If we ever needed Leslie Knope, it’s right now. TV’s most lovable optimist returned Thursday in a “Parks and Recreation” reunion that provided viewers a warm virtual hug.
In the special, which aired on NBC after a half-hour tribute to the sitcom, Knope (Amy Poehler) took a break from her duties as deputy director for the Department of Interior to check in with her former Pawnee City Hall colleagues.
The phone tree included health nut Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe), remaining chipper despite donating blood four times a day; die-hard slacker Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt), who had somehow locked himself into a shed; survivalist Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) who has done so much hunting from his cabin that he’s amassed a 12-year supply of venison jerky; and Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari), still cooking up get-rich-quick schemes, like marketing a lasagna that doubles as toilet paper.
There were plenty of Easter eggs for knowledgeable fans of the series, which aired from 2009 to 2015.
Knope’s husband, Rep. Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott), was working on adapting his Dungeons & Dragons rip-off, Cones of Dunshire, for the big screen. Dwyer dressed up as Johnny Karate, a character he created to entertain at children’s parties.
The entire crew harmonized on the ballad paying tribute to the late Li’l Sebastian, a miniature horse beloved in small-town Indiana as much as Larry Bird.
That singalong would have been the heartwarming number of the week if Meryl Streep, Audra McDonald and Christine Baranski hadn’t beaten the “P&R” gang to the punch with their version of “Ladies Who Lunch” during Sunday’s virtual tribute to Stephen Sondheim.
Both “Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration,” and “A Parks and Recreation Special” were shining examples from a new tier of shows being cobbled together since the start of the quarantine.
During the first couple weeks, it was enough for us to see big stars simply waving from their living rooms, assuring us that everything was OK while their dogs crawled into their laps.
But that’s no longer enough. Hollywood is going to have to get more creative if they want to keep us from settling for a deep dive into “Murder, She Wrote” repeats.
In that respect, “Parks” co-creator Michael Schur and his writing staff succeeded by not ignoring the reality of social distancing, but by embracing it.
If Knope and company can make each other laugh on Zoom, maybe we can, too.
The episode wasn’t perfect; it couldn’t be. Part of the joy of watching “P&R” was always seeing how the work family interacted with each other, even when they didn’t want to.
In Thursday’s retrospective, Schur described “Parks” as the comedic version of “The West Wing.” That’s pretty accurate — and also pretty hard to pull off when your characters can’t walk and talk down the same hallway.
Poking fun at sad sack Jerry Gergich (Jim O’Heir) by teleconference will never be the same as smashing a pie into his face.
But in these times, you make do with what you’ve got. Poehler and company did just that. They also raised money for Feeding America, a cause Knope could certainly get behind.
If you missed it Thursday night, you can catch it on nbc.com as well as on the new Peacock streaming service, currently available for free to Comcast subscribers. All seven seasons of the sitcom also live there, as well as on Netflix and Amazon Prime.
In the words of Ansari’s Haverford: Treat Yo Self.