In the penultimate episode of Parks and Recreation’s fourth season, the election campaign (sort of) heated up. And for a while there, things (sort of) got interesting. More details after the jump.

On the one hand, “Bus Tour” was one of the funniest episodes of the season, generating a lot of laughs from its side plots, especially Andy’s investigation to find the person who slung a pie at Jerry’s face. On the other hand, the A-plot was stuck in the same formulaic rut as most of the rest of the second half of this season: Leslie makes a big mistake; her campaign suffers; but at the end, her campaign is saved in some way that she didn’t really earn.

Normally, I wouldn’t bother with anything but the most cursory look at an episode like this. I could just point you to almost all of the Parks and Rec reviews I’ve done from January onward, and you’d be able to judge how I felt about this episode. It just so happens, though, that this episode happened to be a particularly well-done example of the season-four formula – relatively speaking, of course; this is still a formula that the writers never should have adopted in the first place. That being said, the A-plot didn’t fail completely because many of the episode’s events were out of Leslie’s control. It’s not as if someone from Leslie’s campaign murdered Nick Newport. So, the big “screw-up” in the episode was only partially Leslie’s fault. We also got to see some interesting machinations from Jennifer Barkley as she turned the memorial service for Nick Newport into a campaign photo-op. (Leslie’s tour bus crashing the memorial service a tad too silly, though, even for this show.)

Where the main plot faltered, then, was in how it resolved, with Bobby Newport being dumb enough to basically endorse Leslie. Talk about an unearned fix, eh? Look, I know that the real villain here is Barkley, not Bobby. But in making Bobby so stupid and spineless, they’ve given Leslie such a clear advantage that she’d be an idiot not to be able to win the election. (Either that, or the citizens of Pawnee are mentally deficient in some way, which still isn’t good.)

While the A-plot had issues, the three side plots worked wonderfully well. As it has been doing for a lot of this season, the show gave some strong material to Chris, having him spiral further into depression and finally having him sleep with Barkley. That might come across as a clichéd plot development to some viewers, but I think the show earned it by giving Chris clear motivations for doing it.

The other side plots were notable because they addressed some of the complaints I’ve had about this season’s earlier episodes. For too much of this season, Andy has been written as a total idiot who is too stupid to live. While “Bus Tour” didn’t suddenly make Andy super-intelligent (which would have been a bad idea anyway), it tapped into something that has served the character well in the past: misguided enthusiasm. Andy’s Burt Macklin persona is always a hoot to watch, and it was fun to see him slowly piece together that Ben was the intended target of the pies all along. Plus, it tickled me that Sewage Joe was behind the entire thing.

The Ron/Tom/Donna subplot also worked well because it dialled Ron and Tom back to their regular personalities. For too much of this season, Ron has been written as a cartoon and Tom has been flat-out irritating. But somehow, having them work together for Leslie’s benefit made the characters more relatable than they’ve been in weeks.

Even if “Bus Tour” didn’t entirely succeed, I enjoyed the parts of it that worked quite a lot, which were thankfully the majority of it. I’m still going in to the season finale disappointed with how the election campaign storyline was handled, but at least the show has remained enjoyable.

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