Parks and Recreation: The Gang Goes Bowling

Amy Poehler and the writers of Parks and Recreation must manage a tricky balance with the character of Leslie Knope.  On the one hand Leslie’s enthusiasm and drive and dedication are what makes her an endearing character, it’s fundamental to who she is.  On the other hand, taken too far these traits can make her unbearable, a crazy person who spazzes out on those around her to such a degree that it stretches credulity that people would hang out with her at all.  This is Season One Leslie, the one who drove a lot of viewers away for good.   I’m concerned by how much of the latter Leslie I’ve been seeing this season.  She first reared her head after the break up with Ben, when she wouldn’t stop throwing herself at him and basically descended into a spiral of unpleasantness.  The show tempered this a bit by having both Ben and Ann call her on it and by having Leslie promise to try to be less “of a steamroller.”    Leslie the Spaz showed up again tonight, brought out by Derrick the bowling alley asshole.

Leslie and Ben first encounter Derrick while focus grouping Leslie and her campaign ads.  Derrick, your prototypical George W Bush voter, doesn’t like Leslie because she seems “uptight” and like “someone you couldn’t go bowling with.”   This, of course, sends Leslie into a tizzy, she’s a great bowler, “Just ask Ron!”   Even though Leslie can’t let Derrick’s comment go, she and Ben come up with the idea to throw a meet and greet at the bowling alley where Leslie can mingle with voters and they can see the side of her that doesn’t name-check Woodrow Wilson and Benjamin Disraeli.  For Ben this is good politics, for Leslie it’s a chance to win over Derrick.

What follows is pure Season One Leslie.  She tries too hard with Derrick, being chummy, buying him free bowling and beer, pumping him up despite his mediocre bowling skills (“He only bowls a 137!” Leslie points out, consulting a huge binder of research on Derrick and Derrick alone).   Ben repeatedly tries to get Leslie to leave Derrick and mingle with the rest of the voters at the event, but Leslie can’t help but keep at Derrick, hoping to win him over.  This just rings false to me.  Sure Leslie is naive and optimistic, but she’s not a fool.  It’s clear to anyone watching that Derrick is a prick, he has no problem mooching off of Leslie, but gives zero indication that he’s being won over by her, and yet she persists.   After intentionally loosing to him, Leslie then asks Derrick if she’ll get his vote on election day, predictably he says no.    This brings out childish Leslie, who calls him a crappy bowler and makes a bet with him, if she wins a rematch he votes for her, if he wins she cleans his house for a month.  As Ron could tell you, Leslie is a good bowler and she easily defeats Derrick, gloating all the while.

As he drunkenly pulls on his jacket, Leslie tells Derrick she looks forward to getting his vote.  Sure thing, says Derrick, “I’ll just write in bitch.”   After calling Leslie a bitch a time or two more, he gets socked in the face by an instantly apologetic Ben, who’s spurting out “I’m sorry”s before Derrick even hits the ground.   The incident gets captured by the photographer there for the campaign event and prompts a next day press conference with Ben and Derrick in attendance.  Leslie begins to apologize, but then stops.  Derrick is a jerk she says, she’s not going to win him over, but she won’t apologize because he got what he deserved.  “I think she’s being kind of a bitch right now,” interjects Derrick.  Zoom out to a second set of focus groupers watching the news conference footage who say they like Leslie, she seems tough and tells it like it is.  This is all fine but feels pretty flat and predictable and doesn’t really bring the funny in the way Parks and Rec usually does.

Most of the laughs in this one come from around the edges.  Ann, Tom, and Ron all come along to the bowling alley event.  Tom is decked out in a sateen scorpion jack straight out of Drive and a bowling ball decorated like the globe.  He also comes with a bowling style best described as “granny style.”  Bent over and tossing the ball with two hands, Tom throws strike after strike to Ron’s mounting disgust.   “Stop it, son.  People can see you!” Ron implores.   Tom goes on to defeat Ron, despite getting his “fingee” crushed between two balls, using a one hand granny method to roll a nine.

Meanwhile, the rest of the group is running a phone bank to raise money for Leslie’s campaign and awaiting the collapse of Chris’s relationship with Millicent Gergich after Jerry breaks the news to everyone but Chris.  This mostly serves to put another chink is Chris’s enthusiasm and to show us one again that, despite her flat voiced apathy, April’s a pretty good kid.  She raises the most money for Leslie and uses the movie tickets she wins to invite Chris to hang out with her and Andy.  Despite my own flat voiced apathy, it was really quite sweet.

  • Ron says his favorite restaurant in Pawnee is at the bowling alley.  It’s menu: Hot dogs: $1, Hamburgers $1.35.   “You’re not afraid to eat here?” asks an incredulous Ann.   “When I eat, it is the food that is scared,” Ron replies.
  • We also get another dose of Ron’s general disinterest in Ann as he enters her name in the bowling scoring computer as simply “girl”.
  • Tom of course goes through a high speed list of names he wants Ron to enter including “Tomahawk” and “Tiki Tiki Tom Tom”.  Ron simply puts him in as “Tom”.
  • At the call center, as everyone stares at Millicent, knowing she’s about to lower the boom on Chris, Andy can’t take it any longer.  “What’s that Champion? You need to go out?” he asks the three legged dog.  “Champion can’t stand awkward moments,” he informs the room as he carries the dog outside.



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