This Parks and Rec review contains spoilers.
A Parks and Recreation Special
If Parks and Recreation was returning just to help make people laugh during a global pandemic, that would certainly be benevolent enough. Throughout my time in quarantine, people have been asking for recommendations on what new shows to watch, but truthfully, I haven’t been watching much of anything new. I’ve been spending my TV time rewatching Parks and Recreation. Why? Well, the show is filled with warmth, compassion, and humor. It’s like a cozy blanket or a favorite comfort food that I turn to when I’m feeling stressed, anxious, or in need of a laugh. Parks and Rec radiates optimism and positivity in a way that few shows have ever been able to before or since.
A brand-new half-hour from the original Parks cast and crew is a lovely, surprising gift and a wonderful respite to begin with, but “A Parks and Recreation Special” is also serving as a fundraiser for Feeding America. In a press release to critics, creator Mike Schur said “Like a lot of other people, we were looking for ways to help and felt that bringing these characters back for a night could raise some money. I sent a hopeful email to the cast and they all got back to me within 45 minutes. Our old ‘Parks and Rec’ team has put together one more 30-minute slice of (quarantined) Pawnee life and we hope everyone enjoys it. And donates!”
Schur’s actions are not unlike what his best creation, Leslie Knope, would do if put in the same situation. It makes looking at this “episode” critically feel like an unneeded effort; if this special helps feed one person, or brings a half-hour of joy to someone working in a hospital dealing with the impact of this virus on the ground level, it’s automatically a 5-star outing in my book.
Thankfully, “A Parks and Recreation Special” doesn’t need my charitable pass because it’s a delight. Given the technical limitations and difficult circumstances, the Parks team is able to create something that feels like a satisfying reunion. What’s maybe most impressive is that everyone is able to jump into their characters so seamlessly and the show doesn’t muddle the flash-forward continuity that was put in the place by the time-jumping series finale.
With everyone coming together via Gryzzl Video Chat, the episode uses the concept of a phone tree for the majority of the running time, and that format works well. Best of all, everyone’s trying to avoid having to call Gary. Parks and Rec’s greatest strength was its ensemble and the way that every character combination could produce fruitful results. We could have cycled through each character on a one-on-one video call and I’m sure each conversation would have been uniquely funny. At about the half-way point, the episode format pivots to show Leslie and Ben guesting on both Joan Callamezzo and Perd Hapley’s shows and uses “commercials” to include fan-favorite supporting characters like Dennis Feinstein, Jeremy Jamm, and the one and only Jean-Ralphio.
The end of the episode finds the old Parks crew coming together to do something kind for Leslie, who of course is struggling because she’s putting everyone else’s needs in front of her own. Knowing that Leslie would love to talk to all of her friends at once, Ron organizes a call with everyone, and they serenade Leslie with “5000 Candles in the Wind” to raise her spirits. It’s the perfect parody of the tone-deaf video of celebrities singing “Imagine” that went around at the beginning of the pandemic. If the Parks cast had reunited just to sing this silly song about Lil’ Sebastian and make fun of that ill-conceived video, that would have been enough for me.
It shouldn’t be that surprising given that the cast and so many of the writers returned to collaborate on this special, and maybe it’s because I just wrapped a rewatch of the series, but it’s impressive how natural this felt, like as if no time had passed since the show ended. However, it is said that with the best friendships, you can pick things back up at any time and it will feel like it did the last time you saw each other, and what are the Parks characters if not some dear friends? Though I wish it were happening under different circumstances, “A Parks and Recreation Special” is satisfying entry into the show’s canon and a magnificent reunion with some old friends.
The Best of the Rest
- Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd) opens the episode, filming from his family’s private fox hunting estate, before we hit that sweet, familiar theme song.
- Our first glimpse of Ben finds him wearing his patented Letters to Cleo t-shirt, so we know he must be in a funk. He goes on to reveal that he’s writing a screenplay for a Claymation Cones of Dunshire movie, which is red flag number two. If there was a mention of calzones, it would have been a code red.
- Ron was built for social distancing, and the writers wisely work in Nick Offerman’s real life quarantine situation with his wife Megan Mullaly to give us a Tammy II appearance. I’m a sucker for Tammy jokes.
- The episode uses clever ways to explain why married couples aren’t appearing on camera together, explaining that Ann is working outpatient care as a nurse, so she’s vulnerable and keeping a distance from her family, and that Andy accidentally locked himself in his shed. That checks out.
- Chris is donating blood four times a week because his blood type is “just positive.”
- Picking up on a plot thread introduced in the finale, Tom’s book thread was cancelled, so he’s using video chat backgrounds to pretend he’s vacationing in Bali.
- Joan thinks that she’s achieved an EGOT because she’s “been banned from all four ceremonies.”
- Like many of us at home, Jamm decided to cut his own hair.
- Even after becoming a chiseled action hero, Chris Pratt is still best utilized as Andy Dwyer. Johnny Karate tells the kids of Pawnee to take it easy on their parents, and in typical Andy fashion, tries to deliver a message of optimism but only makes things seem worse.
- Using Donna’s nickname, April’s video chat name is “Satan’s Niece.”
- Strangely, Billy Eichner’s Craig isn’t present or mentioned.
- Like a certain other powerful huckster, Dennis Feinstein is trying to push a dangerous “Miracle Cure” on people that will likely result in death.
Please donate at FeedingAmerica.org/ParksandRec