‘Parks and Recreation’ Review: “The Pawnee-Eagleton Tip Off Classic”
Tonight's all-new episode of 'Parks and Recreation' brings Eagleton back into the Pawnee fold, in a way you might not expect. While Ann and April visit Bloomington's veterinary school and Donna and Tom try to help Ron get off the grid for good, Leslie is busy matching wits with her ultimate adversary: the Eagleton version of Leslie Knope, played by guest star Kristen Bell.
We've known for a few months now that this season would feature the Eagleton doppelgangers of our favorite characters -- as it turns out, we'll be getting a whole lot of them in the coming episodes. With Eagleton in a financial crisis, Chris and Ben have been called in to help much to Leslie's chagrin. Leslie is so rarely unlikable, but there's something about Eagleton that brings out the smarmy worst in her. Even from a viewer standpoint, this side of Leslie can be a little too hard to swallow. Kristen Bell plays Ingrid de Forest, the Eagleton version of Leslie, and like everything in Eagleton, Ingrid's just a bit better: she was crowned Miss Indiana while in office as a councilwoman ... while pregnant. Naturally, Ingrid's presence -- and Ben's eagerness to solve the financial crisis by working with her -- exacerbates Leslie's rage.
In fact, Leslie's obnoxious behavior keeps the episode from being great -- "The Pawnee-Eagleton Tip Off Classic" (which takes its name from the annual basketball game between the two towns) is a decent episode, but never reaches the highs of the first two episodes of the season. The pacing is tight and the stories are plotted well, but Leslie's attitude and her smug antics threaten to eclipse the entire half hour. Luckily, by the end of the episode -- when Leslie announces that Pawnee and Eagleton will merge into one city; surprise! -- Leslie regains that Leslie charm, though I worry with the two towns combining that she's not quite done yet.
Here's what was great: Ann and April's road trip to Bloomington, where April realizes that going to veterinary school just isn't her thing, and she teaches Ann a little something about going with her gut in the process. Obviously, this opens the door for Rob Lowe and Rashida Jones' exit, as Ann professes her desire to move to Bloomington (it has a vegan Afghan restaurant!). It's always great to see April bounce off of characters who aren't Andy or Ron or Leslie, and while it's fun to watch her butt heads with Ann, it's even better when the two of them find magic moments (you know, like listening to Mariah Carey).
Also excellent was Ron's overzealous quest to get off the grid, which starts when he somehow receives a Pennysaver in the mail at Diane's house. Ron, with the help of tech-addicts Donna and Tom, runs all over town, destroying credit cards, photo IDs, a photo proving he ate 51 eggs at J.J.'s Diner (take that, Paul Newman), and he comes super close to buying an RV and living out his days on the road until Diane reels him in. The plot is a bit flawed -- Donna and Tom's hashtag and SnapChat references somehow already feel dated (unavoidable, I suppose), and having Diane swoop in at the last minute seems like an afterthought or an easy out clause; Ron will never truly get carried away again as long as Diane is around. While it's awesome that Diane is the perfect balance for Ron, I hope it doesn't become habit for the writers to simply place her in when they need to keep Ron from doing whatever stupid thing Ron is about to do.
Overall, this week's 'Parks and Recreation' is a passable half hour that loses some of the laughs amid the forced plotting. Here's hoping next week fares a bit better -- and it already seems like it might. The next episode is titled "Doppelgangers," in which we'll get to meet some of our other characters' Eagletoninan counterparts.