If you’ve been reading my reviews of this season of Parks and Recreation, then you can probably figure out how I felt about “Campaign Ad.” I’ll offer some brief thoughts about the episode after the jump.

Until Parks and Recreation changes course, I’m probably going to be writing the same review over and over again. The election storyline just isn’t working, and “Campaign Ad” showed why: in an attempt to keep things as uncontroversial as possible, the show is stubbornly refusing to depict anything resembling an actual election campaign. The show wants us to root for Leslie to win, so the writers have eschewed giving her any sort of political ideology or pet campaign issues, lest a viewer be offended. Leslie naming propositions by number in her “positive” campaign ad might have been intended as a joke, but it served as a sad reminder that we don’t have a damn clue what Leslie stands for. Because of this, the show couldn’t make Leslie’s opponent someone who held a different stance from hers on key issues; there are no key issues in this election. This opponent needed to be a villain, plain and simple.

Enter Bobby Newport (played by Paul Rudd), heir to the Sweetums fortune. He hasn’t had to work a day in his life, he’s had everything handed to him on a silver platter, and the only reason he’s running for office is because his dad wants him to do something with his life. Heck, at the end of the episode, he even begged Leslie to pull out of the race for no reason other than that he wanted to win. How could anyone root for a guy like that? More than that, how could anyone vote for him? True, the cult of Sweetums is strong in Pawnee, but it doesn’t take more than a couple of brain cells to realize that Bobby is full of air. Even Pawnee’s denizens could figure that out.

There’s no version of the universe in which Bobby is a realistic candidate; he’s not even an exaggerated version of one. He was written as a flat-out cartoon, and it’s a testament to Rudd’s skill that it didn’t totally come across that way on screen. But actors can only put in so much effort against weak writing, and not even he could make the final scene at the restaurant work. Sure, I want Leslie to win the election, but I want her to earn it; I want her to face an actual opponent, not a walking, talking joke.

I didn’t just have problems with the premise of this week’s episode, though. I also had issues with the nuts and bolts. None of “Campaign Ad’s” subplots worked particularly well. The plot about the titular ad relied too much on Leslie being annoying, culminating in her actually tackling Ben,1 and the resolution where both positive and negative messages were combined was far too predictable. The Chris/Ron plot was well-constructed, and the revelation that Chris was testing out Ron for the position of city manager came as a surprise. However, most of the jokes in it fell flat, and I’m getting tired of stories that revolve around Ron’s hatred of government. I’m also getting tired of Andy’s sweet-but-dumb shtick, and the show needs to stop doing so many plots that are built around his inability to function as a normal adult human being. The Andy/April plot in this episode didn’t work at all, and it felt half-baked and directionless, as if it were thrown in at the last second to bring the episode up to its half-hour running time.

There were a few laughs to be had here and there. Tom approving of every idea that came his way got a chuckle out of me, and the scene where Ben, Jerry, and Tom read out “Bobby Newport” in deep voices was hilarious. However, these laughs would have been so much more satisfying if they had occurred in an episode where the stories were working or actually made sense. At least the plot about Ron being considered for city manager does make sense – he has expressed interest in the position in the past – so I’m interested to see where that goes. But it’s telling that what interests me the most going forward is what’s going on behind the scenes in Pawnee bureaucracy, i.e. the possibility of Ron becoming city manager. I don’t think that Parks and Recreation should have taken a turn into politics if it was going to do it so toothlessly. One simple fact should have been clear to the writers: if you want to get into politics, you have to get political.

1 Just for fun, reverse the gender roles on that. Not so funny anymore, eh? ^