‘Parks and Rec’ Recap: ‘Bus Tour’

Things are looking good for Leslie Knope as she enters the home stretch of her City Council run – until she accidentally insults her opponent’s recently deceased father, that is. This week, Leslie and her staff find themselves reeling from an unfortunate remark she makes during a campaign stop that could cost her the election.

While Leslie spent the episode trying to recover from the faux pas she makes about Bobby Newport’s father, the rest of the staff spend the day before the election in a variety of hilarious subplots. Tom, Ron, and Donna try to claim the vans they’ve rented from “a guy who’s only asset is 22 crappy white vans” (played by Mike O’Malley of Yes, Dear and Glee fame). O’Malley is a great foil for Ron, as he’s just as manly as Ron is but in a completely different way. After seeing him square-off with our favorite mustachioed civil servant, it should come as no surprise that Mike O’Malley auditioned for the role of Ron Swanson when the show was originally being put together way back in 2008 and was “a very close second for the part.” Of course, it should cause you to shudder reading that, considering how Nick Offerman nails the character and how the show wouldn’t be the same without him.

Andy is in full-on Bert Macklin FBI mode as he chases down a mysterious individual who attempted to pie Leslie in the face during a recent campaign stop (but got Jerry instead). The scene in which Andy mushes a pie into Jerry’s face in slow motion was really funny and a great example of how the show continues to find new depths to how poorly Jerry can be treated. Just when you think the writers have come up with every way for Jerry to be abused, they always pull out something new. Andy, I mean Bert, finds that the culprit behind the pie-ing is Sewage Joe, who was actually aiming for Ben in retaliation for being fired in the season premiere for sending pictures of his dong around Pawnee’s government. This kind of long-term plotting is exactly the kind of thing series co-creator Mike Schur has been inspired to experiment with by his favorite show The Wire. Here’s hoping that these past three seasons of picking on Jerry lead to a similar payoff in the Parks and Rec’s series finale, and that it’ll be something from Jerry finally snapping and committing an atrocious act of workplace violence.

At the start of the episode, Chris Traeger is still in the existential funk he’s been in ever since his relationship with Millicent Gergich turfed out, but he finally sees the light at the end of the tunnel when Bobby Newport’s conniving campaign manager Jennifer makes a move on him. I’m guessing she is up to another one of her Machiavellian schemes with seducing Chris Traeger. I don’t really believe she’s given up on the election like she said she did, in which case I’d feel worse for Traeger than Leslie because finding out that Jennifer used him as part of some dirty campaign trick could send him hurtling further into that bottomless pit of despair he’s been yammering about this week.

Speaking of Bobby Newport, we got to see a new shade of him this week, as it turns out his childlike nature actually makes him a pretty nice and sweet guy – albeit one who doesn’t seem to understand the concept of an election.

The struggle that Parks and Recreation has been facing (and largely overcoming) this season is figuring out how to portray the absurdity of politics while actually heightening on what happens in the stuff that happens in real-life politics that’s pretty ridiculous already. The show moved its focus this season from small-time Parks Department business to the big-shot world of City Council campaigns pretty flawlessly, and this episode, particularly Leslie’s slip-up about Nick Newport, is an excellent example of the writers creating a moment that’s just out of reach of the stuff that actually happens in real elections without being too over-the-tope. It’s a nice balance that Parks and Rec has quickly found and something that this recent influx of political comedies (the HBO series Veep, this summer’s Will Ferrell/Zach Galifianakis movie The Campaign) must also maintain. The confluence of a recent wave of inept candidates and the constant media attention politicians receive in the 24 hour news cycle have made mistakes like Leslie’s feel all too common. While politics can be a great source for comedy, it’s rare to find a show like Parks that can stay realistic while not betraying the actual nuttiness of the political arena.

Stay tuned next week for the dramatic conclusion of Parks and Rec’s fourth season and Leslie Knope’s City Council campaign. Let’s all make bets and guesses on the outcome of the election in the comments section so that we can look back on them next week and wonder, “Were we ever so young?”

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

‘Parks and Rec’ Recap: ‘Bus Tour’