One of the charms of Parks and Recreation is when the show tackles some contemporary or topical issue. It never gets as news-y as Murphy Brown did, but the writers do sometimes incorporate certain “issues of the day” into the plot. Sometimes it’s gay marriage, or New York Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on selling large sizes of soda, and in this week’s episode, “The Pawnee-Eagleton Tip off Classic” we look at government bailouts – an interesting topic, especially in light of the government shut down.
I liked “The Pawnee-Eagleton Tip off Classic” because we get to see Eagleton, the richer, much more attractive cousin of the more modest Pawnee. Eagleton is going through some tough financial straits, facing bankruptcy, much like Detroit is, except Detroit doesn’t fill its municipal pools with bottled waters, or pay for everyone’s HBO. The running joke, of course, is that Eagleton is hopelessly out of touch because the residents are rich. In fact, that’s how Leslie (Amy Poehler) feels about the town. Parks and Rec fans will remember that Parker Posey made a winning guest turn in the third season as Leslie’s former BFF, who know worked in Eagleton.
Unfortunately for us, Posey doesn’t make a return – instead it’s a funny Kristen Bell, who plays a ditzy councilwoman who doesn’t seem to grasp the seriousness of her town’s fiscal troubles. She goes to Pawnee for help, and Ben (Adam Scott) and Chris (Adam Lowe) offer to help, much to Leslie’s consternation. It’s pretty interesting to see how Leslie’s asserting her stubbornness, allowing herself to be bossy and unappealing in front of a startled Ben. In fact, Leslie seems to revert back to her season one anti-heroine mode, taking vicious joy at her rival town’s failure.
To many Knope fans this character shift may be unwelcome. After all, we’ve had four seasons of Leslie, the uber-competent wonder woman. But in “The Pawnee-Eagleton Tip off Classic” she comes off as petty – there’s an awesome scene in which Leslie challenges Eagleton to a bet on their respective high school basketball teams during a press conference, during which Leslie decides to indulge in her insult comic impulse, rattling off a line of jabs, before throwing down her mic like it’s hot.
Of course, Leslie eventually comes around, and decides to help Eagleton. This decision comes at a huge risk because Leslie’s losing the recall, threatening her political career. But we know that Leslie always does what she feels is right.
Ron (Nick Offerman), on the other hand, has to adjust to married life. He’s moved in with Diane (Lucy Lawless), and discovered the misery of junk mail. The rest of his episode is about how he, along with the more techno-savvy Tom (Aziz Ansari) and Donna (Retta) help him move “off the grid” and assist in the disappearance of his online presence. While not especially interesting or compelling, Offerman is fantastic – especially as he bellows into Tom’s iPad “Erase all pictures of Ron!” over and over again, recording himself on Vine. His little adventure with Tom and Donna annoys Diane who reminds Ron that he’s a husband and father (and she was cheesed because she was stranded with a flat tire).
I also liked that Ann (Rashida Jones) had more to do in this episode. I know she’s leaving – and I’ve accepted that fact – but I still find it difficult to imagine Parks and Rec without Leslie’s best friend and girl crush.
But Ann isn’t paired with Leslie in this episode – instead she’s coupled with April (Aubrey Plaza). They travel to Bloomington for April’s veterinary school orientation. She responds to Ann’s friendly overtures with her patented sullenness, slamming down any efforts toward friendship, even tossing Ann’s road trip mix CD out of the window.
I always found the Ann/April relationship interesting because while hostile toward each other, they still have a bond – mostly because they have Leslie in common. I just had a discussion about this idea with someone while watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer – specifically, we were talking about Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Cordeila (Charisma Carpenter) and whether they were friends. I argued that in their own, specific way, they were – despite their bickering and fighting; I found them to be bonded in a deeper bond than just friendship – they’re more like sisters, not necessarily friendly, but still bonded, with a strange love for each other. Other examples of these hostile, but close, friendships would be Jo (Nancy McKeon) and Blair (Lisa Whelchel) on Facts of Life; Lisa (Lark Voorhies) and Screech (Dustin Diamond) on Saved by the Bell; Betty (America Ferrera) and Marc (Michael Urie) and Betty and Amanda (Becki Newton) on Ugly Betty; Arthur (Jerry Stiller) and Doug (Kevin James) on The King of Queens; Debra (Patricia Heaton) and Marie (Doris Roberts) on Everybody Loves Raymond; Freddie (Cree Summer) and Whitley (Jasmine Guy) and Ron (Darryl Bell) and Whitley on A Different World; Jack (Sean Hayes) and Grace (Debra Messing) and Karen (Megan Mullaly) and Will (Erik McCormack) on Will & Grace; Rebecca (Kirstie Alley) and Carla (Rhea Perlman) on Cheers. On these shows, even though these characters are constantly fighting and sniping at each other, we’re to understand that they’re still friends in their own unique way.
So Ann and April also have this sort of strange relationship – and it’s clear from Ann that they’re okay with their friendship. When driving back after April ditches her orientation, Ann shares her disappointment, allowing that even if they fight, she cares about her future. April then reassures Ann that she follows her instincts, which have kept her in good stead – she followed her instincts when marrying Andy (Chris Pratt, absent – his character off in London) and when she decided she hated Ann (which got a good-humored smile).
And we’re also getting more clues that Ann and Chris are ready to leave Pawnee – this time it’s because Ann has been enraptured by the charms of the more cosmopolitan Bloomington. She suggests that they raise their baby somewhere other than Pawnee – interesting because it kind of goes against everything the show’s about – how despite the show’s limited virtues, its citizens still love it.
As I expected, this episode was excellent. I thought it was funny and well-written and has maintained a high level of consistency in quality.
Some extra notes:
- Leslie has an awesome PowerPoint presentation to the council from Eagleton – it’s all admonishment and finger-waving with messages like “you suck” which she delivers with unattractive relish.
- While Leslie offers apples in the bet, the folks at Eagleton offer a basket of oranges – made of Swarovski Crystal, worth about $700 grand – and we wonder why the town’s going bankrupt?
- I love Retta, though her appearances on the show, so far, have been cameos, really – and Donna’s such a fun character, brightening up any scene with her gorgeous smile, even if she’s given hardly anything to do in this episode.
- Kristen Bell can be pretty funny.
- I love Ben’s face when Leslie blasts him with a t-shirt cannon.