Parks and Recreation is back from its winter hiatus and diving headfirst into Leslie’s campaign for a seat on city council. And just like Leslie’s campaign, it’s not really working. I’ll elaborate after the jump.
It brings me no joy to say this, but I’m not sure it’s worth reviewing Parks and Recreation anymore; I’m basically making the same complaints week after week. I had hoped that the midseason finale, “Citizen Knope,” was the shot in the arm that this competently executed but dull season needed to kick things into high gear. However, “The Comeback Kid” all but extinguished that hope, choosing to double down on the things that frustrated me about the first half of the season: the inability to build any stakes or tension; the continued transformation of Andy into a one-note caricature; the election campaign that bears almost no resemblance to what an election campaign for a seat on the council of a small town would look like; the focus on Leslie’s more annoying traits; and the sense that none of what’s happening on the show really matters.
None of this means that Parks and Rec is a bad show now; it just means that Parks and Rec is a formulaic, predictable one. I can still find a lot of things to enjoy: I had a lot of fun watching the three-legged dog (which sounds kind of wrong as I’m typing it out), and April and Ann were at their funniest this week, especially the latter in her confusion at dealing with Pistol Pete. On the other hand, the episode was set up as to practically scream, “BEN WILL BE LESLIE’S CAMPAIGN MANAGER,” and sure enough, that’s what happened in this episode’s requisite heartfelt resolution.
It’s really alarming that Leslie didn’t seem to notice for weeks that Ben was in a depressive funk because of his unemployment, but Parks and Recreation expects the audience to sweep that all under the rug and give a big “aww” when Ben accepts Leslie’s offer. Unfortunately, I have trouble doing that. I really do admire this show’s positivity, but it’s about five steps away from turning into the adult version of Barney and Friends.
That’s why I’m having trouble caring about the election storyline. It’s presented in the simplest terms possible: Leslie wants to win a seat on city council. But why? I know that she wants to “make a difference,” but in what way? What are her political positions? What does she stand for? (The show’s general nonpartisanship is a liability here.) All we really know is that Leslie wants to win the election, and it’s important to her; the show doesn’t want to dig any deeper. Moreover, we know that it’s good for Leslie if she wins the election. But we also know that she’s surrounded by friends who will support her no matter what, and she’ll continue to work for the betterment of the community through the parks department, even if she loses the election. There are no stakes here; it’s practically a win-win situation! Like I said, adult version of Barney and Friends.
As I stated above, none of this means that Parks and Recreation is a bad show; it’s just a show that’s content to be the fluffy feel-good fun happy half-hour, rather than the well-rounded comedy it used to be. I’ll be entertained as long as this show continues to have mostly charming characters, as well as the highest calzones-per-minute ratio of any network comedy. But am I passionate enough about the show to publicly endorse Leslie’s campaign? Let’s just say that I wouldn’t be as supportive as Pistol Pete.