‘Parks and Recreation’ – ‘Eagleton’: A tale of two cities

Senior Television Writer
05.05.11 81 Comments


A review of tonight’s “Parks and Recreation” coming up just as soon as I have a question about your inflatable saxophones…

“You’ll get a lot of job offers in your life, but you only have one hometown.” -Ron

Leslie Knope is awesome. We know this. We’ve known this for quite some time now. Sometimes, though, it’s nice to be reminded of just how awesome she can be, and “Eagleton” offered that in spades.

The title story not only helped expand the show’s universe by giving Pawnee an enviable (if obnoxious) neighbor city, but it filled in some important pieces of Leslie Knope backstory. In hindsight – particularly if you ignore her characterization in much of season 1 and assume she’s always been super-intense but in a warm and inviting way – it seems odd that a woman with Leslie’s ambitions and talent would still be a deputy department director at her age, and also (again, ignoring some of her more off-putting season 1 moments) that she wouldn’t have had any friends before Ann came along.(*) Both mysteries are solved by the introduction of Parker Posey as Leslie’s ex-pal Lindsay, who ended their friendship when she took the bigger job in Eagleton that she’d talked Leslie out of taking for herself.

(*) On the other hand, back at press tour I asked Rashida Jones about Ann’s prior friendlessness, and she gave a pretty logical answer: Ann had always been Boyfriend Girl, throwing herself into relationships with guys like Andy to the exclusion of all the other people in her life. Only Leslie’s persistence and force of personality were so strong that Ann couldn’t ignore her the way she did everybody else.

Posey fit right in as the symbol of the rich, beautiful, condescending Eagleton folk. And the show had a lot of fun with showing a bizarro version of a Pawnee community meeting(**) with the Eagleton version, which featured valet service, a crepe station, gift bags with iPod Touches and a roomful of beautiful people who looked like they’d stepped out of a J. Crew catalog. (Not to mention a jail with cool jazz, fuzzy blankets and morning scones.) It’s cartoonish, sure, but no more than the Pawnee equivalent at this point, or anything having to do with the Pawnee news media. Leslie Knope just lives in a very wacky corner of Indiana.

(**) The actual Pawnee community meeting had a cameo from Mike Scully, a former consulting producer for the show (he wrote the first “Ron and Tammy,” among other things) as the guy who suggests putting a wall around the Eagleton wall. Scully, of course, used to run “The Simpsons,” and the Pawnee/Eagleton rivalry feels very much like Springfield’s hatred of Shelbyville – albeit more one-sided, as “The Simpsons” usually gives you the sense that Shelbyville is about as crummy as Springfield (and vice versa). I’m also told that Scully agreed very reluctantly to do the cameo, that it was originally supposed to be the one line about building the fence, and that Amy Poehler – who both likes Scully and loves improv – asked him why, forcing him to come up with the answer on the spot.

And though Leslie has her weaknesses – like an irrational, borderline-homicidal attachment to the waffles from JJ’s diner – she is both a better worker and better person than Lindsay, which she demonstrates with the way she chooses to end their feud. Rather than seeking revenge for her treatment by both her ex-friend and hated neighbor town, Leslie decides to make delicious lemonade out of lemons, using the wall as the basis of a new rec league that she unsurprisingly is able to throw together in a day. And while there’s some professional pride in reminding Lindsay just how impressive her skillset is, Leslie mainly does it because it would be a fun thing for the kids of both towns, and maybe an icebreaker for her frosty relationship with Lindsay. Lindsay wouldn’t be big enough to reach out to Leslie in this way – nor would it mean as much, since she’s the one who betrayed the other – but Leslie is, because Leslie Knope is, again, awesome.

Which isn’t to say that Leslie is a saint, which is what made the B-story about Ron’s birthday so fantastic. It ends with Leslie being a great friend to Ron, giving him the perfect birthday “party” – a solo night with steak (and a bib from the late, lamented  Mulligan’s), scotch and classic guy movies – but before that, she has an endless amount of fun tormenting Ron in the same way he messed with her in last season’s “Woman of the Year.” This one had a few key, important differences from that episode, though. Where “Woman of the Year,” wisely let Ron tell the audience early on that it was all a prank so he wouldn’t come across like an ass, “Eagleton” keeps the nature of the party a secret til the end, which worked because Ron is usually so indomitable (and, yes, insane in his privacy concerns) that you never exactly feel bad for him when he’s suffering this way. And, again, because Ron is ordinarily the greatest person in the history of Pawnee, it’s hilarious to see just how unraveled he can get from such a simple thing as birthday wishes. (“Shut your damn mouth!”), and his flinch as Leslie opened the door to the party was another amazing piece of Nick Offerman physical comedy.

And then once he went through the door, saw just how well Leslie really understands him, and started chowing down on some beef, we got another lovely moment in what’s turned out to be a surprisingly tender friendship between these two. Offerman and Poehler take such obvious pleasure in playing opposite each other, and it really came across in that scene, even as a red meat-fueled Ron was reverting back to his gruff, reserved ways. Of course the only person who could have talked Leslie out of taking a bigger and better job was Ron Effing Swanson. And of course it was probably the right move for her. Leslie Knope is Pawnee, and Pawnee is Leslie Knope, and if their cops don’t get to ride Segways, so the hell what?

On this week’s podcast, a listener asked why it’s so hard for a sitcom to get recognized as the best show on TV these days. I said that, depending on what “Breaking Bad” has to offer this summer, and whether “Parks and Rec” keeps this incredible momentum going into the fall, there’s a very good chance that Leslie, Ron and company could wind up in my top spot when December 2011 rolls around, and episodes like “Eagleton” are a fine example of why.

A few other thoughts:

• This one was directed by indie film vet Nicole Holofcener, whose movies (including “Lovely & Amazing” and “Friends with Money”) often deal with the theme of unhealthy competitive feelings among otherwise close-knit female friends and/or relatives. Seems an appropriate choice, no?

• Someone on Twitter reminded me the other day that Duke Silver has yet to make an appearance this season, but Ron’s panicked reaction to April’s inflatable sax question seemed to be equal parts birthday hatred and paranoia about his secret identity coming to light. (Also, with Brendanawicz gone, is Tom the only current regular who knows about Duke?)

• Can anyone identify the actual movie Ron was watching in the tag? I’ve seen both “The Dirty Dozen” and “Bridge on the River Kwai” often enough to know that scene wasn’t from either one. Maybe it was just generic WWII tank footage from a History Channel special or something? (UPDATE: Never mind. It appears that in between the screener I saw and the final air version, they got the “Kwai” rights.)

• Another great Offerman moment: Ron’s horrified reaction to Chris kissing him on the lips.

• Ron’s house isn’t even on a street, which fits in with previous Leslie exposition about how Ron won’t tell her where he lives.

• Ah, Andy, so naive, thinking that Tom insulted Lindsay while he was giving her his resume. (And Tom then got karmic justice when Andy smacked him with a garbage bag during the weird garbage brawl.)

What did everybody else think?

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