I had an improv teacher in Chicago who used to tell us, "specificity kills ambiguity." Meaning that the more detailed and nuanced a joke is, the richer the pay-off. Audiences glob on to unambiguous things in humor; weirdly, even more than when someone tries not to alienate anyone by making something far too general. As a student of comedy, it seems counterintuitive until you see it in action. Ron Swanson's a prime example: It's not that he loves meat and thinks turkey burgers are wussy, it's that he's gone so far as to create his own version of a turkey burger that, actually, makes a twisted kind of sense. He doesn't moonlight as a musician, he's a fedora-wearing jazz saxophonist known as Duke Silver—very popular with the over-65 ladies. One of the keys to Parks & Rec's success is just how specific its characters are built out.
"Eagleton" expands Parks & Rec's mythology and its world in the cartoonish way we've come to expect from episodes like "Sweetums" and the first "Ron & Tammy." It begins when Eagleton builds a fence in the middle of a park shared by the two towns; Leslie wants it down, so she calls up Lindsay Carlisle Shea, current parks department employee of Eagleton played by Parker Posey. Though they once were best friends (and Lindsay was 80 pounds heavier and was rocking a deviated septum), Lindsay has been fully turned to the dark side and refuses to even entertain the idea of joining the two sides—unless Pawnee can get its act together. The rest involves Leslie and Lindsay flying at each others' faces over a pile of garbage.
The town of Eagleton has always been Pawnee's snooty neighbor, and tonight was a parade of specificity as to what that actually means. Its town hall meetings have a make-your-own crepe station and gift bags containing iPod Touch's. Its jail serves maple scones and Greek yogurt if you so desire. Its cops ride on Segways and seem to outnumber Pawnee cops at least two-to-one. Actually, the contrast between Eagleton and Pawnee is very present in the episode and contributes to the humor. At Pawnee's town hall meeting, the ideas range from burning down the fence, to building another fence around the fence, to suggesting they burn it down again.
There are a couple of really great scenes in the building tension between Pawnee and Eagleton, Leslie and Lindsay. Tom has a moment where he yells at Linsday on Leslie's behalf, but finds a way to tell her that, yes, he'd love a job, and she can take his resume and shove it in her human resources slot. It's also ridiculous, and a little creepy, that Eagleton residents applaud everyone who stands at the town hall right after they say, "I'm an Eagleton citizen." The details are really fun, though the larger story feels like it stops-and-starts a bit. There really isn't much to indicate Leslie's progress until the very end, so the journey isn't very pronounced.
But leave it to Parks & Rec to stick the landing—both on Leslie's part and Ron Swanson's. While Leslie is off turning the Pawnee side of the park into a whiffle ball field (in an impressive amount of time, no less), Ron is terrified because Leslie has discovered one of his deepest secrets: His birthday. "There are a lot of terrible things about Leslie," he says, "But the worst one is how thoughtful she can be." He's expecting a big party—which he'd hate—and he goes around to every parks employee (and Ann) trying to figure out just what Leslie has in store for his big day, albeit a day he thinks Hallmark invented just to sell cards. Chris kisses him on the mouth in the process. It's…not settling for Ron. In the end, though, Leslie lures Ron into the conference room, and there's a simple steak dinner laid out, whiskey in the glass and The Dirty Dozen on the TV. Leslie's unbelievably sweet gesture is specific to Ron, and it sets Parks & Rec even more ahead of its competitors.
Oh, also, iPod Touch is the funniest, most specific giveaway I could ever imagine.