Parks and Recreation is back after a one-month hiatus, and it’s more or less the way we left it: very enjoyable in parts, immensely frustrating in others. A brief review of “Live Ammo” follows after the jump.

It wasn’t that long ago that churning out 1000-word reviews for this show didn’t seem like a chore at all. But now, I feel as if I have nothing constructive to say anymore. In fact, I’ve said more or less everything I can say. Parks and Recreation continues to do fantastic, complex character work with Chris and April. In this episode, spending time with Ron allowed Chris to see the “shades of gray” in the world: there isn’t just success and failure; sometimes Chris can lose something (i.e. his job) and gain something else (i.e. the ability to date a former coworker). Meanwhile, April continued her maturation, finding out that she can be passionate about some things (like helping animals in need of rescue) while still retaining her overall disdain for humankind. In the second half of this season, Parks and Rec has consistently done right by these characters, and it has been a joy to watch.

It’s unfortunate, then, that the show continues to do wrong by Leslie. It seems as if every second episode of Parks and Rec follows this format:

  1. Leslie makes a campaign gaffe.
  2. Ben chastises Leslie.
  3. Public opinion of Leslie drops.
  4. Leslie resolves the situation through some silly contrivance.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a politician who consistently makes stupid campaign gaffes isn’t somebody for whom I’d vote. I wouldn’t vote for Leslie. That’s a problem, because the show wants me to want to vote for Leslie. I have to wonder how boneheaded she must be not to realize that saving the parks department budget (even not at the expense of something else) while running for office would be perceived as a conflict of interest. If she lacks that basic level of political savvy, how could she be a competent councilwoman?

In order to make Leslie appear competent, the show has resorted to making other characters seem stupid by comparison. This week, it was the formerly unflappable Jennifer Barkley who got the short end of the stick. Her “it’s all just a game” attitude was nowhere to be seen this week. Instead, she was portrayed first as a cartoon villain when she appeared on Perd Hapley’s show, then as a flustered nitwit when she met with Ben and Leslie at the restaurant. I had hoped that Barkley’s introduction would turn this show into a game of political chess. Instead, Parks and Recreation’s politics are as shallow as ever. (Ironically, we did get some political chess in Chris’s storyline, when he found out that Bobby Newport would fire him if elected – yet more proof that the show is doing much better with its Chris-related material than its Leslie-related material.)

I’ve made similar complaints before. In fact, I’ve made them pretty consistently over the second half of this season. The thing is: I wouldn’t have to make them if the show would stop using the same episode format over and over again. We’ve seen enough of Leslie’s campaign gaffes. We’ve seen enough of Ben’s attempts to fix them. Heck, we’ve seen enough of the election campaign, period. It’s a failed storyline; there’s no hope of rescuing it. The show continues to do amazing things on the fringes, like April’s and Chris’s character development. The show is also consistently good at generating a few chuckles: Andy playing with the ship-in-a-bottle and Ron not realizing that he was meditating were highlights. It’s a shame that what’s at the centre, i.e. Leslie’s campaign for city council, continues to disappoint.

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