Even after the rousing speech to end “The Debate” that inspired legions of Leslie supporters (and this reviewer), she’s still two points down. As I alluded to in my review of “Live Ammo,” the stakes have been raised for a show whose main draw is how much fun will be had on a weekly basis. There’s a sense that even the slightest slip-up could make this house of cards collapse.
Leslie is easily the only person in the race who’s fit for the position, but despite our affection for her and all her dearest advisors and staff, I’m unsure she’ll win. It’s not a matter of faith or distrust, it’s a reflection of the superb storytelling. Sitcoms have used tension to ensnare viewers since the format burst on the scene, but by and large, things work out for the best. I cannot think of a comedy that deliberately disappointed me (well “The Office” is trying real hard) by teasing something and then yanking out the tablecloth. Obstacles do a fantastic job of stalling so we spend episode upon episode waiting for the inevitable, but “Parks” is threatening more than any other comedy to not only put a twist on our hopes and expectations, but to go the route of gritty dramas and go drastic.
In some ways I want her to fail. That sort of devastation and falling-short might have more to tell us then her triumph ever could. Ultimately, my fanboy devotion hinges in on how much I love to hang with these people who have been so carefully crafted that they feel like my friends. If Leslie’s shenanigans are still staged in the parks department as opposed to city hall, I suspect it wouldn’t change a thing. Except it would change everything for how she perceives her work and what matters. And that’s an exciting possibility. And yet, a part of me would be irrationally angry if she lost. This show has me by the throat and it won’t let go. Only as my last breath escapes, will I know what I absolutely want, but by then will be too late.
Luckily the last moments will be joyous. Even as LesBen seems to be outsmarted at every turn by Jenn Barkley, they weasel their way out with charm and genuine kindness that isn’t advisable in any political script. In this penultimate episode of season four, it’s the final day of the campaign and nothing screams last shot like a tour bus with your face plastered on the side. Leslie visualizes her victory, but she doesn’t have the votes yet so she must parade around town and repeat her precisely-timed stump speech and shoot off t-shirt cannons to sway any fence-sitters. At one location, her preparations are tossed aside when she’s asked to comment on Nick Newport Sr., Bobby’s father. She slams the former Sweetums CEO for exploiting the townspeople and calls him a jerk, only to be informed by the same reporter that she was asking for comment on Nick Newport’s death. Now baffled, she’s unable to spin her out-of-context bashing and Jenn Barkley demands Leslie suspend all her campaign events to pay respect to the Newport family.
Off on a separate mission are Tom, Donna and Ron who need to negotiate with Bill Butler of BBB Auto Rental about lowering the price point for a fleet of vans to chauffeur seniors on voting day. His sudden price hike is a result of the Newport campaign offering $10,000 to park them somewhere so that Leslie can’t use them. Considering they expected a $900 charge, the new mark seems unmanageable. Mike O’Malley plays Bill Butler with just the right balance of snark and sinister (and he’s sans ball cap!). Interesting tidbit, O’Malley was second in the running for the role of Ron Swanson, so to see them play off each other is delightful. I can’t imagine anyone but Nick Offerman since he owns the part, but O’Malley’s sarcastic, stubborn and simple-minded “swagger” fits the Pawnee universe like a glove.
Chris and Andy both have sidebars that offer up the yucks. Chris Traeger is so self-aware about the mechanics of his body and psyche that he knows he’ll spiral into an abyss if he doesn’t keep moving. Without the stimulation of exercise, or some task, he’ll dwell on his tough year in love. April—who appears to be an bounty of advice lately—tries to play down his depression since the girls he’s sulking over weren’t the prizes he perceives them to be. For once, April’s newfound perspective is to no avail and Chris bikes furiously beside the tour bus to avoid death.
Andy’s plot is the polar opposite on the epic spectrum. His persona, FBI agent Burt Macklin returns to solve the case of the projectile pie. While Leslie is leaving an event, a pie struck Jerry in the face (because, of course), but Andy/Burt believes it was intended for the prospective councilwoman. He works tirelessly to investigate, even reenacting the altercation with Jerry. Poor guy has to be smushed several times in the face in super slow-mo to assist Andy. After staring at his board (which just has a picture of Leslie and a string leading from that photo to a picture of a pie) for hours he reassesses the video footage and determines that Leslie was too far from where the pie landed to be the target. The real objective was Ben!
Leslie continues the campaign visits (even though Ann suggested it was the wrong move) and at a reading of her children’s book Groffle The Awful Waffle, kids and reporters alike hound her about “Jerkgate” and Leslie reconsiders. She requests her friends line up by how much she trusts them—Jerry takes a step back believing he isn’t far enough away and Ben and Ann eye each other competitively as they inch closer. She decides to set up a public apology with Bobby Newport so she can hit the trail afterwards. But it blows up in their faces when they enter the gates to the Newport mega-mansion to find a memorial service being conducted, and during their attempts to turn around they run over Nick Newport…the portrait. The games and maneuvering never cease for Barkley who is not afraid to manipulate others (and she “likes” Leslie) to win. The most impressive feat might be how much Leslie has matured in the political sphere. She’s tripped up by Barkley twice in this episode alone and her composure is unflappable. Yes, there’s an air of panic, but it’s not responded to nonsensically or without forethought, which was her often her folly in the parks department. Now we see less of a spaz freakout and more of a fiery spill that she’s so adept at cleaning up because she channels her personal appeal: the assuring smile, the perseverance and integrity.
In private, Leslie apologizes to Bobby who’s virtually bowling. There’s the spectacular sight gag where the camera zooms out to show that he’s playing video game bowling next to his personal bowling alley—because his avatar, “the little guy” waves at him. As only she can, Leslie issues a sincere mea culpa and even consoles Bobby, who ran only to impress his dad, with a story about of her own parent where she ran track to impress her mom and despite coming in dead last she was proud anyway. Bobby then uses that story to memorialize his dad which confounds Leslie. Then he makes up for it though by quasi-endorsing Leslie, telling the press to back off because she’s super cool. It’s expected of Bobby to undermine his own success, but I saw this not as ignorance, but a gracious response to Leslie’s lack of mudslinging.
Since Ron Swanson’s sit-down was no good, Donna sits at the exit of BBB Auto Rental. As Mr. Butler tries to leave he’s blocked and bumps her car. Now, if you know the show, Donna’s Mercedes is her baby. She adores that automobile more than most people. Most people. Her devotion to Leslie Knope surpasses even that bond, and she makes the ultimate sacrifice. Donna reverses and stomps on the gas colliding with Butler’s front bumper, destroying her baby’s back. Tom and Ron claim to be eyewitnesses who saw Butler rear-end her. Instead of an insurance settlement she asks for compensation in vans. Donna’s character is the least serviced of the bunch, but when she’s allowed to stretch out it’s almost always memorable.
Chris and Burt Macklin’s threads wrap up in separately rewarding ways. Jennifer Barkley takes advantage of a still moping Chris and propositions him for sex in one of Newport’s many bedrooms not occupied by a dead body. He starts to reject her, but she suggests the campaign is over and that’s she very good and suddenly he’s game. He was in a fragile state and actress Kathryn Hahn is hot, so saddle up cowboy. Though with her penchant for scheming she could easily be playing him. The question is what could she extract or how could she spin this? Or could this be Barkley finally throwing her hands up, ready to be human again instead of an ice machine? I suspect it’s the former, simply because the formula suggests that a roadblock besides the voting populace will manifest itself in the finale.
Burt Macklin was easily the most purely silly aspect of the episode. He confronts Sewage Joe (a frequent creeper at city hall who was fired earlier in the seeing for sending penis pics to female coworkers) about his attempted pie-ing, and it’s every bit the welcome break in the tense (though still amusing and whimsical as hell) political proceedings. As Andy brags about how he caught Joe before he could strike again, Joe unleashes his whipped cream fury anyway, smushing Ben square in the face. The perpetrator walks off in cuffs though, so Burt Macklin FBI nabs another one—sorta.
It’s hard to match the elation felt at the end of “The Debate,” which felt like every line was loaded with laughs, ready to erupt upon deploy. “Bus Tour” was more low-key in a way. Despite the frantic tone as the tour bus swerved to avoid any harmful debris thrown in the road by Jenn, we’re left off closer to the election, but we haven’t shifted much in attitude. I’m not any more secure about Leslie’s chances even after Bobby’s naive compliments. Even the supporting players have been stuck for a time. April over the course of the season has grown by leaps and bounds, but for a few weeks now she’s been doling out sterling advice free of charge. Chris in a love rut, Tom and Ann are just as donezo as last week and Ben’s still so smitten it’s stupid (but cute, obviously).
It makes sense they’re in limbo since the past few months they’ve been militantly championing their girl, but it’s noticeable how much I miss getting to just mess around without the pending election results hanging over their heads. The writing’s still sharp and I’d choose Pawnee as a destination for entertainment over most hot spots, but the foreplay, while tantalizing, is just a tease. Mentally, it’s made me insatiable for the payoff, but I’m almost as revved up for the the morning after. The faults are few and far between, but therein might lie the problem. “Parks and Rec” has hit such a rhythm that you anticipate satisfaction. But I’m ready to be wowed, and maybe even disheartened.
L.O.L.Ls: Laugh Out Loud Lines
– Leslie imagining herself winning the election: “And I can see in the crowd, President Obama, smiling at me. He made it! I didn’t think he would come, but he made it! Hey buddy!”
– Burt Macklin’s codenames: His= Eagle 1; Ann=Been There Done That; April=Currently Doing That; Donna=It Happened Once in a Dream; Chris=If I Had to Pick a Dude; Ben=Eagle 2 (to which he says “Thank God!”)
– “Everybody says they care about the issues, but at the end of the day, all anyone really wants is clothing shot at them from a cannon.”
– “Anything else would be considered a classless move on par with spray-painting nipples on the Lincoln Memorial.”
– “The worst possible thing you could do is stop. Because if the campaign stops, we all stop, and stopping means certain death. Who wants a panini?”
– Donna: “Everyone will see your logo, which is…you all pressed up on some chick with huge cans.” Bill Butler: “Yeah, it was a hell of a day. People need to know about it.”
– “Quit ducking the waffle question, did Groffle use a boat of some kind?” “Are we to assume he swam across the syrup river?”
– Ben’s nerdy allusion to Star Wars: “It’s a trap!”
– “First of all, dark places are awesome.”
– “Now I get it, my dad and your mom are dicks!”
– Bill Butler: “What about you, Mr. A Man’s Word is Sacred?” Ron: “Well it is, but you’re an asshole.”