Politics are about appearances. We just watched the first presidential debate, and Mitt Romney’s hair looked and sounded confident and presidential, while Barack Obama smirked and coasted. It doesn’t matter that Romney spent the whole debate lying and being incredibly unspecific about what his presidency would look like. It doesn’t matter that Obama’s smirk at Romney’s bullshit was warranted. Romney looked MUCH better, and he won.
In this week’s episode of Parks and Recreation, Leslie, a junior councilwoman, has her own private bathroom. This raises a point of contention with another councilman, who wants her office—mostly so he can drop deuces in it (get the subtlety?). This becomes a bitter rivalry as they jockey over a bill.
Leslie demonstrates her typical #pluck, but does so with half a perm. It’s the hairstyle of a deflated bride of Frankenstein and Courtney Love on her best day. And yet it’s barely addressed. It’s the Parks and Rec we’ve all loved since the beginning—something completely ridiculous, maybe a callback to the pit in Season 1.
Meanwhile, Ron and Andy are fixing a pothole. They’re doing this because Chris’s centralization “311” plan sends the Pawnee government into a completely unwalkable marsh of bureaucratic mess. So Ron drives out and works his manly magic while Andy plays with a bunch of little girls. The girls’ single mom brings Ron lemonade, in a textbook display of oppressive gender stereotypes. Eventually, the little girls (and Andy) convince Ron to play tea party with them, and Ron gets made up, undermining his fought-over-concrete masculinity. The lady comes outside and laughs at Ron, but it proves worthwhile: eventually, she corners Ron in his office and asks him to dinner—with, of course, a no-makeup-needed disclaimer.
The real way government looks is rarely flashy—Leslie abruptly leaves a half-finished perm to work for some more votes on a bill. Presumably, she never has time to finish the perm due to her relentless campaigning. Ron rolls up his sleeves and fixes a pothole his department has no business dealing with, then is willing to apply some guyliner to win the affections of a single mom. Admittedly, Ron prefers this to his normal position as Parks Department Director.
Ben and April decide to engage in another classic American trope: the East→West road trip to visit their lovers. Unfortunately, they’re stuck in a parking garage for 40 minutes and run out of gas blasting the AC. Not only that, they have no music: Ben only listens to soundtracks. The two halfheartedly bicker over the traffic, but ultimately bond in their misery and frustration at not being able to see their loved ones.
It’s an excellent subversion of something everyone dreams of, and it actually brings Ben and April closer together. It also not-so-subtlety satirizes how impossible it is to accomplish anything in D.C.—one week after Ben couldn’t get ahead due to nepotism and an ungrateful assistant, he’s thwarted by traffic. Fortunately, he has a beautiful, half-permed Pawnee city councilwoman waiting for him in his adopted Indiana home.
It’s a basic comedy idea, to have a series of goals that seem great on the surface but are terrible in practice. It’s also what political campaigns are based on. 2012 Romney can lie through a debate, because the last four years haven’t been great and there’s no real specified Romney plan, so anything he says can happen in someone’s pipe dream. 2008 Obama can promise anything, because he hadn’t had a day in office and you couldn’t get worse than Dubya Bush. In some ways, Leslie Knope is the same way—she’s an idealist who can’t comprehend why people wouldn’t want to go along with her ideas. Intentionally or not, it was the perfect episode to come after the first Presidential debate. Some things look good on TV. But in practice, you have to make like Tom Haverford and eat racist salad to get votes. We’re seeing interesting and complex political maneuvering and compromises from Leslie. Last week, it was a complete comedy miss. This week, it was better. Let’s hope she continues to gain steam until the elect—uh, season finale.