It’s nice to see Parks and Recreation slow down and take its time this week. Yes, getting the Parks Dept-run campaign going and introducing a new political rival was all well and good (hilariously well and good, even) but Bowling for Votes is an episode that does almost nothing to advance the plot (Millicent Gergich aside) and lets us folks in the audience enjoy a night out with our favorite Pawnee citizens.
And also our least favorite Pawnee citizens.
So, as per the usual with Parks & Rec, we’ve got three concurrent stories here in Bowling for Votes. First, the main, campaign-centric story that contains both votes and bowling. Second is Chris and April’s story at the Knope 2012 telethon. And finally, there’s a tiny, inconsequential bit where Ron and Tom compete to determine which boy’s bowling behavior is best (b-words!).
Now that first storyline, in true Parks & Rec form, starts with a very predictable idea and takes it somewhere you wouldn’t expect at all. The situation is this: Leslie, while observing a campaign focus group, hears a focus grouper say that Leslie doesn’t seem like a candidate you could go bowling with. Like the slightly unstable human being she is, Leslie obsesses over the comment, hosting a Knope 2012 bowling night specifically to woo over that one guy who said that one thing.
Sadly, that guy (Derek, if you were curious… I’m not sure why you would be) turns out to be an unswayable ass, and after an entire night of bowling and beers Derek still has the gall to refer to Leslie as “[her] second least favorite term for a woman.”
So Ben punches Derek in the face. Afterwards, Leslie’s continued insistence (at a press conference, no less) that Derek is an ass and that Ben did the right by punching him actually wins her the respect of her voters.
All of this (for the most part) is your standard sitcom-type stuff and has one specific purpose. You show Leslie as hardheaded. She goes through some kind of ordeal due to said hardheadedness. After going through the ordeal, she’s learned her lesson and is now less hardheaded. Cut. Print. Not difficult at all.
But where Parks and Rec really shines is just how we get to that point. Sure, Leslie learns her lesson and ends the episode a little less stubborn then she started, but she still vehemently believes Derek deserved a punch in the face. Usually, in this kind of standard story the lesson we all learn in the end is something good and moral and decent, but Parks & Rec swerves from that just enough to be unique. The lesson here ends up being “punching a jackass in the face is an alright thing to do sometimes.”
And that sweet little gem of a moment we get in the end (with Ben and Leslie back watching another focus group) is the perfect capstone to the rest of the story. While most of the show’s climactic moments are ridiculous (with just enough crazy to be funny and exciting- the craziness never gets to a level that would seem unrealistic), there’s always some human moment somewhere that keeps everything grounded and makes the characters seem less like characters and more like real, articulate human beings.
Seriously, folks. Name a TV couple that more like a real couple and less like a TV one then Ben Wyatt and Leslie Knope. I dare you.
I’ll double-dog dare you, even.
Hard to do. I know.
Now at this point I’ll touch on the other two stories present in Bowling for Votes, although the central one is by far the strongest. April and Chris’s competition has a handful of sweet emotional moments and some good gags (and I love that Champion the three-legged dog isn’t going away anytime soon), but overall it it felt like you could see everything coming a mile away, especially with April giving Chris the free movie tickets at the end. Not that that’s a terrible thing. But still.
And Ron and Tom’s little showdown is fantastic, if very brief. Tom’s descent into creepy childhood speak with his hurt “fingy,” Ron’s secret venture back to the bowling alley, and what was easily my favorite line in the episode- “son, people can SEE you!” It was quick and zany and made me laugh until my lungs ached. No complaints here.
Well, that should about do it for Bowling for Votes. It’s always nice to see that a show that aways strives for the season-long arcs can still nail a short ‘n’ sweet standalone episode. Kudos, Parks & Rec. Kudos.