The scripted Parks and Recreation reunion special airing this week on NBC will be chockablock with well over a dozen Pawnee favorites, including several surprise guests.
Airing this Thursday at 8:30/7:30c (leading out of an encore of The Paley Center Salutes Parks and Recreation), A Parks and Recreation Special finds “Pawnee’s most dedicated civil servant, Leslie Knope, determined to stay connected to her friends in a time of social distancing.” But main cast members Amy Poehler, Nick Offerman, Rashida Jones, Aziz Ansari, Adam Scott, Rob Lowe, Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, Retta and Jim O’Heir will not be the only familiar faces on hand.
“Part of the fun of [Parks and Rec] in general and of the special will be unexpected people who are part of this world popping up,” executive producer Mike Schur said in a Tuesday press conference. And while he won’t confirm or deny any rumored cameos, “There are probably half a dozen… familiar faces who pop up at one point or another” — including in the special’s opening seconds.
“The first face you see on camera will not be one of the 10 main cast members,” Schur teased. “And that sets the tone for the show.”
In accounting for the present-day whereabouts of Leslie, Ron, Tom et al — keeping in mind that, flash-forwards aside, the series finale left off in the year 2017 — Schur told TVLine, “There were some logistical questions we had to answer,” including why married characters were not together in the same room. “But ultimately they were very minor.”
The trickiest nut to crack may have been determining Ann’s role in the special, given that she is a nurse who very well could/should have been on the “front line” staring down the deadly pandemic.
“Yeah, that was a little tricky…,” Schur told us. The solution? Ann is primarily busy with outpatient care.
“We debated having her be on the ‘front line’, but we didn’t want to seem like we were trivializing or making light of or trying to find humor in what is probably the least humorous aspect of this entire thing,” Schur explained, “so we [establish] that her job is not the same as the people who are really in the middle of this nightmare.” (Along those same lines, Schur noted that none of the characters will have been diagnosed with or had/beaten the coronavirus.)
All told, the theme of A Parks and Recreation Special is one of the things Leslie Knope always held dear: hope.
“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,” Schur reminded. “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.
“I honestly didn’t think that Parks and Rec was going to reunite for any reason,” Schur added, “just because I felt that show had a point to make and I felt like we made it. There just didn’t seem like there was a compelling reason. But this is a compelling reason. This is as compelling a reason as there is.”
The money raised by A Parks and Recreation Special will go to Feeding America’s COVID-19 Response Fund, which enables food banks to provide food and resources to “the most vulnerable members of the community during this difficult time.” NBCUniversal, the Parks and Rec cast, and sponsors State Farm and Subaru of America will match donations up to $500,000 as well.