(NEW YORK) — For the first time in more than five years, the complete cast of Parks and Recreation reunited for a one-time special, to help raise money for COVID-19 relief efforts. Dubbed A Parks and Recreation Special, the reunion even included some fan-favorite guest stars who have appeared over the years on the beloved sitcom.
In addition to raising money for Feeding America, the episode also carried a strong message about the importance of staying connected and focusing on one’s mental health during the pandemic.
The concept of the special — which is already streaming online — was simple: exploring how everyone in Pawnee is going about their daily lives and doing their jobs while in quarantine. The episode simply picks up where the series finale left off and carries on like a normal episode despite it being filmed entirely in the actors’ individual homes.
Paul Rudd surprisingly opens the episode as the ever-unintelligent and spoiled Bobby Newport, who declares that the special is meant to “raise money for people hurt by the ‘coronus.'”
The story then picks up with Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope, who’s been promoted to deputy director of the Department of the Interior and has transformed into a busybody that hosts numerous Zoom calls each day. She starts off with calling her husband, Adam Scott’s Ben Wyatt, who is now a congressman and stuck at home with their kids.
While Knope looks put together and professional, Wyatt looks like a wild animal after striking out on successfully homeschooling his kids. In his delirium, he reveals he’s been writing a stop-motion script based off his fantasy game, Cones of Dunshire, that he truly believes is something special.
Knope then hangs up with her husband to start off her daily call tree, which she enacted to reach out to her closest friends and former employees to make sure they’re doing okay emotionally and mentally.
While starting off the tree with Ron Swanson, played by Nick Offerman, Leslie reveals that she closed down all the national parks due to social distancing guidelines and has kickstarted a swath of committees focused on bringing help and comfort during the pandemic. Because she’s so busy, she’s been “getting two hours sleep instead of my usual four.”
As for Swanson, he’s living it up in a cabin in the woods with his wife, Diane, as he deadpans, “I’ve been practicing social distancing since I was four years old.”
Affirming that Ron is feeling okay, Leslie instructs him to call Garry Gergich (Jim O’Heir) who is up next on the phone tree. Unfortunately for the ever-unpopular Garry, he gets ditched in the order so Ron can dial up someone he actually likes: Aubrey Plaza’s April Ludgate.
It’s casually revealed through April’s call that that her husband, Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) has locked himself in a shed for two days and is refusing any and all help to break free. While she waits for that to happen, she’s been digging through trash bags of clothes and puts on five random articles on a day to keep herself entertained.
April is told she is responsible for calling Garry but, with a roll of her eyes, she checks in with Rashida Jones’s Ann Perkins, who is now working as a volunteer nurse to help with the pandemic in outpatient care and, because of her job, she’s self-isolating in another part of the house, away from husband Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) and their kids.
Chris hilariously reveals that he is so healthy, he donates blood four times a week because his blood has rare qualities that have only been found in just three beings, “Megan Rapinoe, him, and a panther at the Miami Zoo.”
Choosing again to pass over calling Garry, Ann and Chis check in with Aziz Ansari’s Tom Haverford, who is bummed that his book tour had to be cancelled, especially since his final pit stop was supposed to be in Bali. To make up for it, he holds up a cocktail while answering the video chat and switches his virtual background to a tropical setting.
Tom reveals that quarantine isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be and has been on a roll with creating terrible inventions, saying, “I’m getting a little stir crazy, these came to me at my 11am nap.”
Tom then checks in with Donna Meagle (Retta,) who video chats from inside her massive “treat yo’self”-worthy closet. The two chat about quarantine before Donna complains about how difficult it is homeschooling children, to which she declares, “Every teacher deserves a brand-new Mercedes after this!”
After learning that it’s up to her to call Garry, who’s now Mayor of Pawnee, Tom tricks Leslie into accepting a video chat invitation — forcing her to do their dirty work. It’s soon revealed why everyone bemoans having to connect with Garry, as he has no idea how to use a computer and is always accidentally triggering embarrassing filters.
After catching up with the characters, the episode then focuses on the importance of mental health during the pandemic by consistently repeating the importance of staying connected because self-quarantine can trigger anxiety.
Other highlights of the special saw former guest stars Ben Schwartz reprising his role as Jean-Ralphio, who begs people to call him; Mo Collins as Joan Callamezzo, who has started talking to her vast collection of dolls while in isolation; and Jason Mantzoukas as Dennis Feinstein, a cologne maker that is hawking his latest creation called “The Cure,” which literally kills everything it comes into contact with. We even get some trademark non-sequitor narration from Pawnee public access news personality Perd Hapley (Jay Jackson).
The episode comes to a close as Leslie and Ron once again talk about the phone tree, with the once-chipper Leslie showing that the stress of her job is starting to wear even her down. After confiding that she misses being able to talk with everyone, as her busy schedule only allows a few breaks once in a while, Ron hatches a plan.
It starts off with Ben giving his wife a ring before encouraging her to accept another video chat invitation. Turns out Ron rallied the forces and had them join in for a group talk for the sake of cheering up Leslie.
The crew then breaks into a singalong that pays tribute to Little Sebastian, the dearly departed miniature horse that was once a celebrity in the City of Pawnee.
As people begin dropping off the chat, Leslie, who is extremely moved, thanks Ron for his selfless deed. He responds, “I just called your friends and told them you needed a little help. They cleared their schedules.”
The episode ends on a very important message as Swanson closes, “Leslie, don’t spend all your time looking after other people. Look after yourself once in a while.”
After being reminded that it’s okay to take care of yourself and look after your friends, viewers were directed to Feeding America and the The National Institute of Mental Health.
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