‘Parks and Recreation’ special reminds fans of pre-pandemic joy

The cast of 'Parks and Recreation' re-united for a reunion special to raise money for coronavirus relief. (Photo via YouTube)

I maintain that if Parks and Recreation’s star public servant Leslie Knope were president of the United States, the country would have never shut down. I’m fairly certain Leslie would have had a neat binder filled with a global pandemic response plan years ago. Not only would we still be in school and at work, but parks would absolutely still be open. By now, there would probably be a national breakfast-for-all program, too. Unfortunately, though, none of us live in this fictional America.  

A lot has changed since the only happy, successful bureaucracy in American (television) history ended its term. In the five years since the Parks and Recreation finale, we have faced many new anxieties and conflicts, all topped with the chaos of the novel coronavirus. Luckily, the elites of small-town government recently reunited to save us from misery.

On Thursday, a Parks and Recreation special aired on NBC, a fundraiser for Feeding America’s COVID-19 Response Fund. The fictional team from Pawnee, Indiana, helped out real Americans by raising roughly $3 million for relief. Not only is this kind of generosity essential during this time, but the smiling faces of the beloved cast members were a necessary reprieve, too.

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The special was unlike a traditional reunion and instead was just written as an ordinary episode. Though the characters no longer hold their same Pawnee government positions, they’re still friends, all living apart during the pandemic. Leslie (Amy Poehler) may not be saving the country, but she is saving the friend group by organizing a way for them to remain in contact, and we get a look into one of their scheduled Gryzzl calls.

Normally, the last thing I’d want to do after a day filled with Zoom and FaceTime would be watch other people talk on screens. Social distancing also made it difficult to replicate the situational humor that made Parks and Recreation so special and exacerbated the natural awkwardness of reunions. Still, it was great to see the actors’ love for each other years after filming. My love for them made all of those problems inconsequential.

While some may consider this kind of television “fluff” inappropriate right now, given the circumstances, the reunion proves how much we needed some uplifting distractions. The special even managed to put aside politics despite its premise, which was nothing short of relieving. There is little mention of Leslie’s new position in the Department of the Interior and no talk of her love for Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton.

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 Fans clearly needed something to celebrate while in quarantine, and the cast’s spontaneous goofiness was more amusing than ever. They still managed to deliver their classic craziness and jokes despite being on separate screens. Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) has been isolating in his cabin while Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) has been volunteering as a nurse in Ann Arbor. 

 The characters’ and real actors’ friendships are great proof that community will survive a global pandemic. Singing along to the cast’s rendition of “5,000 Candles in the Wind” as a heartfelt tribute to the late pony Li’l Sebastian was definitely emotional, allowing fans to join together and feel camaraderie despite being socially distant.  

 Obviously, the Parks and Recreation special was not groundbreaking new television. In fact, it’s probably a sign that new content is hard to make while social distancing. However, anyone who missed the mischievous smile of Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari), the optimistic energy of Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) or the iconic attitude of Joan Callamezzo (Maureen Ann Collins) needs to watch this nostalgia-packed 25 minutes. The special was one last good deed from the ultimate group of public servants, and I am incredibly thankful for it.

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