Even before Parks and Recreation fully hit its stride in its second season, I enjoyed the funny little town that it started to build in its uneven first year. Pawnee, with its cheerful cults, horrifying murals, vicious rivalry with Eagleton, and deadpan public radio station, has always been a perfectly surreal little riff on middle American small towns. But in this fifth season of the show, I’ve started wondering if we’ve reached Pawnee’s borders. Parks and Recreation has been acting as if it’s winding up its characters lives, pairing up its singletons, sending its young people on paths to stable adulthood, and leveling up Leslie, if not towards her dreams, at least towards higher tasks than fixing the pit behind Ann’s house.
This episode did precisely what a number of other episodes have done this season: it revisited an old storyline, namely, Leslie’s hatred of her true hometown, Eagleton, with the long-standing issue, Leslie’s desire to build a new park in the former pit. The show moved forward these stories a little bit, by having Leslie find and accept the decency of the only Eagletonian who doesn’t share the sentiments of the town’s “Now entering Pawnee. Good luck with that,” road signs. It’s nice to have her overcome that prejudice, but the story felt more like a tying up of loose ends than a genuinely funny riff. Neither the evil Eagletonians’ fake park, nor the return of Season 1 Leslie in the form of her attack on the urban planner, were innovations, or even welcome returns to truly hilarious jokes past.
Both the B and C subplots, with Tom getting Rent-A-Swag up and running, and April finding a way to help Andy realize his actual talents as a potential cop were stronger, particularly the latter. I’d been worried that Andy might get knocked off his ambitions to become a cop, turning it into just another dream like Mouserat as a stadium-filling band. “I did everything I was supposed to go and I walked around the building four times and only twenty minutes have gone buy,” he explained of the job that Chris got him working as a security guard to give him experience prior to taking his police academy exams. “I got so bored I started thinking about existence.” But April’s turn as Judy Hitler, however accidentally, exposed that Andy’s actually excellent with children: he may be bored a lot of the time, but when he’s activated, he’s perfect. And while April and Andy’s fantasies used to be an expression of a genuine yearning for an entirely different life, they seem to have settled in to the marriage and the jobs that they’ve got. Their fantasies are fun for them, and for us, but they’re no longer a means of escape.
And maybe that’s where we leave them. I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent in Pawnee tremendously over the past four and a half years—it’s been some of my all-time favorite television viewing. But I’m wondering if it might be time for this city mouse to leave the country. I just wish Parks and Recreation was going to leave me devastated that I have to go, rather than doing something I haven’t done since the show’s first season: checking my watch during episodes, waiting for my flight out of town and on to the next thing.