The Parks and Recreation Special was the exact mix of humor and heart that we needed right now. Thanks to everyone who made it possible.
I admit I was a tad nervous about the Parks and Recreation Special, even though I’m a fan of the series and have been craving some new entertainment during lock down. But tackling a crisis while it’s still ongoing is a risky move. You risk it not aging well in retrospect, coming across as tone deaf, or even being outright offensive.
Thankfully, the Parks and Recreation Special was none of those things. I feel that it’ll age quite well as the view on social distancing is very accurate for how we’re dealing with things at this exact point in time.
The premise is that Leslie does a nightly phone tree to check in on all her Pawnee friends during the lock down, so we see each person calling the next person and getting a glimpse and what their life is like. The basis of the humor of their isolation is altogether relatable and it’s a real type of relatability that doesn’t feel like the condescending celebrity videos from their mansions. Tom Haverford’s “time is meaningless” line and both Ron and Joan coping with the situation with alcohol (albeit in completely different ways) were particularly notable moments.
To put it simply… I felt that.
And to top it off, Doctor Jamm got a quarantine haircut, which is definitely a thing right now. Someone please intervene before I feel that bit too. It’s getting close, y’all. I have scissors and long hair and no air conditioning and I’m about to hack it all off.
They cleverly made up excuses for why each of the three main couples aren’t together as the actors are not, in fact, married to their onscreen spouses and are thus quarantined separately in real life. Leslie is an essential worker who begins the phone tree from her office while Wyatt is at home (and apparently writing a Cones of Dunshire script). Ann is quarantining separately from Chris since she’s a nurse on the front lines and doesn’t want to risk her family to potential exposure. And Andy locked himself in a shed, which is totally believable.
However, as Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman are married, they were able to have a scene together. The gag that Tammy II somehow broke into Ron and Diane’s isolated cabin. We see a brief glimpse of her tied up behind him as he threatens to drop her off at a local fire station. Amazing.
Also shout out to their house which really does look like an isolated cabin in the woods. I’m deeply curious if their house just looks like that or if they found some weird corner of their garage or something. Inquiring minds want to know.
The highlight of the special for me was April Ludgate. I completely lost it at her video conference name being ‘Satan’s Niece’ and the absurdity just kept escalating with each additional scene. I definitely feel like if someone as strange as her had to go into self isolation, this is exactly how she’d cope. I’m also very curious about what Aubrey Plaza’s closet must look like in real life in order for her to throw together that exceedingly strange get up. Well done, Aubrey Plaza. Well done.
The concluding sing-a-long was also a risky move that Parks and Recreation handled with tact and grace. While the video of celebrities singing Imagine has been thoroughly slammed for being tone deaf, this was absolutely not that. This is not a group of celebrities making a sing-a-long video to make themselves look good in the midst of a crisis. This is a group of actors in character singing an incredibly silly song that, within the context of the show, is known for being overly dramatic and sentimental. That context sets it apart. In a way, it is basically making fun of the ‘feel good/inspirational song’ thing overall.
And, let’s be real, I’ve had “Bye Bye Lil’ Sebastian” stuck in my head for over an hour now. It’s quite the ear-worm. I’m going to emerge from this situation with chopped up hair singing “Bye Bye Lil’ Sebastian” at the top of my lungs. In the words of Jean Ralphio, “Please call me. I am very sad.”
When they said that everyone would be in the special, they weren’t lying. It started with Paul Rudd depicting a very isolated and uninformed Bobby Newport and ends with a full main cast singing a tribute to Lil’ Sebastian. The only character I missed was Billy Eichner’s Craig Middlebrooks. I’m sure there’s a few other minor characters that didn’t pop up, but it was a fairly stuffed cast. The fact that so many celebrities, many of whom have had their careers skyrocket since the show went off the air, all decided to come back and do this silly little thing is truly remarkable.
The most important part of this special, however, was the fundraising effort. At the start and conclusion to the episode they promoted donating to Feeding America, or really any charity that helps those in need during the crisis. The groups that partnered to make this event happen -State Farm, Subaru of America, NBCUniversal and the Parks and Recreation writers/producers/cast – are matching donations made through May 21 up to $500,000. So dig deep if you can and give to Feeding America.
For those of you who can’t give and might be struggling to put food on the table right now, Feeding America has a tool to help you find your local food bank. Before this crisis began, this network of food banks helped secure and distribute 4.3 billion meals each year. Now that we are seeing record high unemployment, I expect this number will be far unimaginably high.
As one of the first shows to actually tackle this issue in the narrative itself, it could have been disastrous. While The Resident’s brief mention of it will likely age extremely poorly, this will likely go down in history as an accurate and sensitive portrayal of what life was like during the pandemic. Everything from quarantine haircuts to working from home, front line workers needing to self isolate and vacations being cancelled, and even the wacky zoom backgrounds and chat filters… this is where we are as a society. This is what life is like.
Parks and Recreation nailed it.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.
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