One week a month, Watch This offers television recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: In honor of the return of Fox’s Wayward Pines, our favorite episodes about weird towns.
Parks And Recreation, “Eagleton” (Season three, episode 12; originally aired 5/5/2011)
Small-town rivalries are a time-honored tradition in TV, from Springfield and Shelbyville to that one-off Veronica Mars episode where Veronica poses as “Betty” at another school. In real life, neighboring towns are usually pretty similar, but Parks And Recreation’s Pawnee is a special case: Neighboring Eagleton is better in nearly every measurable way.
This is most obvious in “Eagleton,” an episode from the show’s stellar third season. Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) has a lot to overcome with her hometown pride, given that Pawnee’s residents are a strange, often spiteful lot. Nothing gets to her quite as much as Eagleton, which was founded by wealthy Pawneeans who evacuated because of Pawnee’s unpleasant smell and untenable soil. Searching for ways to justify the rivalry, the perpetually honest Leslie angrily describes the situation: “Pawneeans are just as good as Eagletonians, although we are on average several inches shorter and 80 pounds heavier.” And later, “Their people are not inherently better than our people. The only thing they beat us in is life expectancy, beauty pageants, and average income.”
Even their public forums are a massive improvement on Pawnee’s. While Leslie regularly interacts with people with such brilliant solutions as “arson,” the Eagleton forum takes place at a beautiful event space with valet parking, gift bags (each with an iPod touch), a crepe stand, and most cruelly, applause after everyone finishes speaking. Leslie’s lucky if her meetings don’t end with angry chants.
The episode also introduces Leslie’s Eagleton parks department counterpart, the insufferable Lindsay Carlisle Shay (played with the utmost ridiculousness by Parker Posey), who was formerly Leslie’s friend and a Pawnee resident. Given the importance that Leslie places on friendship (the other plot in the episode is her elaborate plan to give her boss, Ron, played by Nick Offerman, the perfect birthday gift), this betrayal particularly stings. The battle over a new fence blocking Pawnee kids from a fancy Eagleton park ends with a fight in a garbage pile and Leslie spending a night in the Eagleton jail, where she suffers through maple scones, knit blankets, and herbal tea.
This being the incurably optimistic world of Parks And Recreation, we do learn the one thing Pawnee has that Eagleton doesn’t: namely, Leslie Knope herself. There’s no way anyone in Eagleton would go to the effort that Leslie does any time she can improve life in Pawnee. There’s Ron’s birthday surprise, which involves a room to himself, a plateful of steak, and some manly movies, but there’s also a solution to the fence problem, and one that involves very little financial input from the perpetually cash-strapped Pawnee. Noting that wealthy Eagleton has, naturally, installed a beautiful fence instead of a merely functional one, Leslie turns the Pawnee side into a pretty sweet baseball field and whiffle ball league that’s so fun that even the Eagleton kids want to join. If later seasons depict Leslie as perhaps inhumanly competent, “Eagleton” just shows a clever, determined woman coming up with workable solutions to the problems faced by one scrappy, lovably eccentric town.
Availability: “Eagleton” and the whole Parks And Recreation series is available on Netflix.