CS Soapbox: A Parks and Recreation Reunion is Exactly What We Need Right Now
Parks and Recreation follows the deputy director of the Parks and Recreation Department of Pawnee, Indiana, Leslie Knope. In its first season, the show appeared to be a well-intentioned rip-off of its grandfather mockumentary, The Office: a clueless boss surrounded by misfits. However, as we continued watching, Leslie Knope and Parks and Recreation evolved; becoming the most optimistic show to ever grace our skewed screens.
Of all the departments in the city’s government, Parks and Rec chose to focus on Pawnee’s Parks and Recreation. The department’s goal was to improve the quality of life: maintaining parks and offering affordable programs to the community—nothing overtly threatening or disconnected from what the viewer can relate to. Parks and Rec wasn’t about the president making world-altering decisions or gaffes (although if the show kept going, one could definitely see that happening) but a midlevel bureaucrat trying to turn a pit into a park or convince people to eat just a little bit better.
The show’s inclusion of Eagleton, Paunch Burger, and a backward depiction of libraries, helped it comment on society, corporations, and government in a way other shows could not. By using its charming cast, reoccurring gags, and made-up holidays like “Treat Yo’ Self,” Parks and Rec‘s ridiculous platform easily conveyed the irrationality of elitism, grease, mass surveillance (yeah), and illiteracy. However, Parks and Rec aspired to more than just satire. Where Eagleton is pretentious and greedy, Pawnee is stupid and broke (until Eagleton went broke)—in this way, Parks and Rec became bipartisan, something NBC probably didn’t even see coming (arguably).
The most heartwarming relationship in Parks and Rec is that of Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson (apologies to fans of Ann Perkins). Their friendship is never romanticized or manipulated for the sake of plot (except for that one time in season 7…). Ron, the director of the Parks department and Leslie, his deputy, fundamentally disagree on every minor issue. Ron has said that this is why he supported her hiring; because he needed someone to disagree with. That’s what good government is about: not winning or losing but hearing an opposing argument and finding a productive compromise. This is how the two worked together on major issues, by focusing on their similarities and coming to understand one another: Ron likes beef and guns while Leslie likes scrapbooks and banners…but they both love breakfast food and Li’l Sebastian.
In a time when we miss all of our friends and no one agrees on anything, Parks and Rec is even more relevant. Thankfully, we’re getting more of it. The original cast is returning to NBC this Thursday, April 30th at 8:30 p.m. in a scripted, one-off episode to benefit Feeding America’s COVID-19 Response Fund. State Farm, NBCUniversal, Subaru, and the cast and crew of Parks and Rec will match a total of $500,000 of donations through May 21. And when we say the original cast is returning, we mean the entire cast—Amy Poehler, Rashida Jones, Aziz Ansari, Nick Offerman, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Pratt, Adam Scott, Rob Lowe, Jim O’Heir, and Retta.
The show’s creator and executive producer, Michael Schur (who also created The Good Place) said he sent an email to the cast and that “they all got back to [him] within 45 minutes.” The 30-minute episode will see the characters quarantined in their homes. This contemporary entry of Parks and Rec will apply Leslie Knope’s unwavering compassion to our current situation. Speaking to TVline, Schur said, “The reason why this project made sense [is because] the main character was eternally optimistic and believed in the power of community to hold people together. She believed that incremental small moments of connection and togetherness were vital to the social fabric. And she believed that government for be a force for good and help people in meaningful ways. [Parks and Recreation] was forged in the economic crisis of 2007, 2008… and now we’re obviously in another one of those moments.” It seems fitting that a show, which focuses on a department aimed at improving the quality of life, is returning to promote what its main character has always urged others to do: work together.
The last episode of Parks and Rec, “One Last Ride,” jumps around in time (from 2017-2025-2048). It shows us a future were Leslie becomes the governor of Indiana (and possibly president) but it never shows us a world in quarantine. A world divided yet united in its desire to move forward. Parks and Rec took its bow on NBC in 2015 by having its central character quote a particular historical figure: “Teddy Roosevelt once said: ‘Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is to work hard at work worth doing.’ And I would add that what makes work worth doing is getting to do it with people that you love.”