Classic Television

Revisiting Parks & Recreation – S1E4 “Boys’ Club”

These recaps often contain spoilers for later episodes and are generally meant for viewers who’ve watched the entire series at least once or just don’t care about spoilers.

Episode 4 of Parks & Recreation begins with a dog poop fight as all good TV episodes should begin. This cold open is probably my favorite of them so far because of how Leslie’s character is written – appalled at first at the boys flinging poop at her but joining in the action very quickly and acknowledging that it’s kinda fun. What better way to set the tone for an episode titled Boys’ Club than having Leslie prove herself a more than formidable opponent to a group of actual boys flinging dog poop for sport?

The parks department receives a gift basket with wine and cheese. Leslie immediately swoops in, reminding everyone that they can’t accept gifts over $25 in value.

While cutting the ribbon on an online profile April has created for the Sullivan Street Pit, the subject of Mark comes up and Ann wonders where he is. Attending a boys’ club meeting, Leslie replies before we’re treated to a cutaway of her in front of a wall of portraits of Pawnee city council members over the past 30 years – all white men it seems with the exception of one woman barely visible behind her. Naturally, it’s mostly played for laughs but it’s a visual that hits close to home for a lot of marginalized people in government.

There’s a hillarious juxtaposition between Leslie describing to Ann that Mark and his coworkers (just visible outside their window) are “wheeling and dealing; divvying up the empire,” and the brief cut to Mark having the most inane conversation with his coworker about how thin his new shirt makes him look. Illustrated nicely here is a gulf between the popular perception of what goes on in a “boys’ club” to have it remain such a respected institution in society and the reality of it. Sure, the empire is being divvied up. But up close, it looks more like boys flinging poop for sport than it does the sort of high-minded, male-ego-stroking debate you might get from The West Wing or various other Sorkin productions.

Leslie recruits Ann in her attempt to bust up the Boys’ Club outside their window and then literally does that when she clumsily knocks their table over. Ann is more artful at first, steering Mark into a conversation about the friends he keeps judging from his online profile, giving him shit in a way that would probably be welcomed as light ribbing coming from his male coworkers. Here, Mark clams up instead and the exchange ends on an awkward note.

In an attempt to keep the party going after it runs out of beer, Leslie returns to her office and retrieves the wine and cheese she’d previously cautioned her coworkers not to consume. The next morning, she’s back in her office apologizing to congresswomen on both sides of the aisle for violating the Government Employees Ethics Code of the State of Indiana. There’s something here about the lengths career-minded women often feel compelled to go to in effort to fit in with “the boys”; the toxicity behind the idea of shattering glass ceilings in a world where that always involves casual ethics violations (elsewhere in the episode, it’s revealed that drinking on government property isn’t even permitted to begin with), the double standards, the idea that playing the game and risking the consequences beats eschewing it altogether. There’s something here but flinging poop is fun and enticing as it turns out, and no one, regardless of gender, is immune to its allure.

Retta gets her first real outing as Donna Meagle here, sparring verbally with Jerry for her rights to the gift basket Leslie returns to the break room. It’s understated but it’s unmistakably Donna and its no surprise really that the character is calibrated just right from the very beginning. Of all the characters on the show, Donna is probably closest to the actor playing her, with April a close second (there wasn’t a role for Aubrey Plaza in the initial scripts until one of the producers ran into her somewhere and convinced Greg Daniels and Michael Shur to write something for her).

Leslie requests Ron’s audience in his office and relays to him what happened with the gift basket. He pleads for her not to blow it out of proportion to which she cites the double standard at play. He’s a man, she’s a woman. She needs to hold herself up to a higher standard. The old ‘twice as good for half the recognition’ barrier. Naturally, Ron has no use for that and would rather just sweep the whole thing under the rug. An assessment of how the employees of Pawnee’s parks department were able to get away with so much to comedic effect wouldn’t be complete without taking into account their boss Ron’s views on government and bureaucracy. Try to imagine someone who was as much a stickler for the rules as Leslie was in Ron’s position and you probably don’t have a show. A fair bit of the show’s humor and tension would be mined from the interplay between Ron’s laissez faire attitude toward things happening under his nose and Leslie’s constant urge toward doing things by the book and self-policing when she fails at it.

What follows brings to mind a question similar to one I asked while watching episode 2. When is Ron’s concern for the integrity of the parks department driven by his desire to avoid as much governmental interference as possible and when is it driven by him genuinely wanting the department to function properly? April uploads a video of herself drinking some of the gifted wine to the pit’s webpage and, in the most glaring example of the show’s writers not having a solid enough handle on these characters just yet, the other employees watch the video approvingly. Enter Leslie, horrified at what she’s looking at. Enter Ron disappointed in Leslie for allowing a video of underage drinking anywhere near her park project. The question here is: as the show’s resident libertarian, does Ron “child labor laws are ruining this country” Swanson agree with 1984’s National Minimum Age Drinking Act or is he simply invested in pretending he does for obvious reasons? On the general subject of drinking on government property, later episodes will show Ron doing just that. A previous episode already had the department drinking at the office to celebrate Leslie getting her subcommittee.

All signs seem to point to Ron just wanting to give off the impression he agrees but I feel like they made him too convincing in this particular scene. At the meeting with the Disciplinary Committee, he reminds Leslie that he’s only there because he’s her department head and he has to be there. He scowls across the table at the committee members while Leslie flounders in her attempt to defend both herself and April. Ron reaches his limit pretty quickly, emitting sounds similar to when he had to pass a hernia in one of the season’s best Ron episodes. He through a mini-tirade, comparing the disciplinary committee to North Korea and communist China. “You cannot make her whip herself, you cannot make her wear a hair shirt,” is hilarious insight into what keeps Ron up at night probably. The scene ends on a good note with Ron coming to Leslie’s defense in his unique way.

Leslie has never broken a rule in her life to to point that it’s annoying.

The episode ends with Mark and Leslie having beers inside her office. She briefly protests the rule violation but he urges her to loosen up. She obliges and then a cutaway shows her celebrating her admission into the boys’ club in front of the wall of male council members. I liked this episode more than I was expecting to. The forced will-they-won’t-they between Mark and Leslie reared its head toward the end and threatened to ruin all that came before it but disregarding that scene was easy enough.




  • Apologies for not posting this last weekend
  • Another reason for me enjoying this episode more than I expected is going in thinking it’s the episode that centers the most around Leslie and Mark’s one-night stand six years ago. I believe that episode’s actually next in line.
  • Leslie has a good throwing arm
  • Tom tells the documentary crew that people see him as a brown superman with a beard and the camera seems to agree. He looks almost heroic walking off with his hotdog in that cutaway.
  • Ann describes Mark’s ‘friday night crowd’ as “the girls with the tribal back tattoos who drink redbull for a living
  • The episode’s B plot was relatively tame compared to all the ethics violations going on in the A plot but it was nice to see Andy’s goofy earnestness on display
  • Leslie is apologetic upon finding out that when she’d previously written Jerry up for making a personal phone-call to his mom, his mom was actually in the hospital. In later seasons, they’d probably have blamed the hospitalization on Jerry.
  • We never get to find out what drinking wine was competing against for what would get April drunker in the video. Drinking wine won so it must’ve some weak shit.
  • Leslie hyperventilating while Ron struggles physically with the urge to comfort her against his usual instincts is a nice sight gag.