As Parks and Recreation co-creator Mike Schur promised, tonight’s reunion special to benefit COVID-19 relief efforts was very much a standalone episode, one that wouldn’t ruffle the canon of what already was established.
Many zingers more than comedy plot itself shined, of course, given the limitations of shooting via Zoom during the coronavirus climate. Schur told the press two days ago that, from idea to post production, the episode was churned out over the past three weeks, with the cast sent camera tripods and being responsible for their own hair and makeup. Any Parks and Rec die-hard who has been starving for a reunion got it tonight, but the special is very much what was promised: Leslie Knope (Poehler), determined to stay connected to her friends in a time of social distancing.
The episode revolves around her being involved in a Zoom calling tree, where each former member of her Pawnee office is expected to check in with another, but the Zoom tree breaks down in regard to who is assigned to call who. Still, we get to check in briefly with the core cast of Leslie Knope, Anne (Rashida Jones), Tom (Aziz Ansari), Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), April (Aubrey Plaza), Andy (Chris Pratt), Ben (Adam Scott), Chris (Rob Lowe), Gerry (Jim O’Heir), and Donna (Retta).
While the 2015 finale jumped into 2023 and 2048, the Parks and Rec team made it solid that we’re in April 2020. Ben is still a congressman, though marooned at home, getting dizzy from cleaning chemicals and helping with the kids’ home-schooling but so bored that he’s been inspired to write a Claymation movie from Cones of Dunshire. Leslie is at the office, working for the House of Interior, and unfortunately has been involved in shutting down parks over safety concerns, during the pandemic.
She Zooms Ron Swanson at his cabin, who has been “practicing social distancing since I was 4 years old.”
“I came up here to hunt for meat, so I don’t have to go to the grocery store. I’ve built a 12-year supply of venison jerky, I can ship you some. You probably have to get your incisor teeth sharpened,” Ron deadpans in classic Offerman-style. More gas from Offerman’s Ron later on when he’s joined by his ex-wife, Tammy Two (played by Offerman’s real wife Megan Mullally), in a Zoom call with Leslie. Tammy is tied up and gagged in the background.
“I think her intention was to join us in our marital bed and wrap piano wire around my throat … apparently not my throat,” says Ron, whose intent is “to put a note around her neck and leave her down at the fire station.” Before Ron and Leslie give their goodbyes tonight, she asks about Tammy’s whereabouts. Says Ron: “We covered her in deer fat and left her for the wolves. She chewed through her ropes and is running through the night. I’m worried about the other wolves.” Classic Ron, who funny-wise, sounds a lot like a Eugene Levy character piping about on SCTV.
Toward the beginning of the episode, Ron Zooms April to find her clad in a variety of clothes: She puts them in garbage bags and pulls the first five items out every day and wears them. They’re joined by Andy, who has been locked in the shed for the past two days and can’t get out. Anne is an outpatient nurse, but it seems as though she’s isolating herself in the northeast wing of her big house with Lowe’s Chris and the kids are in the northwest side. He’s been donating his red blood cells “which are so big, you can see them with the naked eye”. Tom joins Anne and Leslie in a Zoom; he’s on vacation in “Bali,” blitzing some “entrepreneurial ideas.”
“What do you think about this?,” Ansari’s Tom asks Jones’ Anne, “Double-breasted pajamas?”
Overall, in tonight’s half-hour special, there’s really no overt political arresting of the current Trump administration’s mishaps in handling the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are some great undertones.
When Leslie tells Gerry that she and Ben are doing a media blitz to tell people in Pawnee how to stay safe during COVID-19, Gerry, with a steaming poo filter on his head, emotes, “That would be awesome — it is just so important that people hear from their trusted leaders at a crucial time and a crucial moment in our history.”
Cut to Mo Collins’ Joan Callamezzo, the Pawnee Today host who’s now doing the virtual talk show At Home with Joan. She’s as vain as Trump himself, and botches up her guests’ titles too, calling Ben Leslie’s “house boy.”
“I’m actually a member of the House of Representatives, I’m a Congressman,” says Scott’s Ben.
“Whatever sex fantasy works for you two,” retorts Joan.
Schur told us that tonight’s cold opening is someone who is “not one of the 10 main cast members, and that sets the tone for the show.” That someone was Paul Rudd as Bobby Newport, the famous silver spoon, spoiled candidate who ran against Leslie for City Council, only to vote for her in the end. While he generally introduces the episode, letting everyone know it’s a fundraiser for FeedingAmerica.org, he has some of the best lines, telling everyone that he’s at his “parents’ hunting estate” in Switzerland. “I haven’t caught any foxes, yet … Zoom, they’re gone!” he shares while calling the pandemic “the coronus.” Before the show goes into its extended snappy title theme opening, Bobby asks someone off-camera, “What is [Leslie] talking about? Is something going on? I haven’t been watching the news lately.”
During Leslie and Ben’s TV show tour during the second half of the episode, several Parks and Rec character faves show up in commercials, i.e. Ben Schwartz’s Jean-Ralphio who puts his personal phone number out there so people can call him; Jason Mantzoukas’ Dennis Feinstein, the fragrance guy who is selling “Miracle Cure, proven to kill anything it comes in contact with”; and the best — dentist Dr. Jeremy Jamm, who’s able to remain in business without having any patients leave the house.
“Gimme your credit card, I’ll drop off a bunch of needles, drills, gauze pads and I’ll walk you through your roof canal. Is it legal? Probably? Is it safe? That’s up to you. You F this up, it’s your own fault,” says Jon Glaser’s Jamm.
The episode climaxes with Swanson telling April he’s “got an idea,” and that’s for the entire Pawnee Parks and Rec office to Zoom call Leslie to cheer her up. Awwww. The episode ends with Pratt’s Andy leading them all in a rendition of “5,000 Candles in the Wind”, the tribute song he performed in honor of Li’l Sebastian, the town’s famed miniature horse, whose funeral took place during the series’ Season 3 finale.
In traditional Parks and Rec fashion, Ron and Leslie are left with a mentor-to-protégé heartfelt moment.
Ron advises Leslie, “Don’t spend all your time looking after other people — look after yourself once in a while.”
Until next time, Park and Rec, if there’s ever a next time. But we’d love a next time, especially outside the restrains of shooting COVID-style.
As Schur told us Tuesday, as far as future limited run of the series, “Never say never” but “I don’t see the point in revamping the show just to do it.”