During Parks and Recreation’s fourth season, Amy Poehler wrote and directed the twentieth episode “The Debate”. In this episode, Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) is fighting for her chance to win a seat on the city council in a debate against the charming and wealthy heir to the Sweetums Company Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd). A second story line involves the romantic love triangle of Ann (Rashida Jones), Tom (Aziz Ansari) and Chris (Rob Lowe) as they work the spin room during the telecast. The third thread has Andy (Chris Pratt) and April (Aubrey Plaza) hosting a viewing party of the debate for Leslie’s donors. Andy has forgotten to pay the cable bill. In order to keep the donor’s entertained Andy acts out his favorite movies, but Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) saves the day by stealing cable just in time to see Leslie’s closing statement.
The debate is set up in an 800-seat auditorium, which seems ridiculous for a council seat in a midsized city in Indiana. Even the spin room has the feel of a senatorial debate. On stage Leslie is flanked by her competitors, an adult film star and Bobby Newport. Leslie must set herself apart from these two candidates who lack her experience and dedication for public service. In order to create this effect, Poehler sets up a shot of Leslie Knope seen through a television screen at the viewing party thus physically separating her from her opponents. She then cuts to the various reactions of each of Knope’s friends and colleagues, circling back to her on stage, illustrating the emotional impact her character’s passionate words have for the town and its people. Poehler has made a connection by weaving through her audience creating a closed circle.
What is so wonderfully effective about this episode is how it emphasizes the theme of how powerful your feelings are for the things you care about. Developing on the lines of weaving a story structure, Poehler gives equal time between her characters as each story feeds into another. They are intertwined and balanced. All three storylines coalesce on the need to be honest with yourself and those around you.