Courtesy of NBC

May 1, 2020

‘Parks and Rec’ New Episode: A Great Way to Spend A Thursday Evening

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They say laughter is the best medicine, and, at the risk of sounding cliché — no, in spite of sounding cliché — I’d say the new Parks and Recreation special was the perfect remedy for, y’know, life today. The main cast and writers of the hit NBC comedy series reunited just because they can to create a quarantine-themed reunion episode to entertain America. And raise money for coronavirus aid. That, too.

Parks didn’t have to do any of this, but they did because, as I’ve said many, many times before, Parks and Recreation is the greatest thing of all things ever. And while the half-hour event was a tad pandering at times, overall, it was a cute, fun show that spread just a little more Pawnee spirit across the world. Preceded by an adorable half-hour salute from the Paley Center, the episode generally followed the ten main characters as they Gryzzl-chat with each other in various combinations. It culminates in a ten-way video call and a heartwarming rendition of “5000 Candles in the Wind,” with Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) just as confused about Li’l Sebastian as ever.

As worried as I was that the episode would be a boring and uninspired mock-Zoom call, my fears were assuaged in relatively short order. Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) begins the call by checking in with her husband, Ben. She then pivots to a one-on-one chat with her workplace proximity acquaintance, Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), being careful not to overload the audience with too many faces or too much expositional dialogue at once. The writers do an excellent job explaining why the in-show couples aren’t on screen together: Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) has been locked in the shed for two days and refuses aid from April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza), who is inside. Tropical sunflower Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) is self-isolating from Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) while she works as a nurse. The boring Zoom layout is replaced by a totally tight and super chill Gryzzl template instead.

The writers did take some shortcuts, however. Some old guy who was also there (I forgot his name) couldn’t turn off the filters while he was talking, which was a more predictable, SNL-level joke than a Parks one. Characters continuously reminded viewers to wash their hands, practice social distancing and remain aware of their mental health, which are important messages but felt almost shoehorned in. But these minor flaws were not a major detriment to the show as a whole.

Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd) opens the episode as one of many exciting cameos, introducing the event and setting up the concept. Other cameos include shortened versions of talk shows from Joan Callamezzo (Mo Collins) and Perd Hapley (Jay Jackson) as they engage with Leslie and Ben to inform Pawneeans about the pandemic. Dennis Feinstein (Jason Mantzoukas), Jean-Ralphio Saperstein (Ben Schwartz) and Jeremy Jamm (Jon Glaser) filmed comical mock commercials, rounding out the guest appearances from popular minor characters throughout the series’ main run.

Tammy 2 (Megan Mullally) is also creatively included, explained as having broken into Ron’s workshop to justify her screen time (Offerman and Mullally are married and live together, which is too good of an opportunity to pass up).

The writers and cast did a phenomenal job, especially given the circumstances and what limited technology was available to use. Even 5 years removed from the finale, the actors slid right back into their roles and recaptured their characters’ energy perfectly. Perhaps I’m biased (okay, fine, I am), but the special truly was special. Not many shows can orchestrate such an unusual episode and execute it to the level that Parks did. It might not be for everybody, but for fans of the show, it more than scratched a half-decade-old itch for more Pawnee content.

We’ve been blessed with a Parks and Recreation reunion episode. Now, can we finally get #andamovie?

 

Jeremy Markus is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He currently serves as a senior editor on The Sun’s board. He can be reached at jmarkus@cornellsun.com