On Thursday, April 30, the cast of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” teamed up for a special new episode, five years after the series finale. The virtual special streamed on YouTube to raise money for Feeding America, a nationwide nonprofit with over 200 food banks that is dedicated to feeding millions of Americans and engaging more and more people in the fight to end hunger. With over 2 million views on YouTube, the special succeeded in raising $3 million for the nonprofit.
Cast members Amy Poehler, Adam Scott, Aziz Ansari, Rashida Jones, Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, Nick Offerman, Retta, Rob Lowe and Jim O’Heir joined forces in the fictional Pawnee, Indiana, to remind their fans of the unique sense of family that many of us have been missing. Executive producer and writer Michael Schur said, “Like a lot of other people, we were looking for ways to help and felt that bringing these characters back for a night could raise some money.”
Just like many of us across the country, our favorite Parks Department workers are also quarantined. Centered around the well-loved leading lady, Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), the episode chronicles her attempts to catch up with all of her former co-workers from the Parks Department amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, Lisa Katz and Tracey Pakosta, co-presidents of scripted programming at NBC, said: “In such uncertain times, we can’t think of anyone better than Leslie Knope to unite our country with her unbridled enthusiasm and compassion. A huge thank you to Mike Schur and the cast of Parks and Recreation for putting this wonderful special together and bringing a smile to all our faces while raising money for such a worthwhile cause.”
Fans of the sitcom understand that at its core, “Parks and Recreation” is a show about friendship, about people coming together. Or as Schur put it at the show’s 10-year reunion, “I felt the show had an argument to make, and the argument was about teamwork and friendship.” In Pawnee, Indiana, people look out for each other, whether it’s for better, such as to build a park in an empty lot with a giant pit, or for worse, like to ban a restaurant that only serves salad.
Even a pandemic cannot stop Leslie Knope from giving 100% to everything she does and loving her friends with full force. As she checks in on all her friends via a video calling tree, which quickly falls apart, her former boss and friend, Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), reminded her: “Don’t spend all your time looking after other people — look after yourself once in a while.” The classic Ron and Leslie heart-to-hearts are the most touching conversations throughout the series, and quite a lot of people in this devastating time may be needing Ron’s sage advice and Leslie’s optimism more than ever.
Several of the show’s silly yet lovable traditions make appearances in the virtual special, encouraging viewers to laugh during this dark time. The team gathers together to sing “5,000 Candles in the Wind” for their beloved, deceased miniature horse, Li’l Sebastian; Ben still doesn’t understand the Li’l Sebastian hype. Tom and Donna are still treating themselves, Andy is still accidentally locking himself in rooms, and Chris is still hypervigilant about his health routines. The familiarity is comforting, and knowing it’s for a good cause makes it even more moving.
Often times, sitcoms provide solace and escape when real life can feel altogether gloomy and scary. “Parks and Recreation” is no exception. Leslie Knope’s awkward, lovable charm and her determination to help others are the most refreshing combination right now, as she encourages all of us to keep our spirits high and still give our best efforts.
The fact that the wonderful team of actors and writers gathered together for the dual purpose of making people laugh and raising money to help others proves that they understand the specific gifts they can give to their fans. Rather than singing “Imagine” or saying “We’re all in this together,” the cast of “Parks and Recreation” continued to do their jobs, falling back into their Pawnee characters and in the process, helped out millions.