[Review based on "Citizen Knope" (4.10), "The Comeback Kid" (4.11) and "Campaign Ad" (4.12)]
The main conflict in "Campaign Ad" exemplifies Parks & Recreation's views towards humor. Co-creator Michael Schur stated in an interview with the A.V. Club that he dislikes the insult humor and meanness in comedies while recognizing that humor comes from conflicts and flaws. Ben and Leslie's contrasting approaches to the campaign embodies the different approaches that comedies use to find humor. The compromise in the episode's resolution is very fitting because it symbolizes the balance that the show attempts to strike.
Just as the ad used parts of both Ben and Leslie's ideas, so too does Parks use both positive and negative types of humor. The episode created some sweetly funny moments between April and Andy, whose naïveté about medicine and insurance is treated with more affection than malice. However, the cracks towards Jerry ("the biggest negative in the world") are unambiguously disparaging. Even in this case, the show undercuts the venom by establishing that Jerry is generally content with his position as the department's punching bag because he is so satisfied with the rest of his life.
Instead of deriving conflict from the characters' failings, Parks tends to find humor in the pairings and situations that it puts them in. The two character pairings in "Campaign Ad" have appeared before (most effectively in episode 3.10 - "Soulmates") and while the Chris/Ron story delivers fewer laughs this time around, April and Andy are put in a new situation with entertaining results. The show has found success by putting the entire group together ("Hunting Trip", "Camping"), and the last three episodes have featured most of the cast working together on Leslie's problems. This setup lets a few of the characters riff off of each other without committing to a pairing for a whole episode. I am curious to see if the coming episodes will follow this format, with stories featuring Chris and Ron set in the Parks department.
The previous three episodes seem to mark the beginning of an increased focus on Leslie's bid for city council. While there will undoubtedly still be stories set in the department, I wouldn't be surprised if the remainder of the season centers on the campaign. This episode also helped to reaffirm Leslie's morality, which the bribery scandal called into question (both for voters in the show and Parks' viewers). "Campaign Ad" broke with the the preceding episode by deriving much of the humor from the April/Andy B-story instead of Leslie's campaign. The show runs the danger of partitioning itself into "expository" and "humorous" parts, but the possibility of more ensemble scenes assuages that fear.
Grade (based on all 3 episodes): B
- "Hey Ann, are you still a nurse, or did they fire you 'cause you slept with all the doctors?"
- Leslie puts Christmas, birthdays and the first day of school in the same category
- "Now we're just wasting time Jerry."
- "Ann, you're beautiful and you're organized."
- "I got my ankles microwaved." "X-rayed."
- "Some guy looked at my wiener. Touched it. That was weird." "That guy wasn't even a doctor."
- Love seeing Ron's door remote again
- "Dine and dash!"
- "I'm not lonely - I have me. And 4000 Facebook friends. And a hot girlfriend."
- "Do you think sewing kits are covered by insurance? Or groceries or like Xbox games? What is insurance?"