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Parks and Recreation Recap: Pawnee vs. Eagleton

PARKS & RECREATION -- "Pawnee Commons" Episode 508 -- Pictured: (l-r) Brad Hall as Wreston St. James, Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope, Adam Scott as Ben Wyatt

“Pawnee Commons” tackled one of life’s great questions: Can people change? Can someone from Eagleton, a soul-less, palm-tree supporting micro-climate zone, be a decent human being? Can the slackers among us become entrepreneurs or, at least, happy security guards? Can we overcome prejudice in the name of parks and progress? Let’s find out!

Hometown throwdown
Let’s take a moment to appreciate the fantastic NPR spoof that is Wamapoke County Public Radio, where one can hear a spoken-word opera about pear-shaped women. Leslie begins her appearance by complimenting her host: “Your show last week on dolphin lactation, it was just riveting radio.” During her segment, Leslie implores listeners to send in designs for the new park in Pawnee. She’s “sending out a bat signal,” which, for listeners who don’t know, refers to the children’s character, the Bat Man.

All the submissions Leslie receives are terrible, except one. And that one is terrible by association, because its creator is Wreston St. James from Eagleton. DAMN YOU, EAGLETON! (Wreston is played by Brad Hall, an SNL alum who, fun fact, is married to fellow funny person Julia Louis-Dreyfus.) We’ve seen these snobby Eagletonians before, notably in season four’s “Born and Raised,” when Leslie discovers she wasn’t born in her beloved Pawnee but — scandal of scandals! — first took breath within the city limits of her sworn enemy territory, Eagleton. Not that this revelation altered her opinion of Eagletonians; she’s still 100 percent sure they are all snobby and evil.

Sidebar: When Ben and Leslie take their meeting with James, they’re wearing coordinated, checked, button-down shirts. I cannot help but find this adorable. As I have never said until now, couples who plan parks together and dress together, stay together.

Ben and Leslie visit the park James planned in Eagleton and discover a sprawling utopia filled with lakes, balloon artists, and Segway tours. I love that the way this is shot prevents us from ever getting an exact sense of scale; the place looks like it could swallow Hyde Park. Ben, already deep in the throes of a man crush on James (“like a Southern belle whenever Rhett Butler comes around”), wants Leslie to keep an open mind, and by the time James starts echoing Leslie’s “parks should serve the people” rhetoric, she caves. Her only love sprung from her only hate!

Amy Poehler’s performance of Leslie struggling to apologize to James should be entered in the Face Acting Olympics, where it can go head-to-head with its rightful opponent, Claire Danes’s Tremble Chin.

Alas, we know something is awry the minute James’s minions arrive the next day. On first glance, they’re clearly the hotter yet vicious version of Ben and Leslie, a pretty fair surface-over-substance summation of what Eagleton is all about. Their fake park model, a mockery of Pawnee, is so callous I want to crawl through the TV and punch them both in the face. “There are public showers,” says Robo-Ben. “With instructions for people who have never showered before.”

Ben meets with James, because of course he can’t believe James would do such a thing. James insists he had nothing to do with the prank and fired the jerks who were responsible, but word of this doesn’t reach Leslie until after she’s doused James in Silly String shaving cream while shouting, “PAWNEE FOREVER!”

When James finally brings Ben and Leslie the real design, it’s practically perfect, featuring food trucks from local restaurants and a Li’l Sebastian fountain. “I can’t see myself fighting you on more than 60 percent of these ideas,” says Leslie, and I agree with her. That James isn’t so bad after all. Even though people from Eagleton call their boogers Pawnee caviar.

“You were in the FBI.”
Bored working the weekend security-guard shift, Andy calls up his Mrs. to entertain him. “If I come down there, can I at least break something?” April asks. His reply: “Of course, baby. You know that.” As soon as she gets there, April leads Andy in yet another epic Dwyer role play. And it is outstanding.

Sure, is April pretending to be the Führer’s daughter, and does that get a little awkward when the uninitiated hear Andy call his beloved “Miss Hitler”? Yeah, maybe. And does Andy’s quest for “the necklace with all of Germany’s war secrets” make any sense? It would, if that old lady hadn’t dropped it into the ocean in the end. Point is, these crazy kids are my platonic ideal of imperfect people being perfect together.

Mr. and Mrs. Dwyer could easily have devolved into caricature by now: April the eye-rolling Daria with a Kristen Stewart scowl; Andy the doofy, dopey friend with a Peter Pan complex. But, defying all conventional wisdom about couples on TV getting boring the second they, well, couple, Andy and April have done their most significant growing up as a pair. They step up for each other in times of need, they have this quirky role-playing romantic thing that is obviously working for them, and they push each other toward whatever the scary next step in life may be. April reassuring her honey that Real Cop Andy is better than his fake-cop persona could ever be? Only she could make a line like “Wow, you made those losers very happy” as sweet as a Sweetums molasses plant explosion.

My mind on my money and my money on my mind
Speaking of growing up: Tom Haverford, ladies and gentlemen! Tom is afraid of repeating past mistakes, so he’s being extra-conservative with his spending on Rent-a-Swag. (By the way, Rent-a-Swag already has its own website; it just says “coming soon,” but still.) Tom talks finances like a serious adult, even tossing around the word fiscal, which, according to Donna so it must be true, “makes you sound very upscale.” He puts his friends, former lovers, acquaintances, and Jerry to work readying his storefront, but the results are less than stellar — it looks like what might happen if you mashed up a DMV with an extra-depressing dentist-office waiting room — and Tom’s gratitude gift to his co-workers is one small pizza with no toppings, unless you count cheese. (Jerry doesn’t.)

Ann takes Tom to a diner, as all real talks in Pawnee must transpire over breakfast food, and reminds Tom that its his swagger that put the “swag” in Rent-a-Swag in the first place. Everyone chips in some cash to help Tom redesign the store. Ron hates it, so it must be exactly what Tom is going for. Mr. Haverford is back in business! This time with three pizzas, plus a few toppings.

I leave you now with some “Jazz + Jazz = Jazz,” a recording of Benny Goodman played over a separate recording of Miles Davis. Research shows that our listeners love jazz.

Photo: Adam Rose/NBC