Hey-Ho Parks and Reckers, it’s been over a month since we last visited our favorite Indiana hamlet, it’s 2012 now, and that’s… something, I guess. In Pawnee, things are mostly as they were in the twilight of 2011. Leslie and her beloved Parks department are plotting to get Leslie’s campaign out of the gutter while Ben, the newly shiftless, unemployed boyfriend, sits at home “finding himself” via his various nerdy hobbies—oh and we have a new cast member! April and Andy’s dog Champion, the three legged champion of all dogs, who can do everything that other dogs do—except dig, he’s terrible at digging.

Tonight’s episode was Team Knope’s first shot at dominating the Pawnee political landscape. Confident in her new team, Leslie taps Ann to be her campaign manager and asks them to plan a political rally around her first Pawnee celebrity endorsement: high school basketball legend “Pistol” Pete Descillo. In Leslie terms, her demands are pretty simple. She wants a stage, a crowd, and for “Pistol” Pete to give her a slam dunk endorsement—in the literal sense, he has to dunk a basketball at the rally or no one will care.

So how does Team Knope fair? Well, poorly. Spectacularly so, in fact.

Come to think of it, I’m not so sure the Parks crew has ever been this dopey before. Competent as they are in pulling off big events like the Harvest Festival, it seems a little nuts that they can’t meet Leslie’s rather simple demands. An event of this size should have been a cake walk for the same group of people that put together a funeral extravaganza for a miniature pony, certainly not something that leaves them cold, wet and covered in dog urine.

Leslie’s campaign rally largely falls victim to her ragtag group of civic employees giving in to their worst instincts. Andy becomes even more distracted by his new buddy Champion, April’s disdain for everything blinds her to the point that she books a political event on an ice skating rink, and Tom becomes so hung up on getting the highest quality red carpet for Leslie to walk on that he can only afford to cover about a third of the distance to the stage. Even Ron, beautiful, even-keeled Ron, allowed his Individualist and Libertarian streaks to land him on the wrong side of the law, as he tries to tackle constructing Leslie’s stage himself only to scatter half of the building material across town while transporting it in a poorly secured dump truck that he doesn’t have a license to be driving.

Even Leslie’s sought after endorsement from “Pistol” Pete becomes doubtful as the high school hero refuses to slam dunk a basketball for her. Now in his 40s, it seems that “Pistol” is starting to struggle with the fact that his life’s crowning achievement was scoring 2 points in a high school basketball game. In a hurry to make sure Ron, April, Andy, Tom and Champion don’t get hauled off to jail; Leslie leaves it to Ann to convince “Pistol” to change his mind, leading the poor man to spill his troubled, dramatic life story into Ann’s lap.

Come time for the rally, the only thing Leslie has to work with is a piece of banner featuring just her eyes, a 4 foot square stage and an audience of about a hundred people. It seems that even though the rest of her Parks department uncharacteristically dropped the ball, Jerry, who was in charge of gathering a crowd, did a fine job gathering a crowd of eyes to witness Leslie’s calamity. Stupid Jerry.

While I’m hesitant to embrace a Parks department that’s this overwhelming incompetent, I do like how the writers stuck to their guns in making Leslie’s rally a total disaster. There’s no speech from Leslie that mines into the heart of small town America to win hearts and minds, and even though he managed to pull himself together after breaking down in sobs in the back of Ann’s car, a last minute appearance from “Pistol” Pete only ends with him crashing face first into the ice.

While Leslie’s rally saw the Parks department acting out their worst instincts, Ben spent a similar journey as his troubled descent into unemployment and depression sees him explore his basest desires. Ben’s decision to see what’s out there has led him to become an unkempt mess, eating dry sugar cereal out of the box and making his own stop motion animated movie. Ben has convinced himself that he’s finally happy, after all, who besides a person completely at peace with himself spends all day wearing a Letters to Cleo shirt while planning a calzone franchise that would revolutionize fast casual dining? It takes a visit from Chris to shake Ben from his unemployment stupor—that and the realization that he’s put three weeks of work into about 11 seconds of Claymation.

Unemployment can make people comically depressed, and extremely weird acting. That urge to do something, anything productive can lead down some strange avenues, so seeing a nerd like Ben mining the depths of his boredom rang extremely true. Chris, however, recognizes that his former underling is wasting his potential and urges him to get back on the horse. Ben’s opportunity comes in the form of Leslie, who takes Ben on as her new campaign manager after Ann begged to be fired. Let’s not forget that Ben knows a thing or two about elections, considering he was once Ben Wyatt, boy mayor.

While it was fun to watch the Parks crew fail spectacularly, something about it didn’t feel quite right. Ann acting as campaign manager felt right in the beginning of the episode, what with the dearth of the things that Ann has had to do this season, but having Ben find a purpose in Leslie’s campaign after he ruined her chances is a nice touch. Hopefully he can whip this band of misfits into shape.

The extra stuff

“Stand in the place where you l-“

Ben clearly missed the boat on the P’zone, Pizza Hut’s terrible calzone monstrosity.

“I am holding the dog, he is now peeing.”