6:00pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
'Parks and Recreation' Reunion Delivers a Heartfelt Message of Hope
[This story contains spoilers from NBC's Parks and Recreation special.]
"[T]he main character is eternally optimistic and believes in the power of community to hold people together. She believes that incremental, small, little moments of connection and togetherness were crucial and vital to the social fabric."
That's how Parks and Recreation showrunner Mike Schur described his former NBC show and Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope, and it's with that spirit that all 10 stars from the beloved comedy reunited Thursday for a special to raise money for Feeding America's COVID-19 Response Fund.
Poehler, Rashida Jones (who plays Ann), Aziz Ansari (Tom), Nick Offerman (Ron), Aubrey Plaza (April), Chris Pratt (Andy), Adam Scott (Ben), Rob Lowe (Chris), Jim O'Heir (Gary) and Retta (Donna) each had heartfelt and funny moments where their characters offered a glimpse of life of everyone has experienced while following stay-at-home guidelines. (Shout-out to Paul Rudd's Bobby Newport for opening the special with his own blissful ignorance and shock at the state of the world.)
Here's how things played out as the special offered an almost by the numbers approach to what life is like while adhering to government-mandated Safer at Home guidelines.
Poehler's Leslie has shut down all the national parks in her purview and created a daily phone tree among her former Parks Department brood, which is how the episode took shape as the scenes shuffled from one Zoom conversation to another as everyone, naturally, did their best to avoid being the one to call Gary. The phone tree that provides the backbone of the episode ends with Ron reminding Leslie that it's important to take care of yourself while also looking after others.
Scott's Ben, sporting an on-brand Letters to Cleo t-shirt, realizes that his Requiem for a Tuesday/Cones of Dunshire movie crossover screenplay is actually terrible and figures out that he needs to pay more attention to his own mental and emotional health.
Ben and Leslie also make the political rounds, with spots on Ya Heard With Perd (featuring guest star Jay Jackson) and At Home With Joan Callamezzo (with Mo Collins), delivering a message to band together to fight COVID-19 together and for anyone sheltering in place alone to take care of themselves. A second Perd segment featured one of Andy's beloved alter-egos, Johnny Karate, who encouraged kids to be nice to their parents and wash their hands.
Offerman's Ron retreated to the woods in a bid to avoid going to the grocery store and winds up having to disinfect the cabin after Tammy 2 (Megan Mullally) pops in with an unwanted visit. Jones' Ann, who has returned to work as an outpatient nurse, is in quarantine on another side of her home with her husband, Chris, and their children as a precaution because of her potential exposure to the virus. Lowe's Chris, meanwhile, is donating blood four times a week after being designated as a "super healer" by the CDC.
Retta's Donna, who is married to a teacher, extolls the value of educators during her matching-Zoom-background chat with Ansari's Tom. The latter is going so stir crazy that he recognizes how awful all of his entrepreneurial ideas are. (Though face masks with Timothee Chalamet's smile on them isn't a half-bad pitch.) Tom wasn't the only one looking to cash in on the crisis as the brilliantly bad Jeremy Jamm (Jon Glaser) — complete with an at-home mohawk haircut — pops in with a commercial for DIY dental care delivery boxes ("Jamm yourself!").
Ben Schwartz's Jean-Ralphio also offers a sad yet amazingly funny admission that he's bored beyond belief and spent his scam money on a commercial in which he begs viewers to call a number with too many digits in it. (Sadly, the number doesn't actually work. I tried.) Pawnee's wealthiest resident, Dennis Feinstein (Jason Mantzoukas), also pops in with an ad for Miracle Cure, a cologne that kills everything it comes in contact with because, as he says it, "What are viruses but tiny animals that live in your body."
The one-off special — which co-creator Schur said would be just that — even has a nod to anti-quarantine protesters as O'Heir's Pawnee Mayor Gary confesses that he had to fight to cancel what sounds like the town's most germ-tastic festival. (And yes, in very Gary fashion, he struggled with technology, transforming himself to a poop emoji, complete with flies.)
Ultimately, the special ended with the 10 original series stars finally "sharing" the same screen together in a call to Leslie that illustrated the power of community, complete with a verse of Mouse Rat's "5000 Candles in the Wind."
While the special intentionally avoided revealing what happens to Leslie's political career in the future, it did stay true to the roots of the show while delivering a heartfelt message of hope at a time when much of the country is, like Leslie and her Parks Department crew, staying home and experiencing everything from isolation to Zoom fatigue.
Schur, meanwhile, told reporters this week that he never imagined revisiting Parks and Recreation and it took a "compelling reason" — a global pandemic — to get all 10 stars back into character again for the special. "There's only one thing happening in the entire world right now, so if you get any group of people together, show them anything and you don't have the story be about what's happening to them during this pandemic, what are you doing?" he said. "The only reason to do the Parks special was to show the characters dealing with this particular issue and use it as a way to raise money."
To donate to Feeding America's COVID-19 Response Fund, click here.