There are hundreds of ways that Leslie Knope has expressed her affection for Pawnee over the last few seasons, so having the woman who figuratively wrote the book on it literally writing the book on it was a logical punchline. Luckily, this idea, introduced in season 3’s “Time Capsule,” also made for a highly fertile and fun episode this season. (And a neat real-life promotional tie-in.) “Born & Raised” brought us some highbrow (public radio) and some low blows (Gotcha!), as well as a little action (Bert Macklin), suspense (where was Leslie born?), and “romance” (Tom as Joan’s chew toy; waffles as Americana). Also of note: Game finally recognized game! (Was that a hint that we might see Tom and Chris work the ladies together soon? Because that should totally happen.)
The episode opened with a delightful hit of Dan Castellaneta — a.k.a. the voice of Homer Simpson, a.k.a. Rusty’s crusty prof on Greek. One could say that his Derry Murbles, the placid-voiced substitute host on Wamapoke County Public Radio’s Thoughts for your Thoughts, was there to
pontificate to interview Leslie about her book, but should one? Maybe he just didn’t want to introduce that terrible song from the lesbian Afro-Norwegian funk duo, Nefertiti’s Fjord. Back in the office, Leslie proudly passed out signed books to the staff, setting up every character with a big laugh. April was disturbed by Leslie’s seven-page inscription to her, but you-know-who’s was worse. Jerry: “Okay, mine just says, ‘Get well soon.’” Leslie: “Aren’t you sick?” Unnerved Jerry: “No.” Insistent Leslie: “Something’s off.” But one thing was missing from Leslie’s triumph: The literal literary stamp of approval from Joan Callamezzo’s book club, a guarantee to big sales, as evidenced by The Time Traveler’s Optometrist. Tom, whom Leslie hired to secure the sticker, told her that someone was claiming the book contained a factual inaccuracy. Impossible, scoffed Leslie. This was her fly in the lab, if she were Walter White. So she enlisted the help of her staff to find the mistake — not that there was one — and cruelly dispatched Jerry to a bunch of other cities to fact-check every out-of-towner’s interview. Chris did his re-reading in the time it took me to type this sentence.
Joan’s interview of Leslie on Pawnee Today tilted their passive-aggressive relationship toward aggressive in all the right ways: Mo Collins’ Joan taunted her by waving the sticker around the tome but not actually affixing it (which would “legally” make it a JC Book Club selection). Then she gave Leslie real sticker shock by announcing that they had heard that Leslie wasn’t born in Pawnee. Author, immigrant Leslie Knope doth protested, but our loyal government employee was branded with a Gotcha! stamp and further humiliated by four Gotcha! dancers gyrating to a theme song (“Joan gotcha!/Betcha thought ya’d get away/with a buncha caca/didn’tcha?”) that tickled Chris and triggered memories of an underrated ’80s Gotcha-based tune.
As playfully barbed as Joan-Leslie encounters always are, Joan-Tom meetings are even saucier, and this episode dumped some lighter fluid on their slow-burn flirtation. His plan was to spray himself 30-plus times with cologne and charm her into giving up that sticker, but when she told him at lunch about her impending divorce, he realized he was in severe cougar-mauling danger. After Joan used a chilling sexualized peacock metaphor, called him “an adorable hunk of caramel,” and excused herself to powder body parts untold and untoward, Tom begged Ben to talk nerd to her to get this bird back in her cage. (His articulate objection to his nerd classification gave Tom an easy comedy lay-up: “Yes, that’s perfect. Just like that. Be incredibly boring.” The Ben-Tom douche-on-geek dynamic just works, doesn’t it?) Alas, Ben’s Star Trek soliloquy would be no match for Joan’s liquor intake, and she slurred her desire to BLEEEEEEEEEEP the hell out of both of them. The angel (Ben) tried to run, but the devil (Tom) persuaded him to help get this woman home safely. (Her home was hardly a safe zone, with zebra-print bedding and sultry, overwrought portraits of herself on the walls.)
NEXT: The return of FBI agent Bert Macklin!