This week’s episode of Parks and Recreation brought to mind an interview I read recently with Chris Onstad, the writer-artist behind Achewood, a popular web comic about cats who make fun of The Cure. After nine years of churning out content for Achewood—comics, blog posts, books, t-shirts, mugs—Onstad’s output started to trickle until, suddenly, it stopped. To put it mildly, his fans freaked out. The reason why he stopped doesn’t really matter in this context, but in the interview, Onstad touches on how the small amount of negative feedback he received negated much of the wild praise that he otherwise got about his work. “I've been telling everyone that I've gotten immune to being hurt or offended or even internalizing this sort of thing after ten years, but it never really goes away no matter how hard-hearted I am.”
This is a lesson that Leslie learns at the bowling alley in this week’s Parks and Recreation. She may not be writing a comic book, but by running for office, Leslie has opened herself up to the same “non-confrontational, frustrated, maladjusted sociopath[s]” that pepper Onstad’s mailbox. And in order to act like a fully-functioning human being, Leslie has to accept that, no matter how hard she tries, there will always be people out there who don’t like her.
This week, that person is Derrick, a miserable, workaday Pawneeian who took part in one of Leslie’s focus groups and was the sole voice of negativity out of the entire group. Derrick’s lack of enthusiasm for Leslie drives the candidate up the wall, especially the part about her not seeming like the kind of person you would want to go bowling with—Leslie is a great bowler, just ask Ron. Derrick’s dissent sends Leslie into a frenzy, and suddenly, the primary goal of the Knope 2012 campaign goes from winning a spot on the city council to winning a single vote from Derrick, resident asshole.
After the focus group, the Knope campaign hosts a bowling meet and greet, inviting the community out for a meet and greet at the bowling alley with Leslie Knope, the queen of bowling, being casual, and casual bowling. Even though Ben urges Leslie to play the field and talk with some people in the community she actually has a chance to woo, Leslie zeroes in on Derrick, greasing him up with free beer, free bowling and some light-hearted banter. She even lets him win a few rounds.
But, after all that, Derrick still refuses to endorse Leslie, inviting Leslie for a gloves off game of “real bowling,” and beats the pants off the guy; no doubt out of some distant hope that maybe it will earn her some respect. It doesn’t. And as Derrick grumbles away after getting his bowling balls handed to him, he bitterly calls Leslie a bitch (her second least favorite gender-specific pejorative), and comes face to fist with an angry Ben Wyatt.
Ben decking a potential supporter becomes front page news, prompting calls for Ben to resign in disgrace (again). But when the time comes for Leslie to publicly apologize to Derrick, Leslie stands by her man. Leslie claims that Derrick deserved his trip to fist city, and that he was drunk and verbally abusive towards her. What could have been a political disaster for Team Knope, turns into their favor. At the next focus group, even more people jump on the Knope bandwagon—by refusing to apologize for Ben’s protective passion, she’s starting to finally appeal to gut voters.
While Leslie’s quest to woo Derrick’s was the center for tonight’s show, the bowling battle between Ron and Tom was a comedy gold mine. In a rather odd turn of events, I happened to go bowling earlier this week. It had been a while since I picked up a bowling ball, but I knew exactly how I wanted to play all night: throwing the heaviest ball I could find as hard as I could right down the center of the lane—just like Dad used to. So, much to my delight, this week we found out that this is also the preferred bowling method of one Ron Swanson—and, also to my delight, we found out that Ron isn’t exactly the world’s best bowler. Comforting news, because good God did I bowl a horrible game this week. I got better numbers when I was 9.
Hard and straight down the middle is a real man’s man way of bowling, so it’s no surprise that it’s Ron’s preferred method of knocking down some pins. Ron tends to lean that way when it comes to sports, if the man were a football coach, I’d imagine that he would run the ball down the middle every play—none of that fancy-boy, west coast passing game crap. Just ram the ball right down their throats. But, much like his failure to become the pop-warner version of Bobby Knight last season, Ron’s dignified bowling game was humbled by the effective girlishness of Tom Haverford’s undefeatable granny-style.
Tom’s ass-out, between the legs style of bowling is totally beneath Ron Swanson. Who can blame him, really? Even if Ron were bowling a 45 (like I was this past week), he could never lower himself to strike such an undignified pose in the presence of his peers. Tom and Ron’s bowling games say a lot about both of them. Ron and Tom are ostensible opposites, Ron more inclined towards utilitarian effectiveness, while Tom gets more hung up on looks—strange as it is, their bowling game flips that aesthetic. Tom bowls like a child because it gets him the strikes, to hell with looking foolish, and, here, it’s Ron who’s hung up on how he appears to others. To Ron, real men throw the bowling ball so hard that the pins tremble in fear; but what’s worse, rolling a dignified game of 140 or bowling like an 8 year old and getting your name on the perfect score wall? For Ron, it’s the former—well, as long as no one else is looking.
Outside of the bowling alley, the rest of Campaign Knope holds a phone drive to raise money for the campaign. To up the ante, Jerry offers up two tickets to the Pawnee Mono-plex (heh) to the person who raises the most money by the end of the night. Chris takes to the challenge like a shot, applying that patented Chris Traeger charm to woo away the dollars. Chris’s positivity irks April into action. She may not give a hoot about the pair of tickets, she just wants Chris’s happiness to go away.
Even though April eventually wins the passes that night, it’s not losing that robs Chris of his grin. This week also marked the return of Jerry’s Hot Daughter, who seems a little put out with Chris and breaks up with him during a quick walk around the block. Even though he’s successfully crushed, April can’t seem to relish Chris’s unhappiness, and the next day offers up three free movie passes to Chris, one for him and the other two for her and Andy.
“When I eat, it is the food that is scared”
I love that the tension between JHD and Chris gets so much that Andy scoops up Champion and walks out of the house.
“I was never here. And you will never speak of this again.”
In all honesty, I bowl most like Ann. I'll get three pins if I'm lucky enough for my ball to bounce out of the gutter.