Reunion special extends the wonderful legacy of ‘Parks and Recreation’
A fresh episode set during the age of social distancing provides welcome updates on Leslie, Ron and many, many other old friends.
Warning: major spoilers ahead!
Perhaps no sitcom in the history of television did closure as well as “Parks and Recreation.” Leslie Knope and her merry band of friends and loved ones sailed off into the sunset on a series of lovely grace notes with a brilliantly conceived and executed two-part series finale in 2015.
A reunion? Why would we need a reunion?
Answer: Because these are extraordinary times, and when “Parks and Rec” creator Mike Schur reached out to the invaluable Amy Poehler as well as Nick Offerman, Aziz Ansari, Chris Pratt, Rashida Jones, Rob Lowe, Retta, et al., to reprise their characters for a one-off special with all proceeds benefiting Feeding America, everyone was onboard — and the ad-hoc, hastily assembled episode that premiered Thursday does nothing to deter from the expertly crafted story arc of the original and is in fact a most wonderful and welcome pop-in visit. It’s like getting together with a bunch of old pals you haven’t seen in years, and instantly remembering why you became friends in the first place.
Streaming starting Friday at nbc.com.
Throughout its seven-year run, “Parks & Rec” boasted not only one of the finest all-time sitcom ensemble casts, but a fantastic rotation of recurring guest characters, many of whom cameo in the special. The show kicks off with Paul Rudd’s charming trust-fund goofball Bobby Newport wearing a “Knope 2012” hoodie and greeting us from his family’s private fox-hunting estate. (Bobby reports: “I haven’t caught any yet. They’re SO fast.”) Bobby reads a statement from Leslie explaining how all proceeds from the special will go to Feeding America and then says he has no idea what that means. “What is she talking about? Something going on? I haven’t watched the news lately.”
We missed you, Bobby!
The conceit of the special is exactly what you’d expect it to be: We’re in present day and the quarantine is in effect, and the alumni and friends of the Pawnee Parks Dept. are living their best lives in various locales, staying inside and staying safe. Poehler’s ever-enthusiastic Leslie has of course organized a video chat “phone tree” every night at 7 p.m., in which she’ll call one friend, and they have to call someone else, etc., etc. (If you’re wondering why they don’t just do a group chat from the get-go, it’s because a number of the participants, most notably Nick Offerman’s notoriously antisocial Ron Swanson, are only grudgingly agreeing to speak to one person, let alone everybody all the time.)
Leslie’s husband, the tightly wound Rep. Ben Wyatt (Ben Scott), is wearing his Letters from Cleo T-shirt (never a good sign) and is starting to go stir crazy, as he talks about combining his two pet projects from his unemployed days: “Six words babe,” Ben says to Leslie. “Cones of Dunshire, the Claymation Movie.” God help us. A horrified Leslie says, “Honey, did you put all the caps back on the cleaning supplies?”
As for Ron Swanson, he’s riding out the quarantine just fine, thank you very much. He holds up a bottle of his beloved Lagavulin Single Malt Scotch Whisky, says he’s been hunting meat so he doesn’t have to go to the grocery store (“I’ve built up about a 12-year supply of venison”) and notes, “I’ve been practicing social distancing since I was 4 years old.” So true.
We drop in on Rob Lowe’s Chris Traeger and Rashida Jones’ Ann Perkins, who as you’ll recall had moved to Michigan. Ann has gone back to work as a volunteer nurse during the crisis, so she and Chris are in separate quarters of their home to be safe. (Sidebar: Rob Lowe and Rashida Jones on their iPhones are more beautiful than most glamorous movie stars after two hours in the makeup trailer.) Chris is excited about the CDC asking for his help because his blood type is “just … positive.”
Leslie and Ben are doing a media blitz to talk about what we can do to help stop the spread of COVID-19, and Leslie decides to include Pawnee on the virtual junket, which provides the excuse for us to revisit the guileless news anchor and talk show host Perd Hapley (Jay Jackson) and the narcissistic, clueless, booze-addled Joan Callamezzo (Mo Collins), who is hosting “At Home with Joan” while splayed on the sofa and surrounded by creepy dolls. We even get faux commercial breaks that allow us to drop in on the likes of egomaniacal dentist/councilman Jeremy Jamm (Jon Glaser), insanely insensitive cologne mogul Dennis Feinstein (Jason Mantzoukas) and Tommy’s Haverford’s old partner in entrepreneurial endeavors Jean-Ralphio (Ben Schwartz), who remains … the worst. In just 23 minutes, we catch up with so many characters, and not a single moment disappoints.
Best of all, the “Parks & Rec” special ends with Chris Pratt’s Andy Dwyer leading the gang in a sing-along of a certain classic about a certain very small horse who is 5,000 candles in the wind.
I’m already missing these guys. Again.