Tuned In

Parks and Recreation: Good Fences Make Bad Neighbors

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Quick spoilers for last night’s Parks and Recreation coming up:

Parks and Recreation is getting to the point that Breaking Bad did for me last year: it’s getting near-impossible to figure out how to whittle down which episode(s) I include on my year-end ten-best list while still leaving room for anything else.

“Eagleton” was another case in point. I’ve said before this season, and throughout this season, that one of my favorite characters on Parks is Pawnee itself: the distinctive, detailed world, history and personalities that the producers have populated their fictional town with. But Pawnee now has competition, in its snooty, perfect neighbor next door.

On one level, “Eagleton” is simply an extended joke, and a freaking hilarious one: Pawnee’s adjacent city is a too-perfect, privileged mirror image of Pawnee, not its enemy so much as its passive-aggressive frenemy. This pretty much enables the show to spend half an hour riffing, creating parallel-universe versions of the Pawnee jokes that have infused three seasons to date. Eagleton’s residents are richer; they are thinner and several inches taller; and yes, “because of the cupcake factory, the air always smells like vanilla.” The city jail has piped-in jazz and scones. The policemen ride Segways. I could go on! I want to go on! But you’ve already seen the episode (or you need to, as soon as you can).

This would be funny enough in itself, but “Eagleton” adds a layer of conflict by giving Leslie an actual passive-aggressive frenemy of her own. Parker Posey is in full Parker Posey mode as Lindsay, Leslie’s former friend and colleague, now turned into a condescending antagonist. I’m not sure that I have laughed harder at a scene this season—save certain ones involving Li’l Sebastian—as I have at Leslie and Lindsay’s wrestling match in the garbage pile, as Lindsay attempts to desecrate a sacred symbol of Pawnee: one of Leslie’s beloved waffles from J. J.’s Diner. It’s worth rewinding just to see the stare and intensity with which Amy Poehler delivers the line: “Don’t you dare… feed that waffle to that dog to get it to poop.” (Parks and Rec, any week, is full of already funny lines made ten times better because this actor read the line as this character.) And of course Lindsay’s taunting rejoinder: “Sambuca need to make?”

And that would have been great enough in itself, but the story also showed that the conflict was not just about a playground, or status, or fairness, but about the history between two ex-friends and about the importance of one’s roots. This comes across in the adorable scene at the whiffleball game, but even more so at Ron’s “surprise party,” where he recalls his advice to Leslie five years earlier—”You’ll only have one hometown”—before tucking in to his steak and whiskey.

This scene, metonymically, shows why Leslie is perfect for Pawnee, and why Pawnee is perfect for Leslie. She knows it likes its steak. And it knows that she loves her waffles.