Nothing brings out the Pawnee in Leslie Knope quite like her all-consuming hatred for Eagleton. That enmity for the town’s ludicrously aristocratic next-door neighbor is also just about the only thing Leslie seems to share with her constituents, a point she makes in her opening conversation with her husband and chief speechwriter Ben. The recall election isn’t going well for her, and gratuitously slamming Eagleton during a friendly press conference is just the sort of classless cheap shot that she is now forced to countenance—except she actually has absolutely no problem with kicking Eagleton, especially when it’s down. As such, “The Pawnee-Eagleton Tip Off Classic” sets up an unusual dilemma for Leslie, as Eagleton’s bankruptcy presents Leslie with all the petty personal and political victories she could ever want. Beyond her unabashed schadenfreude upon learning of Eagleton’s dire straits, Leslie need only take a hardline stance toward Pawnee’s archrival, watch it go down in flames, and then ride her boosted poll numbers to an easy victory in the recall election. The fact that she doesn’t take that easy, highly appealing way out is a reminder of why Leslie is worthy of being the hero of Parks And Recreation, and maybe being Pawnee’s councilwoman, too.
While that works well in the abstract, tonight’s episode sometimes struggles to really define the contours of the problem. In terms of Parks And Recreation’s larger narrative, the recall election should, on some level, be a referendum on Leslie’s character. For all the silliness of Pawnee and for all the disingenuousness of recall leader Kathryn Pinewood, it’s too easy to call Leslie a complete victim of circumstance; her own political miscalculations and failure to connect with her constituents are parts of her problem. Leslie’s ultimate decision to save Eagleton is the kind of principled stand that should either win the recall election for her or at least allow her to lose with dignity, but the road to that point doesn’t quite make sense. It’s not just that her proposal only really seems sensible once Chris subsequently explains that Eagleton’s budget problem could spiral throughout the entire region; it’s a relatively minor detail, but it would arguably work better as part of the setup for Leslie’s bright idea than as the later justification. It’s possible to understand why Leslie makes the decision to save Eagleton, but the episode doesn’t entirely succeed in making the audience feel it.
But it’s really in Leslie’s personal arc where “The Pawnee-Eagleton Tip Off Classic” stumbles. Eagleton tends to bring out the worst in Leslie, and even her lone moment of entirely justifiable anger—when she takes Ben to task for lying to her—is immediately undermined when she declares she speaks for all of them in all situations, and that’s what Ben tacitly agreed to when he married her. Ben takes it all in stride as Leslie vents her frustrations at the basketball game, and the scene is a good reminder of why the levelheaded, reliable Ben is such a good foil for Leslie at both her best and her worst. But the episode pushes Leslie into fairly unpleasant territory without ever properly buying it back; the basketball game is less about Leslie and Ben coming back together than it is about Leslie witnessing the injury and realizing Pawnee needs to look out for Eagleton. It’s a nifty bit of plotting, but it feels like a character beat has been missed. Both “London” and tonight’s episode suggest it’s time for Leslie to get a little introspective, but it’s hard to tell whether that’s going to happen anytime soon.
Still, whatever its missteps, tonight’s episode gets some great jokes out of a premise that is clearly designed to set up more combined Pawnee-Eagleton adventures down the road. Eagleton’s bankruptcy in and of itself is a shrewd move, as it leans heavily on the Pawnee government shutdown that brought Ben and Chris to Pawnee in the first place. This episode answers an entirely reasonable question that likely nobody ever thought to ask: Why did the statewide budget problems that affected Pawnee never seem to touch Eagleton? The plotline allows Parks And Recreation to avoid a retread of its previous Eagleton episodes, and it lets Ben and Chris return to their old jobs as budget specialists. It’s a great setup, although the episode suggests that most of the payoff will come in subsequent episodes; the main function of tonight’s story is to engineer the reintegration of Pawnee and Eagleton, with all the opportunities for comedy that that represents.
In the meantime, “The Pawnee-Eagleton Tip Off Classic” finds some good gags by repeatedly escalating the absurdity of Eagleton. It’s amusing that Kristen Bell’s Eagleton Councilwoman Ingrid de Forest feels it’s necessary to tip Ben for his budget consulting, but the joke doesn’t really pop until it’s revealed that Ingrid inexplicably tips in Euros. That’s the kind of cartoonish detail that makes no sense upon initial inspection, and any attempt to explain it would only make the situation seem more ridiculous; the simplest solution is that Ingrid just got back from a trip to Europe and didn’t have any native currency on her, but the much funnier explanation is that Eagleton has just unilaterally decided to switch to the Euro. That joke works so well not only because of its sheer, unexpected incongruity but also because of what it subtly suggests about all Eagletonians. Their inexplicable use of Euros and pools filled with bottled water reveals they are just as crazy and ignorant in their affluence as Pawneeans are in their poverty.
Previous Eagleton episodes have played up the over-the-top, haughty rudeness of the town, but its prison croissants, complimentary iPod Touches, and stadium-sized public parks were positioned more as contrasts to Pawnee’s own meager resources than direct comments on Eagleton itself. It was always implicitly assumed that Eagleton was just magically wealthy enough to afford such luxuries, and in that sense, this episode offers a much-needed splash of realism to its portrayal of one of Parks And Recreation’s most cartoonish corners. The introduction of Bell as Ingrid de Forest also works well here, as the show presents her as Leslie Knope’s richer, blonder, more effortlessly beautiful counterpart, with all the strengths and weaknesses that come with being Leslie’s opposite number. While she spends much of the episode as the one-dimensionally haughty Eagletonian, that really only seems to mirror Leslie’s own single-minded antipathy. In their final scene together, Ingrid reveals a Leslie-like ability to do the right thing and tell the hard truths, offering a bridge between the two rival communities. Sure, she can’t bring herself to call Pawneeans anything nicer than “greasy, denim-clad angels,” but Leslie is willing to take the compliment—perhaps because she knows she herself couldn’t bring herself to say anything more positive than that about the people of Eagleton.
The episode’s two subplots are fairly disposable, with Ron’s decision to take himself off the grid proving somewhat meatier than April and Ann’s trip to Bloomington. Ron’s story is deeply, undeniably silly, and it’s hard to ignore the elephant in the room: Ron is no longer the solitary iconoclast but a happily married family man, which makes his renewed antisocial tendencies seem unacceptably selfish. The episode just about manages to have its cake and eat it too by having Ron find fun new ways to freak out about his privacy—his discovery of the horrors of Vine represents a great escalating gag, but the highlight might be his decision that a photo of him labeled “Man” gives too much away—before bringing in Lucy Lawless as Diane to slap some much-needed sense into him. In the scene at the RV dealership, Parks And Recreation makes it clear that Ron Swanson is fully capable of acting like a horse’s ass, and he’s going to need to change for and compromise with the bold new world he helped create for himself. It’s a moment of clarity for Ron, even if he has to act like an idiot to get there. He isn’t the only person on Parks And Recreation who needs to have such a realization, but there’s no particular hurry. This is just the third (or second, depending on how you count “London”) episode of the season, after all.
- I’m not quite sure what to make of April and Ann’s story. In terms of what it actually accomplishes, the subplot really only seems to exist to sow the initial seeds for Ann and Chris’ departure from the show, with Bloomington apparently one possible destination. It’s hard to read April’s decision to not go to veterinary school, because she herself says she was on the fence about it, so does it actually really matter? It’s certainly possible the show will follow up on this in subsequent episodes, but I also wouldn’t be shocked if this is the last we hear about it, as it seems like a narrative dead end for April. Still, it doesn’t quite sit right that such an important decision for April is really only there to help Ann realize she needs to be more decisive about her own future. There’s a subordination of one character to another there that seems unfair to April.
- Leslie learns why it’s hard to do bits with a guy who watches all the same movies she does. Ben saw that Good Will Hunting riff coming a mile away.
- “I have a PhD from the Sorbonne.” “For what, wearing Chanel suits?” “There was a fashion component, yes.”
- “And I’m better at French horn too, Eric!” NBA star Chris Bosh gets in a very funny cameo during the basketball game—although, much like his position on the Miami Heat, he will always come in third behind Roy Hibbert and Detlef Schrempf on the list of Parks And Recreation cameos by basketball stars. Much like the Euros gag, this is a joke that only gets funnier and weirder the more you think about it. The implication appears to be that Eagleton has paid Chris Bosh not simply to be a ringer on their basketball team, but to actually enroll in their high school and pursue the full range of its extracurricular activities. Or perhaps that Chris Bosh is an avid French horn player and researches the musical ability of all his prospective opponents.
- “I suppose you wouldn’t consider moving. I hear the school system in the tunnels underneath Yucca Mountain is adequate.” “I love you, but your solution to everything is to live inside a mountain.” I realize they were talking about Yucca Mountain and not Yucca Flats, but I think we can safely say that Ron Swanson has been caught up in the wheels (or possibly whirlwind) of progress.