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A Parks and Recreation Special, review: A reunion that was impossible to dislike, if strangely melancholy

Reunited for a good cause, if separated by the coronavirus lockdown, the Parks & Rec cast provided easy, nostalgic laughs

Adam White
Friday 01 May 2020 11:02 BST
Parks and Recreation cast reunite to sing '5000 Candles in the Wind'

No television series better encapsulates the Obama years than Parks and Recreation. A comedy about an eccentric team of local government employees, it was blissful political nothingness – close in spirit to The Simpsons, if bearing little of the same cynicism. Cast members including Chris Pratt, Aziz Ansari, Rashida Jones and Aubrey Plaza were propelled to fame because of it. In hindsight, though, its relentless positivity was also slightly naive, painting a world that was cloyingly upbeat, with figures like Joe Biden, John McCain and Ruth Bader Ginsberg holier-than-thou heroes representing the steadfast political ideal.

Today it’s also nostalgia, for a time where it wasn’t quite so bad to bury our heads in the sand. It therefore makes sense that, in a climate of fear and isolation, Parks and Recreation is back. Recorded separately, using equipment sent in the post to its stars, and then impressively stitched together, its one-off return is very “April 2020” TV. It’s also the first in what could be a forthcoming deluge of entertainment made during the coronavirus pandemic, full of static shots, poor lighting and your favourite actors reading lines in front of their bookshelves. We’d better get used to it.

Framed as a video call between chipper politician Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), now working for the federal government in Washington, her congressman husband Ben (Adam Scott) and their various friends, the special served as a run of jokes and cute character notes. Imagine a kind of “what would your favourite TV characters be doing in quarantine?” Twitter thread come to life.

Interspersed were fake adverts featuring memorable Parks & Rec characters from the past, including Ben Schwartz’s eccentric entrepreneur Jean-Ralphio, as well as some surprise cameos. Paul Rudd’s brilliantly vacuous aspiring politician Bobby Newport introduced the show from his “private fox-hunting estate”, while the ever-welcome Megan Mullally, by nature of her real-life marriage to Ron Swanson actor Nick Offerman, was the only actor to physically appear alongside anyone else.

The special also brought to mind how tough it is to create escapism during this pandemic. Even when it wasn’t explicitly nodding towards Covid-19, particularly the news that Jones’ sunny retired nurse Ann Perkins has been volunteering with outpatient care, coronavirus was inescapable by mere proxy of this show existing. Our present state is so all-encompassing and emotionally draining, that it’s impossible to separate attempts at levity from our nostalgia for a time when everything wasn’t so bleak.

Props to Parks and Recreation for trying, at least. This was a special that was lightly funny, technically splendid and made for a good cause (money raised, and then matched by a number of corporate sponsors, went to Feeding America’s Covid-19 fund). It was impossible to dislike – even if it was inescapably melancholy. Just as the original Parks & Rec matched the naive, stubbornly upbeat worldview so many of us had prior to Trump and Brexit, this, too, was a reflection of where we’re at today. It may not have been intentional.

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