One of the best things Parks & Rec has going for it is the cast. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of wonderful things about the show that contribute to the comedy alchemy, but imagine if a completely different cast suddenly subbed in and read the lines from “Bowling For Votes.” It’d be terrible. Almost more than any other episode, this one feels like one written with the voices of each character and actor echoing across the pages. And having said all that, thank goodness Amy Poehler is so gosh darn likable, because this was not Leslie’s finest episode by a long shot.
It’s clear by now that Leslie operates in broad emotional strokes, and “Bowling For Votes” had just about every color of the rainbow on display. First there’s empty frustration while watching a focus group, during which one lonely guy, played by the excellent Kevin Dorff, complains that Leslie doesn’t seem like the kind of person he could go bowling with. Rather than understand the general sentiment he’s describing, she fixates not just on that guy, but on his bowling comment—and soon the entire team is hosting a bowling night at the Rock & Roll Lanes, aka the site of Ron Swanson’s favorite restaurant. (If that isn’t a gif by the time I’m done writing this article, then there’s no justice in the world.) Then she becomes awkward but endearing Leslie, floundering around the alley in a variety of uncomfortable-looking poses hoping someone mistakes her for a casual person, and it carries over to her game with Dorff’s character, which she intentionally loses. Then when Dorff still won’t give his vote, she ramps up the bitterness and schools him at a game by at least 70 points, ending the episode by calming herself down and stoically non-apologizing to the press for the incident.
That’s a lot of emotional range, and Poehler does a hell of a job pulling it off. But it’s also a bit much for an episode that let the rest of its storylines run wild as well. A few lanes over, Tom and Ron are bowling with Ann—excuse me, I mean “Girl”—and Ron is upset that Tom is beating him while using the girliest-looking bowling stance known to man. (“Son, people can see you.”) So maybe accidentally, or maybe on purpose, Tom’s finger finds its way between two bowling balls, and he spends the rest of the episode squealing like a pig about his hurt fingie. And there’s really no breath between Entertainment 720 Tom Haverford and wussy Tom Haverford, hence another emotional jolt. There’s also the fact that Ben loses his temper with the asshole Kevin Dorff guy and knocks him out. In an episode full of high-stakes emotional moments, this one gets lost in the shuffle.
On the other end of the spectrum, this was definitely one of the strongest April episodes in a while. Having played a caricature for a while, “Bowling For Votes” let Aubrey Plaza dial back on April’s form-fitted ironic distance and genuinely connect with someone, even if the conceit is that she’s disgusted by the whole thing. While the rest of the campaign team is bowling, Jerry organizes a phone-a-thon for everyone else, including the always eager-to-do-anything-seriously-give-this-guy-anything-at-all-to-do Chris. He’s determined to win the grand prize, which consists of two movie tickets, so he can take Millicent out for a romantic evening; April is determined to win the grand prize simply because it will suck away some of Chris’s happiness. Then, in sort of a strange turn of events that would probably only be plausible on television, Millie drops by to break up with Chris mid-event, having previously told her father she was going to do that. Normally she’d just go to his house after or something, but I guess this way Champion got to experience a moment of palpable awkwardness.
In any case, April sees that Chris is genuinely broken up about the whole thing, so she visits him at his office the next day. He’s fine, he insists; in fact, this is the best thing that’s ever happened to him. When asked why that is exactly, he freezes. So April offers him the tickets, including an additional one she bought in the hopes that she and Andy could join Chris for a movie date, hugs him for the briefest of moments, and quickly leaves.
“Bowling For Votes” is about the way people make decisions. No one ever wants to be told what to do. It’s best to simply present people with the truth, and let them decide what’s best on their own. And it turns out that, often, they’ll make the right choice. Leslie stopped putting up a front and let herself shine through, and people want to vote for her now. April viewed Chris’s unfiltered sadness, and took it upon herself to cheer him up. Ron saw the way Tom bowls, tried it out himself, got a perfect game, then slinked off in shame. Wait, that last one is a little weird, but the point is that Parks & Rec rarely has to try very hard to engage its audience, and if “Bowling For Votes” had any faults, it’s that it was more of a rollercoaster than it had to be.
- I got confused there for a moment, because I thought that when Millie wasn't returning Chris's texts that she had ended things, but I guess that wasn't the case.
- Lots of awesome looks and smiles in this episode: Not just Ron's sheepish grin after looking at the menu of the bowling restaurant, but Andy rolling his eyes when Jerry deflects blame for the break-up is another gif that needs to exist.
- People see Leslie as elitist? TIMELY!