Not many sitcoms have aged quite as quickly as Parks and Recreation has as it feels like it’s a show from a different era, a time before Trump (and for us British viewers, Boris and Brexit) that was more optimistic, a simpler time where someone like Leslie Knope could inspire hope and make us believe that if you tried hard enough, if you worked hard enough, you could make a difference in the world, and truly make it a better place.
Now that was ridiculously naive from the get go but it was easy to buy in to such was her infectious manner, her joy for life and her go getting nature, but due to all of this I wasn’t sure how a new episode would work in these bleak, horrendous times. Of course it was never going to be a conventional episode of the show given the circumstances of it’s making, but what I didn’t predict in several million if not billion years is that about half of it would be a rather clunky infomercial giving out advice as to how to deal with the Coronavirus.
Some of the episode worked as a traditional sitcom at least as we caught up with the characters and found out how they were dealing with the lockdown, with Ben planning a stop-motion film of his game Cones of Dunshire, Ron holed up in the woods (with his line “I’ve been practicing social distancing since I was four years old” the best in the episode for me) while Ann Perkins is back working as a nurse again, and there were some strong jokes about how they’re all dealing with life in these unusual times. The ending was very sweet too, and made all the funnier by the fact that Ben still has no time for Li’l Sebastian.
We also got to see a few of Pawnee’s under quarantine tv shows like Ya’ Heard With Perd and At Home With Joan, and for me these contained the funniest moments, Perd and Joan were used sparingly but extremely effectively, and best of all were a selection of fantastic fake adverts from Jeremy Jamm, Dennis Feinstein, and Jean-Ralphio which were easily the highlight, it was the show being silly and daft and just concentrating on making us laugh, which it did beautifully and then some.
Unfortunately I felt that the parts where Leslie and co gave advice were far too preachy for my liking, and they felt far too forced as well. Retta’s ode to teaching was so extreme that it seemed ridiculous (and I say that as someone who teaches online for a living), while the advice about washing your hands and making sure you pay attention to your mental health was awkwardly given. I’d have no issue with them doing such a thing if it had been subtly handled, or with a little wit, but the sledgehammer approach felt unneeded, and it’s not as is if guidance isn’t being forced down our throats constantly too.
Also an issue was the show’s Gary / Jerry bashing, it’s always been a part of the show that I’ve found deeply unpleasant and at odds with every other element of the series, as Parks and Recreation is supposed to be a kindhearted, optimistic work, so it’s genuinely upsetting that they decided to still be pretty fucking mean and horrible to the character, especially during these bleak times. It would have been far more affecting if for once they had treated him with kindness, and stressed the importance of acting that way even with people you may not love, but alas it wasn’t to be.
I do feel really mean for criticising something which is clearly trying to be supportive and caring, and some of the advice is undoubtedly important. I just wish it hadn’t been quite so on the nose, that they’d spent more time giving us a break from all of the misery by making us laugh rather than the constant reminders of how fucked up everything is, as when they did that it was great to have everyone back.