It’s the night before the election, and the characters on Parks And Recreation are freaking out. Sure, they freak out all the time—but this time they’re all freaking out together, and “Bus Tour” as an episode shares in the mania. Events happen scattershot, and for a while the entire Knope campaign is enveloped in chaos. Unlike “The Debate,” the through line of “Bus Tour” isn’t completely clear at the beginning, and every commercial break introduces a new surprise.
We begin with a simple goal: Leslie is embarking on a last-ditch tour of Pawnee aboard a giant bus with her face plastered across the side, delivering the same speech at multiple locations. The speech is so well thought out, in fact, that it runs the exact same length each time, with laughter coming after the legitimately funny jokes and awkward silence after Leslie’s Rodney Dangerfield impression. Her responses to questions are also extremely calculated. When a lone reporter asks for her comment on Nick Newport Sr., Leslie is ready with a retort that puts the man in his place. The reporter has a clarification: “I meant ‘can you comment on Nick Newport dying earlier today?’” Suddenly Leslie and Ben shift into damage control mode, as Leslie’s remarks about Newport are taken out of context by every major news outlet, including The Final Word with Perd Hapley (that loveable so-and-so). She decides to drive to Bobby Newport’s house and apologize, but her bus shows up during a memorial service, and Leslie looks all the more tactless for it.
A lot happens in “Bus Tour,” and if we were dealing with Leslie at the beginning of her campaign, I doubt she would have handled things as calmly as she does. At every turn, she remains optimistic that there’s a solution to be found in all this. Ben and Ann, meanwhile, play the devil and angel on her shoulder, looking at these heavily political situations from every angle, trying to poke holes into things that seem too good to be true. Leslie freaks out a little, too, but never in a way that she gets too overwhelmed to make a decision. She asks that her campaign team stand surrounding her, with those she trusts in closest proximity (Jerry takes a step back), and quickly makes her decision: She’ll visit Bobby Newport in private to express her condolences. It takes all of a few seconds for Leslie to get a move on, teasing the kind of decisiveness we might come to expect from a Knope victory.
Meanwhile, politics are running rampant. “Bus Tour” may be the most politically laden episode covering this Parks And Rec election subplot. Jennifer Barkley is still working for Newport, and is probably the one who sent the spin on Leslie’s Newport Sr. comments to the news. Later, she’s the one who invites Leslie to a solo sitdown with Bobby, setting the trap for the bus to roll right through the memorial service. (Running over the portrait of Nick Newport is just icing on the cake.) She’s at the microphone, in fact, ready to speak about the injustice Leslie has just done to the Newport legacy. Later, though, we catch a glimpse of some trouble for Barkley herself: She’s on the phone with someone, probably some Newport lawyer, and she’s trying to make sure she’ll still get paid even though her original deal was with Nick Newport Sr. It was a handshake agreement, she says, and she’s worried that his death will infringe on her finances—the only reason she took the job in the first place. (On another note, she’s literally the opposite of Ben, who does his job because he believes in the power of politics, believes in his candidate, and is in luuuuuuurve!) After Leslie and Bobby talk, Bobby takes the stage and predictably throws his support towards Leslie. He’s utterly clueless and only wanted the job to impress his dad in the first place. Barkley, sensing the end is near, finds Chris moping around in one of stately Newport manor’s many rooms, and propositions him immediately.
I watched this episode yesterday on a screener, and of all the scenes, this is the one that lingers with me. Because if Parks And Rec behaves as it normally does, there’s a really good chance Barkley is still playing politics even after admitting “defeat.” As in, she’s using her loss as a way to weasel her way into the Knope campaign and take it down from within. I fully expect next week to find out that Leslie’s in trouble because of Chris—perhaps he’ll spill some beans in the heat of passion (innuendo unintentional), and suddenly Newport will look mighty good. That seems to be what’ll go down. Only… what if not? What if the show is giving even Barkely a moment of tenderness? Each of its characters can be hurt, even the stone-cold ones, and perhaps the show is letting Barkley have a chance to express her feelings. I mean, she expresses her feelings by wanting to have brainless sex with Rob Lowe, but it’s an expression of feelings nonetheless. The more I think about it, the more I think this interpretation is more along the lines of what Parks And Rec has been going for this season. For example, Bobby Newport isn’t a bad guy; he’s just a schlub trying to curry favor with his dad, and he’s extremely charismatic and likeable even to the opposition. There are few true villains in the Parks And Rec universe.
Well, except one: The guy who runs the van-rental company (Mike O’Malley), who was paid $10,000 to let his vans sit in the lot and not be used by Leslie’s campaign tomorrow when the seniors go to vote. And he won’t honor his original contract for $900, no matter how many times Ron Swanson reminds him that it’s the honorable thing to do, man to man—or no matter how many times Tom Haverford threatens to cry. There’s also the villain who tried to pie Leslie in the face, a criminal Burt Macklin works tirelessly to apprehend. Even if it means pieing Jerry in the face in slow motion over and over and over and over and over again between bouts of staring at a conspiracy board that holds only a photo of Leslie and a photo of a pie. This isn’t a jaded show; when there are real villains on Parks And Rec, it makes for the purest comedy and the biggest potential for surprise. Because everyone likes seeing evildoers receive their comeuppance.
- My favorite of Andy’s code names, for your enjoyment: “I’d Be Lying If I Said I Hadn’t Thought About That.”
- The name of Leslie's kids’ book? Groffle The Awful Waffle.
- “Want to play bowling?” “Why don’t you play with the real one?” “I like this one better. Little guy looks like me.” So like Bobby Newport to, you know, not bowl in the form that really looks like him.
- “He’s gonna steal Yogurt Platinum!”