'Parks and Recreation' quarantine special will make you laugh, cry and sing for Lil Sebastian

Kelly Lawler

Spoiler alert! The following contains details from "A Parks and Recreation Special."

Leave it to Leslie Knope and "5,000 Candles in the Wind" to bring us laughter and relief during a pandemic. 

The cast of NBC's 2009-15 sitcom "Parks and Recreation" – including Amy Poehler, Nick Offerman, Adam Scott, Rob Lowe, Rashida Jones, Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, Aziz Ansari, Retta and Jim O’Heir  – virtually reunited (as their characters) Thursday for a special to raise money for Feeding America amid the coronavirus pandemic. (NBC said Friday that the special has raised $2.8 million for the charity.)

And it was everything fans of the sweet, hopeful and hilarious series could have hoped for in this time of great need. 

Set up as a series of Gryzzl calls (the citizens of Pawnee, Indiana, would never use Zoom over their local tech giant) and the series' fictional news shows – "Pawnee Today" and "Ya Heard? With Perd" made appearances – the special captured the essence of the series and the mood of the current crisis perfectly as the actors easily slipped back into old characters and offered each other (and viewers) support during tough times. 

As you might expect, Leslie (Poehler) is in problem-solving mode in her job at the Department of the Interior during the crisis, still going into the office and getting only two hours of sleep a night. Her husband, now-Congressman Ben Wyatt (Scott), Gryzzling in from home while she is at the office, has taken on child care responsibilities. (He is wearing the Letters to Cleo T-shirt we haven't seen since his bouts of unemployment during the series and is trying to make a Cones of Dunshire claymation movie. It's not working.)

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Leslie has organized a phone tree so the former Pawnee Parks Department employees can check in on one another every night, and through a series of calls we see the entire gang. Ron is doing fine at his cabin with his family and enjoying the social distancing he has been practicing "since I was 4 years old." 

Group photo of the cast of "A Parks and Recreation Special" livestreaming from their homes April 30, 2020.

April (Plaza) is wearing a swimsuit on her head, enjoying the chaos, and her husband, Andy (Pratt), has locked himself in the shed. Chris (Lowe) is constantly exercising and donating blood, while Ann (Jones) is back working as a nurse and isolating from Chris and their kids in a separate part of the house. (The show had to invent reasons for the not-really-married actors to be in separate locations).

Donna (Retta) praises her husband, and all teachers, to Tom (Ansari), who is coming up with stir-crazy business ideas (pizza that is also toilet paper!). Garry, of course, is terrible at video chatting but great at being mayor of Pawnee, helpfully canceling the annual "Lick and Pass" event. 

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Leslie and Ben make a few public service announcements about mental health, including on "Pawnee Today," which is now "At Home with Joan" featuring everyone's favorite daytime host Joan Callamezzo (Mo Collins), who lives alone and brings creepy dolls on her show. Perd Hapley (Jay Jackson) is his usually hapless self.

In fake commercials interspersed in the episode, we see other favorite recurring characters, including Jeremy Jamm (Jon Glaser), Dennis Feinstein (Jason Mantzoukas) and Jean-Ralphio (Ben Schwartz). Paul Rudd's dumb Bobby Newport even shows up to introduce the episode, completely unaware that coronavirus is even a thing. Megan Mullally, who played Ron's ex-wife Tammy Two, even gets a cameo since she's married to Offerman.  

(l-r) Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope and Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson  on the NBC TV series "Parks And Recreation."

The episode ends with one last Gryzzl call, in which Ron organizes the gang to take care of Leslie (instead of the other way around), and they all sing a rousing chorus of Andy's timeless Lil Sebastian tribute song "5,000 Candles in the Wind." I couldn't help but cry. 

The special was exactly what restless, stressed and scared "Parks" fans need right now: Hopeful, funny and poignant. Seeing Leslie and Ron together again is a small silver lining in a dark time. They're 5,000 times better than "Candle in the Wind."

The "Parks and Rec" episode is available to stream Friday on YouTube, NBC's app, Peacock and Hulu.