Pop Culture

The Parks and Rec Reunion Delivers Sweet, Sunny Nostalgia

What can you expect from an episode that is basically a Zoom call in character? The Parks and Recreation cast reunited for a socially distanced special that visited all the characters in isolation, from Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) pretending to be in Bali with a palm tree background to Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) and Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) video-conferencing in from the house they share together. Without sets and camera angles and, well, actors interacting with each other in person, the episode lacked a little bit of verve. But it compensated with a spirited reunion of the show’s cast—which, of course, also includes Amy Poehler, Adam Scott, Retta, Nick Offerman, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Pratt, and the much-maligned Garry/Jerry (Jim O’Heir), who even the pandemic can’t make appealing to his former coworkers.

The check-ins with the cast transitioned quickly into a survey of Pawnee’s daytime programming, bringing some of Parks and Recreation’s beloved niche characters onscreen for a few minutes. Leslie and Ben appear as pundits on At Home with Joan, hosted by the irrepressibly terrible Joan Callamezzo (Mo Collins), complete with frizzy hair and smeary makeup. Then perfume magnate Dennis Feinstein (Jason Mantzoukas) advertises a cologne called “Miracle Cure.” And Leslie’s former nemesis on city council, Dr. Jeremy Jamm (Jon Glaser), does a commercial for home delivery dentistry—possibly illegal, but still loads of fun. Jean-Ralphio Saperstein (Ben Schwartz) appears—sadly, sans his sister Mona Lisa—to show us his empty, echoing house that he just bought with a cash windfall. Throwing bills at the webcam, he boasts: “Guess who just got run over by a Porsche!”

My favorite bit, as usual, rested with Pawnee news anchor Perd Hapley (Jay Jackson), the droll and apparently empty-headed host of Ya’ Herd With Perd. As Leslie and Ben speak to him, the chyron beneath identifies their names and adds, helpfully, “Is the Person Who Is Talking Now.” In the last few minutes of Ya’ Heard, Leslie and Ben introduce Andy Dwyer, a.k.a. Johnny Karate, to entertain the kids of Pawnee. Somehow, he strains his butthole.

The reunion is heavy on referencing old bits and light on new material, but that’s not too surprising for an episode that attempted to feature 15 cast members in just 30 minutes—22 minutes, once you subtract commercials. Andy does karate chops, April waggles her tongue, Ron cheers Leslie up, Ben has a neurotic breakdown about work, Retta and Tom drink wine and relax, and Garry/Jerry bumbles around foolishly so that the rest of the cast can justifiably revile him. (He keep adding filters to his webcam, including one that transformed his head into a steaming pile of shit. On the nose, Garry/Jerry!)

The episode makes good use of the actors’ locations. One highlight of the episode comes when Offerman reveals that Ron’s ex-wife, Tammy Two—played by Megan Mullally, Offerman’s real-life wife—is being held prisoner in his shop because he’s caught her sneaking around his house. Parks and Rec’s universe is so optimistic that Mullally is always a welcome guest: She injects some dark chaos into its bright, sunny tone.

Parks and Rec delivered to its fans what the show is famous for: Hope, sweetness, enthusiasm, and light comedy. The episode ended with Andy leading the former coworkers in a sentimental rendition of “5,000 Candles in the Wind,” the tribute song to the tiny horse Li’l Sebastian. It was peak Parks—a community brought together by necessity, geography, and a niche interest in miniature stallions. It’s nice to revisit the show’s cheery optimism, especially as it pertains to politics. But the special, with its unfamiliar format and far-flung characters, reminded me just how distant the world of the original seasons is. Parks and Recreation is a show about kind-hearted government types working together for a better world. If you can remember such a time, good for you.

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