Poehler is momentarily tempted. “Now hold on a second . . . ” she whispers to her boyfriend/campaign manager Ben Wyatt, played by Adam Scott.
It’s a funny moment and the actors nail it on multiple takes. But after huddling with two fellow producers, Michael Schur — co-creator of “Parks and Recreation” and the episode’s director — decides it needs a new bribe. (Why the bribe? That’s a spoiler that the “Parks” team has deemed classified information.)
They run the scene again, and this time, Barkley offers something really enticing. “I can give you Joe Biden’s home phone number,” she says.
It’s a ridiculous statement, a wry political reference and an inside joke that refers to the torch Knope carries for the 47th vice president of the United States. And that puts it smack in the show’s wheelhouse.
“Parks and Recreation,” in its fourth season on NBC, prides itself on being a show about quirky bureaucrats as well as, paradoxically, an apolitical enterprise. Some of its characters may espouse certain philosophies — Ron Swanson’s live-and-let-live- while-eating-bacon brand of libertarianism, or Leslie’s stereotypically liberal belief that government can solve all problems — but party affiliations have studiously been avoided.
“One of the rules we laid down early on with Leslie, I mean long before she ran for office, is that we were never going to use the words Democrat or Republican in reference to her, or anybody else,” Schur said during a phone conversation a month after shooting the bribe scene.
Schur and his fellow writers have stuck to that rule even while riffing on current events. (Previous episodes have tackled controversies involving the validity of Leslie’s birth certificate, relations between the United States and Venezuela, and gay marriage . . . between penguins.) But this season’s campaign plotline could be a turning point for both the series and the ambitious Knope, whose female-aspirational office decor features photographs of both Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin.
Can Knope, a character who came to TV life less than three months after President Obama’s inauguration, beat one-percenter Bobby Newport (played with affable cluelessness by Paul Rudd) and score a victory for hardworking government officials with integrity? And even if she wins, can she maintain that integrity as an elected official?
“Leslie Knope is the child of ‘Yes we can,’ you know,” says Poehler. “She’s the person who believes that no matter how much power you have, you can make a difference. You can contribute. You can change things. Her kind of blind spot is how slow and hard it is, how slowly change happens.”