‘Parks and Recreation’ – ‘Bus Tour’: The mad pie-man

Senior Television Writer
05.03.12 68 Comments

A review of tonight’s “Parks and Recreation” coming up just as soon as I spray paint nipples on the Lincoln Memorial…

Even though “Parks and Rec” has devoted most of this season to the story of Leslie’s campaign, and even though Leslie and Ben have done everything they possibly can to overcome a string of bad breaks and the well-funded Newport political machine, there’s a sense as we get to the season’s penultimate episode that all that time still wasn’t enough. Because “Parks and Rec” was telling other stories in addition to the campaign, there wasn’t time to fill in every detail (like, for instance, how Leslie won the senior vote away from Bobby after the events of “Campaign Shake-Up”). And because Leslie and Ben dug such a deep hole from themselves earlier in the campaign, they’re still scratching and clawing here in the final hours, even after Leslie destroyed Bobby with her closing speech at the debate.

And the frantic nature of the campaign’s final day leads to an episode that’s a little too frantic itself, with a lot of good individual gags and stories – and a terrific climactic scene with Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd – but  that didn’t come together as successfully as “The Debate” or some of this season’s other highlights.

In particular, I could have done without the sequence where Leslie’s campaign bus pulled up to the Newport mansion just as Jen Barkely was orchestrating a solemn memorial service for Nick Sr., then ran over the painting of Nick. Even though Ben later beats himself up for falling into Jen’s trap, it felt like too cheap a joke. There’s Jen outsmarting her heroes because she’s smarter than they are, and there’s our heroes screwing up because they’re suddenly very stupid. This was the latter.

On the other hand, I quite liked how Ann kept pushing Leslie to forget about the campaign for a minute and just be a decent human being – which is why everyone loves Leslie in the first place – and talk to Bobby  without the cameras around. That led to a scene that did an excellent job of blending pathos (Leslie’s story about Marlene hugging her after the track meet) with Bobby’s cartoon personality (“I get it: your mom and my dad are both dicks!”). And, of course, it continued the show’s philosophy that goodness rewards itself, with Bobby being touched enough to give Leslie a quasi-endorsement in front of the assembled Pawnee press corps.

The bus tour also brought back Burt Macklin, FBI for his greatest case yet – plus great code names like “Been There, Done That” (Ann), “Currently Doing That” (April) and “It Happened Once In A Dream” (Donna) – which in turn brought back Sewage Joe for some revenge on Ben after the sexting scandal from the season premiere. It’s very Andy to be too busy celebrating his triumph to actually stop Joe from hitting Ben with the pie. Macklin, you sonuvabitch!

And other last-minute election prep brought Nick Offerman face-to-face with the other Man Who Would Be Swanson, Mike O’Malley (Mike Schur says he was a very close second for the part) as the van rental guy who decides to take advantage of his unexpected leverage to extort the Knope campaign. Much as I love Ron, I was pleased that the solution to the problem came not from him (since he’s occasionally in danger of becoming a superhero), but Donna, whom we learn loves Leslie more than her Benz when she’s willing to damage the car further to extort the extorter for the necessary vans.

And Jen Barkely’s expressed interest in Chris from last week pays off when she finally rescues him from his recent existential despair by inviting him to have sex with her in one of the many, many Newport mansion bedrooms. Rob Lowe flashed a great smile as Chris agreed to that plan, didn’t he?

Finally, a couple of notes on alternate version and alternate distribution: 1)NBC.com (and Hulu, I assume) is hosting extended cuts of this episode, last week’s, and (after it airs), the finale; and 2)The show has been airing on Tuesday nights in Canada (I’m not sure if this is a recent development or something that’s been going on all year and I only heard about recently), which means that the election results are going to be out in the ether before the finale airs here a week from tonight. Be careful with your web-surfing if you don’t want to know.

What did everybody else think?

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