time to be pulled over by the cops (Andy insists on honking the horns “for the kids.” Cops don’t like that in hospital zones). When Leslie gets word of her co-workers run in with the local authorities, she heads to their aid. The wrench in the not-so-well-oiled plan is a clear sign that Murphy’s Law is the only thing they didn’t break.

“Um, I’m kind of tearing this claymation video a new one right now.” – Ben

The only person completely removed from tonight’s main storyline? Ben—who makes the wise decision of staying as far away as possible from Leslie’s campaign. Ben’s on his own existential journey now, and when Chris comes over to see how he’s faring, it’s obvious that Ben’s self-exploration has taken a turn for…the mental. Ben’s cooking (“Learning how to make a callll-aaah-zooooh-naaaay!”), making stop-motion animated films and dressing himself like a homeless person. As Chris smiles through the ugly sight, but he realizes either he has to save his former co-worker or watch him go completely off the deep end. He chooses the latter, and snaps Ben back to reality with a hefty dose of herbal smoothie.

I missed Ben at the tail end of last season, as his main role was to live in the shadows while Leslie figured out her own crazed life. Here he’s being the weird guy we’ve seen snippets of in the past. The kind of guy who wants to wear a Batman costume around the house. While it looks like we won’t get much of his odd, unemployed turn, it might be for the best—wouldn’t want it to turn into a never-ending Entertainment 720 plotline.

“Oh, dammit Jerry. You just had to do your job, didn’t you?” – Leslie

When the group finally convenes, the relaunch rally is in complete chaos. With hundreds of people in the audience, a basketball court that’s actually a skating rink, half a red carpet and a mangled speech, it looks painfully apparent to Leslie that her chance of winning the election is over. That is, until a surprise appearance by Pistol Pete. Yes, the unwilling celebrity comes to her rescue…only to fall face first on the ice after an unsuccessful dunk.

Nothing went right this episode, but that’s just fine—it gave Leslie the insight to put fear aside and accept Ben as her official campaign manager. We knew it was coming—they’re a power couple after all—and their sweet kiss at the end sealed the deal in a signature Parks and Recreation moment. This sets the direction of the show into a classic format. Leslie acting nutty, Ben being the Jiminy Cricket in her ear, the gang trying their best to make things perfect. Is the move a step backwards into a comfort zone or molding the new scenario into the prime Parks formula?

If you’re like me, you’ll fully endorse Leslie Knope over at their official campaign site Knope2012.com—which received a fantastic shout out at the end of the episode!