“Parks and Recreation” had all the ingredients in place to do a full-blown “West Wing” homage with its return from a five-week hiatus. The episode is called “Live Ammo,” a reference to a line from Aaron Sorkin‘s late, great series. Bradley Whitford was a guest star. The “Parks” set features a couple of long hallways for walking and talking.
Thursday’s (April 19) show did feature a couple nods to “The West Wing,” including a walk-and-talk scene between Leslie and Whitford’s character, a Pawnee councilman. But the show wisely didn’t go full Sorkin, because really, would you believe it if Ben or Ron or April suddenly started talking really quickly?
Instead we got another in a line of consistently strong campaign stories, this one focusing on the conflict between Leslie’s current parks department job and her electoral ambitions. It also made room for another excellent Ron-and-Chris teamup and a good B-story for Season 4 MVP contender Aubrey Plaza, whose prolonged exposure to Leslie and Andy appears to be warming her cold, cold heart.
Leslie’s lobbying to keep the parks budget safe from cuts works — but only if the city closes an animal shelter or, when Leslie comes with a Plan B, Ann and several other city employees lose their jobs. So of course Ben, Andy and April end up with a house full of puppies, kittens, a rabbit and a pig — a Leslie Knope no-one-gets-hurt solution if there ever was one.
It also leads us into the meat of the April story. She’s picked up some of Leslie’s tasks at work, and while she can’t run a meeting to save her life, she does kind of care about the shelter animals and actually puts a pretty good effort into organizing the pet-adoption drive. (Bonus: April’s chasing and cursing at the woman who drops off two more cats.)
It doesn’t really work, though, so Leslie decides to commit “political suicide” and proposes to Jennifer that Bobby Newport put up his own money to save the animal shelter — in exchange for agreeing to a televised debate, where Leslie knows she has an advantage. It’s an incredibly shrewd move on her part, one that even impresses Jennifer a little bit and sets up what should be a very fun episode (written and directed by Amy Poehler) next week.
The Chris-Ron story took place mostly outside City Hall, so we didn’t get a Rob Lowe-Whitford “West Wing” reunion. That’s a small disappointment, though, in the face of Ron’s reaction to being taken to a meditation center (“I was not meditating. I just stood there, quietly breathing. There were not thoughts in my head whatsoever; my mind was blank”) and his excitement at finding a new place to eat: “There’s a hot, spinning cone of meat in that Greek restaurant next door. I don’t know what it is, but I’d like to eat the whole thing.”
The campaign arc has been a consistent winner for “Parks and Rec” in the second half of the season, and “Live Ammo” continued the streak. We’re really excited to see the sprint to the finish.
A few more notes from “Live Ammo”:
- Other than the episode title, the walk-and-talk and the framed “Pillner for Pawnee” napkin in the councilman’s office were the only overt “West Wing” references we noticed. Anyone else pick up on others?
- Donna’s fake histories for the shelter animals (“Whoa! This cat was in ‘Boogie Nights’?”): Brilliant.
- Tom is an unexpected source of comfort and wisdom for April, and while he probably couldn’t get away with giving sage advice to several of the other characters, here it works pretty well. Also, according to him it’s pronounced “puuuppy,” and we’re OK with that.
What did you think of “Live Ammo”?