Despite wrapping their show with the almost unnecessary need for a revival, the Parks and Recreation gang made an unexpected reappearance. “A Parks and Recreation Special” premiered on April 30 with the purpose of raising money for Feeding America. The special ultimately raised more than $2.8 million toward COVID-19 relief, which makes it easy to look past where it fell short – in practically every category.
The plot is essentially the Parks and Recreation gang sharing a series of video calls while experiencing the effects of COVID-19. While this is a reasonable plot (as all of the actors are actually experiencing quarantine) this real-life scenario applied to a show as outlandish as Parks and Recreation – a show that once featured outrageous city council campaigns, a town-wide memorial service for a miniature pony and a town known for having the worst public health in the United States – feels wrong. Additionally, the timeline is difficult to follow. It jumps from video calls on the show’s social network “Gryzzl” to live newscasts that feature awkward commercial breaks without much explanation in between. Furthermore, the episode features dialogue that sounds more like a public service announcement than an episode, such as awkwardly timed warnings to look after your mental health. While it was exciting to witness the beloved characters from the original series (with the exception of Billy Eichner’s Craig Middlebrooks, who was decidedly left out), the entire episode was clearly a rush job.
The jokes are revised recyclables from previous episodes, referencing old favorites like Ben’s claymation phase, and the acting is far from believable. There is an overlying tension that feels even more awkward than a silent Zoom breakout room. Since no actor was able to be in the same room, aside from the surprising but unfunny revival of Ron Swanson’s (Nick Offerman) real-life wife Tammy 2 (Megan Mullally), the chemistry was nonexistent. It was hard to believe that the actors were excited to see each other, let alone that their characters have been maintaining a strong friend group for the years off screen.
It was clear that most of the actors had lost their sense of touch with the characters they once portrayed. Leslie Knope’s spirit seemed to fade behind Amy Poehler’s inability to differentiate herself from her character (as she appeared in both forms– Leslie within the episode and Amy Poehler at the end to thank the audience and encourage donations). Aubrey Plaza and Chris Pratt relied heavily on over-the-top costuming and props to play the odd married couple of April and Andy, seemingly leaving behind the growth they experienced as a couple in the show’s farewell season. Arguably, the most convincing performances were Retta’s Donna Meagle and Paul Rudd’s Bobby Newport. Paul Rudd’s convincing kick-off to the episode left expectations too high. While Retta’s ability to revive her character was strong (most likely because she did not rely on what the audience already knew about her character), the scenes she was given were awkward and unfunny due to the lazily written dialogue.
Overall, the episode felt like a cheap, commercialized revival with the sole goal of raising money in mind. If one approaches it with any expectations of an exciting reunion rather than a unique fundraiser, it will undoubtedly disappoint. Conversely, when one views the revival as celebrities using their platforms to raise money for those in need, it is a comforting and decent way to spend 25 minutes for fans of Parks and Recreation.
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