Pawnee’s rivalry with Eagleton, the hoity-toity haves to their have-nots, has been fertile comic soil for Parks and Recreation for the past three seasons, one of those initially slight elements that’s grown, in time, into a reliable touchstone for the series. I’ve always found Eagleton-based plotlines particularly funny for intensely personal reasons; my hometown has an Eagleton of its own, an inner borough of rich assholes who incorporated as their own “city” and are best known for the 15 mile-per-hour speed limit, so all souls driving through have plenty of time to gawk at their gaudy abodes. Eat it, Eastborough! But I digress. The point is, I get Leslie’s hatred for Eagleton, and particularly appreciate her Rickles-style one-liners (“You’ll be too busy polishing your monocle at the caviar store. Knope out!”) in the prologue to last night’s Parks and Rec, “The Pawnee-Eagleton Tip-Off Classic.”
Leslie’s delight at the discovery of Eagleton’s fiscal crisis, and the stages of how she deals with said delight, form the A-plot of this week’s episode, and it’s a good one. First and foremost, it marks the first appearance of the always welcome Kristen Bell as Ingrid, Leslie’s Eagleton counterpart. She mostly underplays, to great effect, insisting at their auditing session that “We don’t really like to talk about money, we find it a little gauche,” or responding to Ben’s incredulity about their “bankruptcy brunch” with a snide, “Sure, let’s not have brunch. Like animals.”
The episode is filled with terrific little sight gags (I want to see ALL OF LESLIE’S POWERPOINTS) and throwaway lines (the towering Eagleton center’s taunt, “And I’m better at French horn too, Eric”; the word “ridonkulous” reminds Chris of “a ridiculous donkey. He’s the best!”). The episode’s director is the vastly underrated Nicole Holofcener, whose Enough Said is currently garnering excellent reviews—and who, interestingly enough, also directed the third-season episode “Eagleton,” which set all this up.
And how’s this for circularity: that too was an episode whose B-plot was about Ron Swanson’s obsessive need for total privacy. In that installment, the concern was Leslie’s discovery of his well-hidden birthday; this time, the arrival of a Penny Saver magazine, sent to him at Diane’s address, prompts an all-out insistence to get off the grid. (His exchange with the mail carrier is one of the episode’s best: “Passing the buck. The last refuge of the cowardly and black-hearted.” “That seems harsh.”) He enlists the help of the perpetually on the grid Tom and Donna (who apparently tweets about as much as Retta, the actor who plays her, does), and their teamwork here reminds us of “Treat yo self”—and that Tom and Donna don’t get near enough screen time together. Seriously, people, we’re looking at the next great comedy team here.
The C-plot, with Ann and April’s road trip to Bloomington (yes, her road trip mix is on Spotify—but with no Mariah, boo) lands most of its laughs via “Dr. April Ludgate Kevorkian,” and her insistence that Ann pretend to be her 65-year-old grandma (“Sometimes I wish you went down on the Titanic with all your sorority sisters!”). But it’s also the vehicle for a pretty clever bait-and-switch; their conversation on the way back seems to tip at Ann’s maternal side, but instead of doing an explicit heart-to-heart, the Bloomington trip turns out to be a stage-setter for Ann and Chris’s exit from Pawnee.
And speaking of setting stages, we’ll be seeing more of Bell and her Eagleton brethren in the coming weeks. Leslie’s scheme to save Eagleon is to reabsorb it into Pawnee—providing a bailout, if you will, potentially unpopular but necessary to keep their reckless spending from taking down the entire economy. (I see whatcha did there, Parks.) The official description of next week’s episode is: “Leslie pairs up the Pawnee Parks employees with their Eagleton counterparts.” The episode is titled “Doppelgängers”; Ron’s will be played by Sam Elliot. Can it be next week right now?