It turns out the only thing that could get the “Parks & Recreation” cast back together was a global pandemic.
“I didn’t think that ‘Parks & Rec’ was going to reunite for any reason,” series creator Mike Schur said during a call with reporters on Tuesday. “Just because I felt like that show had a point to make and I felt like we had made it and we ended the show. It 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.”
On Thursday, the cast of the fan-favorite NBC sitcom will return for a one-night charity special that benefits Feeding America. The standalone scripted special will see Pawnee’s most dedicated civil servant, Leslie Knope, determined to stay connected to her friends in a time of social distancing. The entire original cast — Amy Poehler, Rashida Jones, Aziz Ansari, Nick Offerman, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Pratt, Adam Scott, Rob Lowe, Jim O’Heir and Retta — is set to reprise their characters from the show.
“The only reason to do the ‘Parks’ special was to show the characters dealing with this particular issue and use it as a way to raise money,” Schur added.
It turned out that finding a reason to come back, even for a one-off special, was the easiest part of this. Actually filming the episode was much, much harder. Each of the actors was sent a rig equipped with a tripod, an iPhone, a little light and a microphone. Schur said he and the episode’s director would be watching them essentially film themselves via Zoom.
“They would send us screenshots to show what their framing was. We would be able to listen and sort of watch from a weird oblique angle as they recorded themselves. But they had to be their own camera people. They had to hit record and then stop,” Schur explained. “It was really slow and laborious.” The graphics team from Schur’s other NBC comedy “The Good Place” was brought in “to make it look like it was not everyone just sitting alone in their houses staring at a computer.”
From a story standpoint, Schur said they briefly weighed whether or not to throw Anne Perkins (Jones), who was a nurse, into the front lines of the pandemic. Instead, she mentions that she is doing outpatient care. “We didn’t want to seem like we were trivializing or trying to find humor in what is probably the least humorous aspect of this entire thing. We just had her describe that her job is not the same job as all of the people in the middle of this nightmare.”
With everyone required to social distance, Schur said they had to find a workaround for why married couples like Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt (Poehler and Scott) and April Ludgate and Andy Dwyer (Plaza and Pratt) would not be in the same rooms. “We do explain why the people that ought to be in the same room are not in the same room,” he said. “They were fairly minor.”
Since the series finale jumped around to various points in the future, as far as 2065, that meant that Schur and the rest of the “Parks” team had to make sure they didn’t misstep into any continuity issues.
“The first thing we had to say was ‘where the hell is everyone?’ Almost nobody is in Pawnee still,” he said. “We couldn’t remember who had what job. Leslie is working at the National Parks, within the Department of the Interior. Ben is a Congressman. It was unclear if Anne had remained a nurse or not, so we had decided that she had gone back to work as a nurse… We had to go back and retrofit everything and make sure it made sense.”
The “Parks & Recreation” special will air Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.