Parks and Recreation : What Worked (and What Didn’t) About Last Night’s Reunion

James Grebey, Brennan Carley

Last night, NBC offered a bright light in the dark by reuniting the cast of Parks and Recreation, its beloved seven-season comedy series, for a one-time charity special (you can donate to Feeding America here). Here, two GQ staffers break down the (mostly) highs and (very few) lows of what was a deeply interesting and ultimately wonderful televised experience.

Worked: Seeing the Cast Together on One Screen Again

It's been five long years—if you exclude the last two months, which were really five years of their own—since Parks and Recreation wrapped up its warm hug of a run on NBC. I have to say, while I thought it was a perfect comedy series, I wasn't clamoring for a reunion, so often a very botched way to cash in on nostalgia that offers little more than foundational fan-service. But last night's special benefit reunion of Parks and Rec avoided those pitfalls by being exactly what it was: a goofy, low-stakes one-off that brought my favorite ensemble cast back onto one screen, just for a night. For that alone, no matter the "lows" to the extent there were any, it was a win in my book.

Didn’t Work: The Story

Even if it was welcomed and charming, this was always going to be a weird episode of Parks and Rec. Lockdown forced all the actors to be apart, so the special needed a reason to get them all on screen together again. What they came up with—Leslie creating an overbearing, daily video-chat chain—was… fine? As an excuse to visit the friendly faces of Pawnee again, the framing worked and made for plenty of opportunities for characters to showcase their stuff. As a larger story, though, the final reveal that Leslie had been feeling especially down and needed to be charmed up by a group singalong of “5000 Candles in the Wind” felt a smidge unearned and overly cute. Also, as great as it was to see Jean-Ralphio and Jeremy Jamm again, I’m confused about what those commercials were within the meta-fiction of the episode.

Worked: Technology

We’ve been in this thing for long enough to know that there are Zooms that work and Zooms that don’t; for the most part, the technology last night—cameras, lighting, audio, and more—managed to believably work in the Parks and Recreation universe and looked pretty good on the small screen, too. It felt organic to the storyline, and even if some of the haircuts felt off-brand for the characters (to be fair, we’re all looking haggard right now), the tech constraints didn’t dampen a moment of the show’s greatness.

Worked: The Guest Stars

I’m sorry but there’s maybe been no more joyful two minutes of entertainment this year than the glorious return of Mo Collins as just-unhinged-enough daytime talk show host Joan Callamezzo in last night’s episode. Hers was one among many delightful cameos—Paul Rudd as Bobby Newport, Jay Jackson as Perd Hapley (who, for my money, is the best written character on the show)—that brought a spark to the proceedings, reminding us all of Pawnee’s extended cinematic universe without ever once feeling gratuitous. One note though: where the hell was Billy Eichner’s Craig Middlebrooks?

Worked: The Jokes (Mostly)

When Adam Scott busted out his “could a depressed person make this?” figurine and combined it with The Cones of Dunshire, it seemed for a second that this special was just going to be Parks and Rec rehashing the greatest hits. Thankfully, that’s not what it was at all, and the episode held up as a strong half-hour of comedy. Save for a few specific callbacks, the jokes were all rooted in the characters we’d grown to know and love (or in Garry’s case, begrudgingly tolerate) rather than just reheated goofs. Jean-Ralphio becoming a failed Cameo user is a perfect joke, as is Andy getting locked in a shed for two days because Burt Macklin doesn’t need help.

Mixed Bag: The Core Concept

The Parks and Rec reunion special was, on the whole, a delightful success. Still, there was something inherently off about it due to the premise and real-life circumstances around the episode. It would have been preferable to get a Parks and Rec reunion without, you know, a deadly pandemic. On the one hand, it was comforting to see characters we know and love sitting in their homes and dealing with the same issues many self-isolated viewers are dealing with, too. At the same time, though, does that make the episode less of an escape? It’s a mixed bag, especially since there’s a lot that the special could not or would not address in its tight runtime. Joe Biden, for example, plays a pretty big role in Leslie’s future (as outlined in the series finale), and given everything that’s going on with the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, he loomed over the episode despite not ever being mentioned.

Ultimately, though, the Parks and Rec special worked because it pulled off a nice balance of keeping things real and keeping them light. Sure, it was a weird episode, but these are weird times. It’s nice to know that Ron Swanson’s looking out for our mental health.

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Originally Appeared on GQ