Congratulations to Parks and Recreation for having the overabundance of quality jokes and, less than a year after its mid-season benching, a solid, loyal enough fan base to merit a commercial tie-in book, Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America, written by “Leslie Knope.” And for having the chutzpah to base an entire episode of the actual show around it, airing, as luck would have it, the week of the book’s release. But let’s not sugarcoat this — the whole thing’s a little weird. And while it’s difficult to fault any episode that features Adam Scott saying the line, “Is she powdering her vagina?” the self-referential gambit probably sounded a lot funnier in the writers’ room, or, in the Hyperion marketing office, or maybe the show lost a bet with Community.
Leslie is making the press rounds promoting her book (the existence of which, I believe, was hinted at previously, but that doesn’t totally mitigate the “Wha?” factor), including a visit to Dan Castellenata, who trades his Homer voice for an amalgamation of every public-radio host who’s tried to sell you a tote bag for $75. But the white whale is the oversize seal of approval from Joan Callamezzo’s book club, very much in doubt owing to the factual error in the book that Joan promises to reveal, “Gotcha!”-style. Leslie freaks out and has the entire staff pore through every page of the book to find the error, while Ben enlists the services of Entertainment 7Wenty’s Tom Haverford to work his particular brand of charm on Joan over a boozy lunch. This backfires dramatically when Joan reveals she’s getting a divorce and is more than ready to actually act on her flirtatious threats, the most colorful of which are bleeped out in a Buster Bluth–style barrage. Tom and Ben then have to bring Joan back to her amazingly appointed home.
The bombshell, of course, is that Leslie, who proudly touts herself as being born and raised in Pawnee, only has that equation half right. A trip to the hall of records in dreaded Shelbyville Eagleton reveals that Leslie was in fact born in her snooty arch-rival burg, Blaine to Pawnee’s Duckie. The ensuing birther scandal is Parks and Rec satire at its most ham-fisted (which is really not that ham-fisted at all by general TV standards, but still), and Leslie, once she was past the denial phase, salvages her reputation and her nascent candidacy by insisting contritely that it’s not where you’re born, it’s where you’re from. A very hung-over Joan reluctantly gives Leslie’s book her seal, and everyone eats waffles.
The C-plotline is, again, centered around Ann, who might as well be called Ann C-plotline at this point. Her attempt to engage Ron and April in a brief moment of small talk is a cute enough diversion, acknowledging that Ann doesn’t have any particular connection to the rest of the parks department, or, really, the show’s overall narrative. The payoff is Ann’s gnarly medical-emergency tale, which pricks up April and Ron’s ears, only to have Ron deflate her satisfaction by calling her by the wrong name, a classic Swanson-method social stratagem. Ron’s barely perceptible facial tic of paternal pride as he watches April call him Lester is, as ever, the show’s highlight, and the kind of thing you just can’t learn in a book.