In Movies & TV Reviews

For one night, "Parks and Rec" was back, and the world seemed better. (PHOTO: Twitter/izzy)

The "Parks & Rec" reunion special was the group hug we all needed

Thursday night's "Parks and Recreation" reunion special will not go down as one of the show's finest episodes. No one's going to hunt for it for a rewatch, and they're not going to quote any iconic memorable lines from it. As far as laughs go, it landed far closer to the modest chuckles of the growing-pain-inflicted first two seasons than the massive belly laughs of the classic years that followed.

But for 30 minutes, that was all exactly what we needed.

The "Parks and Rec" quarantine reunion special was basically the FaceTime happy hour of television: a little stiff and a little awkward, but all worth it to see your friends again and to have a laugh, catch-up, be social again and forget how strange the world's become, if only for a little bit.

There wasn't much to the reunion special: Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope made a Gryzzl video-call phone tree to make sure all of her favorite people are doing well during the pandemic – because of course Leslie Knope made an intricate and exact phone tree in the middle of a pandemic. So we follow as she checks in on a woodshop-secluded Ron Swanson, her adoring (and very soggy-looking) congressman husband Ben who's hard at work on a Cones of Dunshire epic movie script, April and Andy – the former accidentally locked in a shed for the past two days – Tom Haverford living it up on a tropical vacation Zoom background, Donna living well, Ann Perkins taking a brief break after volunteering herself back into nursing duty and her husband Chris Traeger isolating himself in the other part of the house (even though his blood is so healthy, its type is merely "positive"). Garry's technically there too – cue the groans – accidentally turning his head into an emoji turd. Because you would, Garry.

Indeed, they got everyone for this digital reunion – and I mean everyone. Paul Rudd's affably dim Bobby Newport delivered an introduction for the special from his family estate, where they don't even know a pandemic's broken out. The hilariously obvious and oblivious Perd Hapley as well as local diva/TV host Joan Callamezzo both pop on to host quarantine livestream shows, the latter explaining that she has a reverse EGOT. (Instead of winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony, she's been kicked out of each.) Jean Ralphio's using lawsuit money to buy houses, airtime and maybe a friend, while Jeremy Jamm's delivering do-it-yourself dentistry kits – which sounds like a bad idea, but considering his shabbily self-done quarantine haircut, self-root-canaling might be equally as safe as letting him go to town on your teeth. I never thought I'd be happy to be Jamm-ed again – but I guess that's the power of a pandemic.

Again, my brain kept trying to interject that this special was less of a story and more of simply a victory lap of references and returns, that the show was so busy re-introducing cast members and giving them a bow that it barely had time for many jokes or a plot, that it felt like a lot of first takes of a first draft script playing the hits.

But I also didn't care what my brain said. Our brains have been working too hard lately, stressing out about work and our loved ones and reading the news and merely trying to remember what day it is. For 30 minutes, our bombarded minds got to take a break from thinking about an uncertain future and instead enjoy a good-natured blast from the past, reuniting with old friends and making sure they – and, in the process, we – were still well.

And even if there wasn't much of a story to drive things forward, in classic hopeful and optimistic "Parks and Rec" fashion, there was still at least a sweet lesson to be learned, with Leslie and company all-too-fittingly teaching that, in these strange times, one of the healthiest and most sustaining things a person can do is stay connected and unite however you can with those close to your heart. (All the actors may have been performing, but there was a warm sense that, in the process of making sure their characters were OK, they were making sure their beloved real-world colleagues were OK too.) And that's exactly what the "Parks and Rec" family did for their fans on Thursday night, ending on a note a positivity, hope and joy that felt like a big, borderline-therapeutic group hug delivered safely through a TV screen.

It was messy, a little whipped together and inherently limited – but as we've learned on our own Zoom or FaceTime calls during this time, none of that matters when we all just want to see the good people and friendly faces in our lives again. Most reunions are about the cast; the "Parks and Rec" bonus special felt like it was about everyone – the actors and the audience, all truly giving each other a check-in to make sure all was alright. And for 30 very nice minutes, everything kinda was.


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