and Recreation ended in 2015’s lost dream of 2017. The final flash-forward season of NBC’s mockumentary imagined a near-future America full of hard-won optimism and compromise. Leslie Knope ( Poehler) staged a two-front land duel against the old-money Newports and the brash kamillionaires at Gryzzl. In the end, the upstart tech lords incinerated $125 million of capital to bestow a new national park unto a small Indiana town. Everyone got a happy ending: married with children, elected to ever-higher office, merely rich. You sensed some melancholy in the series finale’s suggestion that anyone with ambition had to get out of Pawnee. But the outlook was smiling and positive when the credits rolled on Feb. 24, 2015.
The theme music is chipper as ever, and the circumstances have never been more dire. The Leslie Knope of 2020 multitasks through our global pandemic, phone-a-friending all her old co-workers from her office at the Department of the Interior. We know, of course, that said department was only recently overseen by a private-plane-loving oil-and-gas toady, who left just in time for a government shutdown that turned national parks into understaffed trash cans. What has Leslie's life been like, this government true believer doomed to be a cog in the rollback machine?
None of this comes up on the special, for forgivable reasons. This won’t be a proper review, because it’s churlish to pass any judgment on something so lovingly designed around a message and a mission. The project raised funds for America’s COVID-19 Response Fund, and $500,000 in matching donations will be made by State Farm, Subaru of America, NBCUniversal, and the Parks writers, producers, and cast members.
There are sparkly comic moments. Ron (Offerman) has hunted “a 12-year supply of venison jerky.” Tom ( Ansari) spouts a vintage entrepreneurial burst: “10 tiny iPads, for each finger” and “a clock with dials that just move randomly.” Thanks to Mayor Garry (Jim O’Heir), we now know that Pawnee holds an annual Popsicle Lick 'N’ Pass, a phrase I just laughed over again. Jay Jackson’s line readings as ever-specific Perd Hapley are still just perfect: “My first question is more of a query,” and “You heard it here first, ladies and gentlemen, and the ‘it’ that you heard was the things that these people just said!”
Poehler emcees a fictional variation of an at-home late-night show. And her unflappable Leslie centralizes the most emotional moments. The vibe is light and explanatory, but it’s a twist to the heart to learn that Ann ( Jones) has reactivated as a nurse to help out during the health crisis. A bare hint of plot generates: Leslie really wants to talk to all her friends at once, you see. In the climax, everyone call in for a “5,000 Candles in the Wind” singalong, led by Andy ( Pratt). There I was in tears again, requiring a second watch to treasure how ’s voice soars on “Humans cannot riiiiiide a GHOOOOOOOOST!”
Against all odds, though, A Parks and Recreation Special is a genuine return from one of the best TV series ever made. In a strange way, the sitcom’s faux-documentary structure lends itself well to the videoconferencing conceit. Unlike The Office, Parks never even tried to explain why the characters interstitially broke the fourth wall. It was just their hyperlinked riffing on the action, a chance for everyone to improv. (Eventually, I started to think of the confessionals as thought balloons.)