Parks and Recreation is pretty much a perfect show. Not in terms of “every single episode was A+ and the show was fully formed from the very beginning,” but in terms of, at heart, this series discovered what it was supposed to be fairly early on and did that thing brilliantly, week after week. This is a show about community, about civil servants pushing boulders up impossibly large mountains over and over again for the greater good, and about the importance of empathy. Never have its themes been more relevant than today, so it should come as no surprise that the Parks and Rec reunion special that premiered this week is also perfect. Which is no small feat.
Parks and Recreation began as a pseudo-spinoff of The Office and ended its seven-season run in 2015 as a critically acclaimed and pretty well beloved series. It never won the Best Comedy Series Emmy, and although she was nominated multiple times, Amy Poehler never won the Best Actress in a Comedy Series Emmy. It was also never a ratings smash like The Office was in its heyday. Parks and Recreation, in its own way, always kind of flew under the radar, almost always in danger of being cancelled but quietly one of the absolute best shows on television.
It’s a testament to the casting and the writing that not only did much of the ensemble go on to become massively successful stars in their own right, but they also stuck around to see Parks and Rec to the end. Even after Chris Pratt became a Marvel superhero, he was still there week after week killing it as supporting character Andy Dwyer on an NBC sitcom.
And it’s a further testament to how much this show meant to its ensemble that everyone came back for the Parks and Rec reunion special. And I mean everyone. Not just Pratt and Rob Lowe and Rashida Jones, but various guest stars from over the years—everyone from Paul Rudd to Jean-Ralphio himself Ben Schwartz.
The special, which was spearheaded by showrunner Michael Schur and much of the series’ writing staff, was shot from the comfort of everyone’s own homes and—from the very beginning—absolutely spot on. Usually these kinds of reunion specials are a bit hackneyed or forced, but watching this Parks and Recreation special felt like home. Not a beat was missed.
It began, of course, with Leslie Knope (Poehler) checking up on her friends during self-isolation as part of a phone tree. She first calls Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) to check on his well-being, then asks him to call who’s next on the phone tree call sheet. The Parks and Rec writers, in their infinite wisdom, found hilarious and fitting ways to explain why April (Aubrey Plaza) and Andy (Pratt) aren’t in the same room or why Tom (Aziz Ansari) is using a colorful Zoom-esque background. And, of course, they found a new hilarious and almost cruel way to make Gary (Jim O’Heir) look like a buffoon.
The special also found organic ways to bring back iconic supporting characters, as Parks and Rec sported one of the deepest benches in comedy history. Ben and Leslie call into At Home with Joan, bringing back daytime talk show icon Joan Callamezzo (Mo Collins), Jean-Ralphio (Scwhartz) bought a commercial after getting hit by a car and winning a lawsuit, and of course Ya Herd with Perd offers another organic opportunity to perform in front of the cameras.
The Parks and Recreation special is hilarious at every turn, but it’s the final five minutes that serve as a reminder of why this show has stood the test of time. Leslie is clearly struggling in self-quarantine, being isolated from her friends she loves so dearly, so Ron organizes a group call in which Andy leads them all in a heartfelt rendition of “5,000 Candles in the Wind.” And there they are. Chris Pratt, Rob Lowe, Rashida Jones, Retta, Amy Poehler, Adam Scott, Aziz Ansari, Aubrey Plaza, and Jim O’Heir belting out “Bye, bye Lil’ Sebastian” at the top of their lungs. And it made me choke up with emotion.
Parks and Rec always came back to humanity, whether it was the good of humanity as a whole that Leslie was constantly fighting for, or the humanity between two characters with differing political views who still found a way to love and respect one another. It’s a deeply compassionate show, and the ending of this special is one of the most heartwarming pieces of art created in this insanely uncertain time. It’s a friend recognizing another friend needs some help, and going above and beyond to deliver.
It can be hard to hold onto positivity, especially at this particular time, but good exists in the world. Good people exist in the world. The public servants of Pawnee, Indiana were always a reminder of that, and the public servants behind the television series Parks and Recreation managed to raft a reunion special that, while satisfying on a base level, also speaks directly to the challenges we’re facing today. Even when we’re physically apart, community can still manage to exist—like the community that assembled to watch this Parks and Rec reunion special, for example. One need only ask for help.
For more on Parks and Rec, read Matt’s editorial on how the show evolved past its first season.