[Review based on "The Comeback Kid" (4.11) and "Campaign Ad" (4.12) and "Bowling for Votes" (4.13)]
While likely not explicitly stated in the writer's room, the theme of the main storyline in "Bowling for Votes" could just as easily apply to a television show as it does to a political candidate. Leslie's struggle to deal with the fact that some people won't like you resonates with anyone who opens themselves or their work up for judgment. The show's difficulty in drawing large ratings might prompt the writers to wonder (as Leslie does) why they can't appeal to more people. However, Ben's observations seem to indicate they recognize that the show is best served by focusing on the people that will appreciate it.
In Leslie's case, the focus group member's rejection particularly stings because of how closely she ties her campaign to her identity. This is a continuation of last week's disagreement between Ben and Leslie over the campaign ad, where Leslie equated running a negative ad with becoming negative and cynical as a person. Ben's advice last week was to "toughen up," and this week's was similar as he cautioned that Leslie won't be able to win over everyone. Ben's character is a good example of the perspective Leslie needs, as he was able to separate himself from his job as Chris's bad cop. The show continues to feature this theme of experience vs. earnest to good results, but using it too often could pigeonhole Leslie as naive and Ben as the wet blanket in future episodes.
The secondary storylines this week were new and mostly self-contained, rather than carrying over plots from the previous episode (as is typical for Parks). The donation drive included Chris and answered last week's concerns over how the show would keep him involved while the group worked on the campaign (which I talked about last week). I was surprised that Chris wouldn't consider working on Leslie's campaign (even as a private citizen) a conflict of interest, though the show does need to be able to have him interact with everyone while focusing on the campaign. I though the breakup between Millie and Chris could have been tied to the main story better since he is seemingly perfect and no reason was presented for her to end their relationship. If the show indicated that Millie had no reason beyond a gut feeling, it would have fit well with Leslie's lesson that some people simply won't like you (though we may see her rationale next week).
The episode also had fun inverting some of the characters. Ron and Tom's different bowling strategies created the opportunity to poke fun at Ron's masculinity, which the show always does terrifically (as in episode 3.14 - "Pawnee Rangers"). Seeing April soften towards Chris upon learning of his impending breakup set up a well-earned sentimental moment as she gives him the tickets (with the invitation to see a movie with her and Andy). The show prepared the moment well by using the entire episode to show April's progression from disgust towards Chris's chipperness to sympathy for him, keeping it from being forced.
- "I can't tell you how many times a fun tug-of-war with a dog over a chew toy turned contentious. One of us always ends up mad"
- The "Bowling Comment" binder
- Loved the "Ask Ron" runner: "Nah, I don't think I believe you, is there anyone I can ask?"
- Ron's favorite restaurant is at the bowling alley - it only serves hot dogs and hamburgers
- "No, I don't think we can accept donations over $50"
- Ron not knowing Ann's name
- "Millie's gonna break up with Chris" "Shut up" "Oh my god, that's gonna be super weird when they move in together"
- "20 dollars? Thank you! You know, we're really looking for donations in the 10,000 dollar range."
- "Chris, you might wanna take a jacket with you, it's about to get cold out there" "Thanks Donna, but Millicent's company will keep me warm" "Take the jacket."
- "Are you sure that you don't need more whipped cream? Not today. I don't deserve it... But this is ridiculous, I do need more whipped cream."
- Loved the closing sequence of Ron bowling a 300