‘Parks and Recreation’ Is Back. Here’s Where We Left Off.
‘Parks and Recreation’ Is Back. Here’s Where We Left Off.
This preview includes spoilers for “Parks and Recreation.”
When NBC first reached out to showrunner Michael Schur about creating “A Parks and Recreation Special,” the initial idea was to reunite the cast of the beloved sitcom for a virtual table read. Schur immediately thought of three fitting episodes: “Flu Season” from Season 3, “Emergency Response” from Season 5, and “Flu Season 2” from Season 6, all revolving around a real or virtual public-health crisis. (The emergency drill episode simulated a breakout of the Avian flu.) But after Schur gave it some more thought, he decided against that route.
“I was terrified of seeming like we were trying to make light of what is the most serious international crisis in a hundred years,” Schur told reporters during a conference call this week. “And I felt like if we were getting the cast together, you ought to do something new.”
The result, airing Thursday at 8:30 p.m. to benefit Feeding America, is a show that feels less like a sitcom and more like eavesdropping on a real-time video chat with the Pawnee pals, reflecting our new era of quarantine and social distancing. While many of the “Parks and Rec” characters suffer the effects of isolation, overall, they are relatively safe; no character has had or is currently suffering from Covid-19.
“It’s not about the disease,” Schur said. “It’s about people coping and trying to navigate their daily lives,” and trying to stay connected.
Figuring out where those characters should be, however, proved to be a “weird situation,” Schur said. The final season aired in 2015, but largely took place in 2017, until the series finale, which through a series of flash-forwards jumped from 2018 to 2048. The new story, which takes place now, in April 2020, had to be retrofitted to that. But the writers were a little fuzzy on the details.
“The first thing we had to do is say, ‘Where the hell is everyone?’” Schur said. “Like, where did everybody end up?”
Viewers won’t find out all the answers until Thursday night. But here’s what we know, based on the last time we saw them.
Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt
The Knope-Wyatt (Amy Poehler and Adam Scott) household is based in Washington, D.C., where Ben is serving his first term in the House of Representatives for Indiana’s 9th Congressional district, and Leslie works at the Department of the Interior as the deputy director of operations.
In the flash-forwards, we learn that in 2025, they will both be approached to run for Governor of Indiana. The one strike against Ben? His “devastatingly nerdy” creation of the 9th highest-selling multiplayer figurine-based strategy fantasy sequel game, the Cones of Dunshire. (Give Ben too much time off, and artsy–craftsy projects result.) So while they won’t have to decide who should be the candidate for a few years, both would certainly pay attention to how the Indiana state shutdown is run now. (And then, yes, eventually Leslie will run and serve two terms. And if their security detail in 2048 is any indication, go on to a higher office from there.)
For now, the couple juggles political aspirations with raising triplets and staying connected. First in friendship!
Pawnee’s paragon of mustachioed manliness (played by Nick Offerman) has been concentrating on his construction outfit, the Very Good Building & Development Co., which — judging by what will happen in 2022 — will survive our nascent financial crisis.
As a libertarian and a survivalist, Ron might be conflicted about the current government-imposed shutdown, but he’s probably prepared for anything. He’s the kind of guy who would have a stockpile of hand sanitizer, cured meats and whisky at his cabin, which he would share with his third — or is it fourth? — wife Diane (Lucy Lawless).
Ann Perkins and Chris Traeger
The Perkins-Traeger household (Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe) is now based in Ann Arbor, where Chris works at the University of Michigan and Ann works as a nurse while they raise their son Oliver. (Their daughter Leslie won’t arrive for a few more years.)
Ann’s medical background is crucial now. Schur said he debated putting Ann on the front lines of the pandemic, but decided to confine her to outpatient care, figuring there wouldn’t be many laughs to be found about taking life-threatening risks. Chris is still a health nut, but is he immunocompromised? He had a childhood blood disorder, and he caught the flu in Season 3 despite wearing a mask. We remember, even if he doesn’t.
Tom (Aziz Ansari) was the main character brought closest to the present moment by the flash-forwards. In 2019, he was offered an opportunity to turn Tom’s Bistro into a franchise. But it was not to be. As his second wife Lucy (Natalie Morales) says, “Look, you had a tough break. The stock market tanked. Credit dried up. Who could have predicted that the country would run out of beef?”
So Tom went broke once again. But he bounces back — and rather quickly, too — with a documentary and a book deal about his failures. The question now is, where in the timeline do we find him? And are any of his pocket squares left?
The luxury-loving realtor (Retta) found her castle in Seattle, where she remains happily married to her “poor little do-gooder teacher baby” Joe (Keegan-Michael Key).
Donna and Joe usually spend a lot of time on “Donna Joe Adventure Quests,” but those travels would be on pause now. In a few years, she’ll start funneling her real estate commissions into a charitable foundation called Teach Yo’ Self, dedicated to funding after-school programs. But her interest in education may be stirred during quarantine when she watches Joe struggling to conduct his classes online.
April Ludgate and Andy Dwyer
The Ludgate-Dwyer household (Aubrey Plaza and Chris Pratt) has no children; the couple will start breeding in two years, and name their firstborn Burt Snakehole Ludgate Karate Dracula Macklin Demon Jack-o-Lantern Dwyer (Jack for short). The ridiculously long name serves as a reminder of the importance of April and Andy’s role-playing to their relationship (Janet Snakehole, FBI agent Burt Macklin, children’s entertainer Johnny Karate, et al.).
After an on-and-off career as a musician (including the hit Li’l Sebastian tribute “5,000 Candles in the Wind”), Andy had combined his love of music and alter-egos with the “Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show,” at least until the couple moved to Washington, D.C. for April’s new job at the American Service Foundation.
Might some of the show’s memorable supporting characters appear in the special? It’s certainly possible, and we know from the series finale what the future holds for a few of our favorite fringe Pawneeans.
Schemer Jean-Ralphio Saperstein (Ben Schwartz), for instance, tried to recruit Leslie for an insurance scam, and teamed up with his twin sister Mona-Lisa (Jenny Slate) instead. (Considering Schwartz tweeted that not cutting his hair has “finally paid off,” it’s a safe bet that his mop may appear.) The reporter Shauna Malwae-Tweep (Alison Becker) got her flash-forward in the producer’s cut of the series finale, when she was jilted at the altar in 2018, only to run into and marry Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd) a few hours later. The abrasive Craig Middlebrooks (Billy Eichner) finally made time to chill with —— and marry — the stylist Typhoon (Rodney To) in 2019.
Also in the producer’s cut, the orthodontist and councilman Jeremy Jamm (Jon Glaser) ended up working in a Florida restaurant in 2020. That shouldn’t prevent him from providing checkups, right?
Garry Jerry Larry Terry Garry Gergich
The multi-monikered civil servant (Jim O’Heir) is our main connection to Indiana. The main cast has moved away, but he’s the Pawnee mayor for the foreseeable future (in fact, for the next 10 terms).
As the mayor, Jerry (we’re sticking with Jerry) is the person responsible for canceling events in the name of public safety, no matter how much people object. (Remember the Season 2 government shutdown, when Pawnee parents were so upset about having their offspring hanging around the house? That was kid stuff.) O’Heir posted an in-character PSA about social distancing during the pandemic, reminding us that the Gergiches are a loving and lovable family, even if Jerry doesn’t always understand modern technology. Who needs filters?