One of the virtues that Parks and Recreation has been extolling for a very long time is the importance of doing what’s necessary and good, even when it means a lot of hard work or going against your personal wishes. That the show’s morality is so ingrained is part of why it’s so enjoyable, as its characters aren’t going to start betraying each other, but a sort of side-effect is that Parks always needs outside forces to really catalyze its plots. Jerry may cause things to fall apart, but he’s well-meaning, and so is everyone else on the show, and even the selfishness of Tom or Ron is always outweighed by how much they care for everyone else.
The two main stories in “The Pawnee-Eagleton Tip Off Classic” are about coming to terms with doing the right thing, though it’s notable how much more fun everything is before reaching that point. Early on we learn that Eagleton, the wealthy Shelbyville to Pawnee’s Springfield, is going bankrupt. Ben and Chris are asked to come in and audit the city, and they’re enthusiastic to bail Eagleton out the way they have Pawnee and so many cities before it, but Leslie hears and wants to go along in order to gloat. Coincidentally there’s a basketball game between the two cities, but if it weren’t that it would be something else, as they’re always competing in some fashion or another.
Once they arrive, the Pawneeans find out it’s much worse than they’d anticipated, and Leslie uses this newfound information to gloat and mock the Eagletonians. Not only is it something she’s relished her entire life (partially for its rarity), it’s also advantageous schadenfreude that can help Leslie politically. It’s also pretty nasty to ridicule a city on the verge of disaster, even when it’s filled with rich twits, but it’s understandable. Leslie is, however, a paragon of good, and by the end of the episode she brings out a proposal to merge Pawnee and Eagleton back into one city, as it was 200 years ago. It’s a move neither city seems to want, but I expect that this move ultimately ends up saving her from the recall in the long run.
In the episode’s B-plot, Ron becomes paranoid after receiving junk mail, and he enlists Tom and Donna in helping him get off “the grid,” i.e. removing himself from any sort of publicly available source of information. The story feels ripped from the headlines in a bad way, though, and while Ron’s always extreme, here he takes things in a direction that feels more like the reactionary politics of a South Park episode than the more level-headed Parks and Recreation. He takes his picture from restaurants and steals his childhood medical records from a pediatrician, and while it’s intermittently entertaining, it all feels too dumb to really enjoy.
It’s not long before he wants to buy an RV with gold so he can live without an address, but he’s reeled back to reality by Diane, who chews him out for being impossible for his family to find (as well she should). Ron then agrees that he needs to be accessible to them, and thus have some link to society. Parks makes a point that today it’s impossible to be completely invisible anymore, and that’s true, but it also implies that concerns about the NSA and public accessibility are ridiculous. Again, the binary between the overexposed Tom and Donna and the nearly hermetic Ron presents us with two strawmen, and while both are entertaining enough, that’s about it.
Elsewhere, for reasons kind of unclear, Ann is acting as a mother to April and taking her for a tour of the veterinary school she was accepted to. April won’t take it seriously, as she’s seemingly decided she doesn’t want to go there anymore. At the same time, Ann loves the city, less because of any intrinsic greatness that we can see than because of Pawnee’s sheer awfulness. It’s the least interesting part of the episode both because there have been so many pairings between these two characters in the past and because it mostly serves to move the show’s story forward. In case it’s news to anyone, Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe are leaving Parks midway through this season, and it should be obvious already how that’s going to work.
Not one of Parks’s strongest episodes. Some of its moments, from the rigged basketball game to Ron’s Vine selfie, were still excellent though, and the negativity of my write-up is just because “The Pawnee-Eagleton Tip Off Classic” fell prey to problems the show usually avoids. All the usual pleasures were still there, but the machinery that usually fits them together so well was a bit busted.