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We are three episodes into Parks and Recreation's fourth season and though it has yet to produce a real barn burner, the season also hasn't put out any complete duds. “Born & Raised” continued that trend with a story that brought Leslie's birthplace into question. Though the episode took a while to really get going, there were still some great laughs to be had throughout its second half.
The cold open provided a few humorous moments early on, though they would drop off after that for awhile. Voice of Homer Simpson, Dan Castellaneta, was responsible for a few of the opening scene's great lines, if only for the mellifluous drawl with which he delivered them. Besides the comedy, the scene also introduced the driving force behind all of the episode's storylines. Leslie's book about Pawnee was actually a bit of product placement for the real life companion piece for Parks and Recreation, but it ended up causing nothing but trouble for the book's fictitious author.
After Joan Calamezzo shows up to once again ruin Leslie's big day with some actual “Gotcha Journalism,” including dancers and an accompanying theme song to go along with it, our heroine is put on a mission to prove she's a Pawneeian born and raised. Once the segment on Pawnee Today opens the floodgates, it isn't long before the crazy comes pouring in. Leslie is immediately put on the defensive as the deranged denizens come at her during the book signing in their typical off-the-wall fashion, resulting in an uproarious scene. Though she doesn't need to trek all the way to Hawaii to get the long-form birth certificate, Leslie probably would have preferred that trip to where she ends up going. To acquire the proper paperwork Leslie must venture into Eagleton, home of Lord Voldemort and everything she hates, a place she holds in such contempt that just the thought of being one of its citizens is enough to sour Leslie's stomach.
It would have been nice to see Lindsay Carlisle Shay(Parker Posey) make a reappearance while Leslie was visiting the County Records office; Chris and Ben both scoring laughs made up for it though. For Chris it was his irresistible charm turning out to have no effect on Eagletonians, who possess a natural immunity since they're just as upbeat and cordial. Andy was bringing the funny as soon as he donned the Bert Macklin persona for the first time since the shadowy government agent lost his life to shots of Snake Juice back in season three; “Thought I was dead? So did the president's enemies.”
On the negative side, Ann once again failed to really entertain with her storyline. Ron and April did produce a few funny lines, but watching them avoid socializing with Ann still turned out to be the episode's weakest moments. Perhaps Ron's semi 'stache growing back is draining all the energy from his comedic reserves, but outside of his general misanthropic demeanor he only scored a few laughs. The best came with his tactic for keeping people at an arms length by intentionally calling them the wrong name. Seeing the pride on his face as he passes the trick on to April was also worth a chuckle.
Admittedly, the episode might have been tainted by a problem that actually came up with the season premiere. The complete lack of attention that has been given to Ben and Leslie's post-breakup mindsets is disappointing. Their relationship may not have lasted long, but they were built up as being pretty much soul mates. So even with their completely amicable split, for neither to have gone into a slump afterward or at least acknowledge in some way that they were ever together ends up feeling like the typical sitcom brushoff. P&R is better than that, but apparently, just as the characters have, we are expected to simply forget all about the couple that gave us political figure role-playing. There has been one silver lining to the breakup, in that it's given Ben more time to be a part of one of television's funniest pairings.
If we aren't going to be watching Ben and Leslie light up the screen with their adorable awkwardness, then Ben and Tom playing the consummate comedic duo is without a doubt the next best thing. In fact, together the two might be even funnier, they were certainly killing it during their lunch date with Joan. The thoroughly intoxicated TV anchor was holding her own as well; especially with the tail end of her rendition of “Let's Hear It for the Boy.” Despite playing the “deadwood” to Tom's funnyman, it was actually Ben who earned the episode's biggest laugh, and he did it simply by voicing what we were all thinking at that moment, “Is she gonna powder her vagina?” Ben for the second episode in a row becoming so confounded he has to question his surroundings also didn't go unappreciated. Not that you can blame him after he's forced to take in the various semi and fully erotic portraits of Joan as him and Tom pour her into bed.
Once Leslie is able to accept her lot in life as a natural born Eagletonian, she brings the episode to a close with a moving moment that saves her political career and gives her the peace of mind of knowing she's still a Pawnee girl at heart. It's not the town where she was born, but the one where she was raised that made her who she is today. It was a nice way to wrap things up(while putting a turn on the episode's title) and Jerry turning out to have spent the entire day fact-checking the book helped send the episode out on a comedic high note. “Born and Raised” wasn't anywhere near the best we've seen from Parks and Recreation, but like all episodes it had it's fair share of great moments.