With uncertainty still looming at every turn with the current COVID-19 pandemic, it can be difficult to remain positive. Many people have been forced to work from home or are currently unemployed, schools are out of session months early, and events are being postponed and cancelled left and right. But there is one thing that remains absolute: Parks and Recreation still has the power to bring smiles and laughter to its viewers.
The Parks and Recreation cast reunited for a half-hour scripted special to benefit those affected by the Coronavirus, partnering with Feeding America and sponsored by State Farm and Subaru. They will be matching donations up to $500,000 through May 21. If you have the means, you can donate here. Now on to the good stuff.
The special saw the return of the major players of the NBC series, including: Amy Poehler (Leslie Knope), Adam Scott (Ben Wyatt), Nick Offerman (Ron Swanson), Aubrey Plaza (April Ludgate), Chris Pratt (Andy Dwyer), Rob Lowe (Chris Traeger), Rashida Jones (Ann Perkins), Retta (Donna Meagle), Aziz Ansari (Tom Haverford), and Jim O’Heir (Garry/Larry/Jerry Gergich). In the special, we follow the characters as they go through a phone tree managed by Leslie to keep everyone in touch during quarantine. Along the way, Leslie and Ben make guest appearances on a couple talk shows with familiar hosts, Garry is still very much Garry, and the entire gang sings a very special song (you know the one).
Warning: There are spoilers beyond this point
Introducing the special is none other than Bobby Newport, played by Paul Rudd, who leads us into a Gryzzl video chat with Leslie and Ben. But since the cast is social distancing, the show’s couples are, too. Leslie is calling from her office, meanwhile Ben is at home with their kids, going just a little crazy with a wonderful throwback to the show: his claymation and the infamous Cones of Dunshire. Upon seeing this, Leslie asks, “Did you put the caps back on the cleaning supplies?” Already this special episode promises to be full of the same humor that makes the series so beloved.
While Ben sorts himself out, Leslie checks up on Ron, who’s hiding out in his cabin and informing Leslie that he has stockpiled on meat and venison jerky to avoid making a trip to the store, in true Ron fashion. When Leslie reminds Ron to practice social distancing, he replies, “I’ve been practicing social distancing since I was four-years-old.” Maybe we could learn a thing or two from him. Leslie tells Ron that Garry is next on the phone tree, but he calls someone else instead.
Next we see April and Andy. April is as weird as ever, relaxing in the comfort of her home while Andy chats with them from the shed he accidentally locked himself in two days ago. Shortly after, they check in with Chris and Ann, who are in a less bizarre situation. Ann has been volunteering as a nurse during the pandemic, self-isolating in a separate room from her family as an extra precaution. Chris is still absurdly healthy. He’s a “super healer” with red blood cells that are “like cherry fruit loops” and a blood type that’s just positive. Soon Leslie is looped back in for a quick check-in, but of course it wouldn’t be complete without one of her signature compliments for Ann. And still, no one wants to call Garry.
So Ann and Leslie defer to Tom as the next branch in the phone tree. Just like in the show, Tom still maintains his entrepreneurial spirit, despite his book tour being cancelled. Among his latest ideas are a mask with other people’s teeth printed on the front, lasagna that doubles as toilet paper (yikes), and a clock with randomly moving dials, because “time has no meaning anymore.” As their check-in ends, Ann tells Tom that Garry is next up, so naturally, he calls Donna (poor Garry).
With the dynamic Treat Yo’ Self duo virtually reunited, Donna talks about how her husband Joe is now teaching from home, singing his praises for teaching young children. She says that “every teacher deserves a brand new Mercedes after all this,” except Joe, who already has a matching Mercedes with Donna. As they were the last two of the main group, it’s finally time to call Garry, with Leslie looped in again.
The chat starts off normal enough, until Garry unknowingly uses a dog filter. The call inevitably turns into a fiasco as Garry tries to turn the filter off but only manages to change them to increasingly ridiculous ones. Donna and Leslie are perturbed by him apparently not being able to see his own screen, while he becomes emotional about the entire crisis.
While many film, TV, and music professionals are finding great ways to stay connected with their audiences, Parks and Recreation does it in a particularly unique way, first and foremost by having everyone in character. Doing so gave this special episode a chance to flourish. The actors fit right back into their characters, bringing the same hysterical performances and quirky personality traits they carried in the show’s original run. The phone tree method was an effective way to get us from character to character, making sure it never became stagnant or stuck in a half hour group chat with everyone. It also adds to the running joke of Garry being left out of almost everything and never actually noticing.
The next section of the special brings in a few notable characters who have made appearances throughout the show’s run, starting with Joan Callamezzo (played wonderfully by Mo Collins), who now runs her talk show from her living room surrounded by several creepy dolls (whom she refers to as her “friends”). She briefly talks with Leslie and Ben about ways to keep up with mental health during quarantine. Leslie heavily implies Joan may need a little help, mentioning how the pandemic can be harder on those who live alone.
The next segment is a hilarious “commercial” featuring Dennis Feinstein (Jason Mantzoukas), who’s promoting his latest cologne, Miracle Cure. The new cologne is supposed to “eradicate any and all viruses.” Here, the episode makes a dig at those opposing scientific facts. Dennis insists he and his friends know what’s best and people should be listening to him and buying Miracle Cure.
The segment leads into the next talk show portion, with Leslie and Ben making a virtual appearance on Ya’ Heard? With Perd, hosted by Perd Hapley (Jay Jackson). Leslie and Ben discuss different ways to ease quarantine anxiety. Even in quarantine, Perd still explains things in his absurdly obvious and entertaining way, ending the first part of his show by saying “You heard it hear first, ladies and gentlemen. And the ‘it’ that you heard was the things that these people just said.”
Perd then introduces his show’s sponsors. The first is Dr. Jeremy Jamm (Jon Glaser), whose “brilliant” solution to not being able to work is a home dental delivery, where he sends patients the tools they need to perform their own procedures and he talks them through it. What could go wrong? The second sponsor is Jean-Ralphio, currently living in an empty house with nothing to promote, except a phone line he wants people to call.
We go back to Perd’s final guest, Johnny Karate, one of Andy’s alter egos. He addresses children about missing school and the importance of washing your hands, despite him claiming he’s never washed his hands in his life. As Leslie asks him about this, he changes the subject. He reminds kids that everyone must work together to, “Karate. Chop. This. Virus!”
It’s no secret that the main cast brings the humor and charm every chance they get, but another of the show’s strengths are the various guest stars and recurring characters they featured who were equally funny. Bringing back some of those characters was an entertaining way to break up the phone tree, as well as throw in even more laughs. It answers the “what would ____ be doing during quarantine?” And though some of them had … questionable ideas about how to spend their time, they felt like ideas that, under different circumstances, would fit back in perfectly with the rest of the series.
Leslie checks back in with Ron. He tells her that he and Diane, his wife, went for a hike in the woods. When they returned, they discovered that a “particularly nasty little forest varmint” broke into their cabin, and Ron reveals that the varmint in question was his ex, Tammy 2 (played by Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman’s actual wife). After filling Leslie in with the rest of the Tammy 2 drama, he asks her how she’s doing. She admits she’s not doing so well, because she wishes she could check in more with her friends, despite the daily phone tree she has going. During her small venting session, she receives a call from Ben.
As the special reaches its conclusion, Leslie answers the call and talks to Ben, when, once again, she receives one more call. Ben, smiling, tells her to merge the call, and Leslie is greeted by a mass Gryzzl chat with all of her friends (and Garry is filter free). Ron reminds Leslie she said she needed something to lift her spirits, giving command of the chat to Andy, who’s wearing a Lil’ Sebastian shirt and begins to play his guitar. Together they sing “5000 Candles in the Wind,” only the most iconic song in television history. After they say goodbye, Ron tells her how they all cleared their schedules when they heard Leslie needed a little help. The episode ends with Garry asking Leslie for help after getting his screen stuck in a baby filter. “Dammit, Garry!”
The Parks and Recreation special did not disappoint. Leslie and Ben’s advice about how to combat the virus was not only helpful to their friends, but also information that everyone watching can use. The episode is exactly the reprieve we needed from the ongoing pandemic and the stresses that come with it. For 30 minutes we could revel in the joy that accompanies the show, reminding us why it’s still so beloved five years after its finale.
Parks and Recreation is currently available to stream on Netflix and Hulu.