When NBC’s ‘Parks and Recreation‘ (Thursdays at 8:30/7:30c) premiered last spring, it faced big expectations. For starters, it carried the mantle of being a spin-off of ‘The Office’ even though, mockumentary format be damned, it simply wasn’t. Also, no less than America’s current TV-comedy sweetheart, ‘Saturday Light Live’ alum Amy Poehler, was fronting it. Great expectations, indeed.
Now deep into its 24-episode second season – and already picked up for a third – ‘Parks & Rec’s Leslie, Ron et al are fulfilling their potential. Fancast invited series cocreator Michael Schur to survey’s the show’s deserved success, preview an episode penned by Poehler herself, and give us the lowdown on the addition of Rob Lowe to the cast.
We’re nearing the anniversary of ‘Parks and Recreation’s debut. What was going through your mind then?
I think at that time I was so sleep-deprived, I was having blackouts. Nothing was actually penetrating my brain.
What do you remember about your first reviews?
[Laughs] With every show that is based on characters, it always seems to happen that people go, “No, I don’t like this.” Then after they get to know the characters, it’s, “Oh, this is good now.” The more they learn about the characters, the more things seem funny. It was exactly the same with ‘The Office.’ Then lo and behold, after 10 or 15 episodes, “I like it now!”
And here you are one of the first shows this season to earn a renewal. That decision came early in part because Amy had a film commitment?
There were like seven things going on, movies and such, and when we sat back and looked at the schedule, it was like, “We could try and do this the usual way, but the easiest way we could air Season 3 without taking a big hiatus was to just roll right through [and begin production on Season 3 this spring]. It was painful, but it was worth it.
Was playing to your actors’ strengths the key to gaining momentum in the second season?
That’s a huge part of it. The writers got a lot better writing for the actors, and the actors got better at being their characters. Practice makes perfect – which is not to say this is a perfect show. But the more time you spend on something, the better it will be.
What’s one example of how the writing evolved for the better?
Take the relationship between Ron and Leslie. Nick Offerman was funny from Day 1 as Ron, and Amy was funny from Day 1 as Leslie, but it took the writing room a while to figure out, “He’s a gruff guy who has a very hands-off approach, and she’s a very hands-on person who’s bubbly and optimistic.” They’re opposites. He’s the guy who says no and is stern, and she’s the woman who says yes and tries to make everything work.
Whereas when the series first started, I almost felt like Ron hated Leslie.
Yeah, that she was annoying to him. It was a breakthrough for us to realize that no, he wouldn’t be annoyed by her because she does all his work for him! It’s a nicely symbiotic relationship.
I imagine you also have to walk a fine line between too little/too much Ron, too little/too much Tom (Aziz Ansari)….
They fill up a room, don’t they? To me, that’s a strength of the show, and [last week's episode] “Woman of the Year” was a perfect example of that. Every single character has a story in that episode. The benefit of having a big ensemble cast is you never get tired of anybody; you’re constantly hopping around and going to somebody else. And when all the performers are strong, it’s a bonus. The show seems like a big, fun, crazy zoo.
What was the genesis of “Woman of the Year”?
We at first just thought it’d be funny if Ron won an award for work Leslie had done. Then one of the writers pitched that it should be from a feminist organization, as a double whammy. The thing that made us laugh the hardest was picturing Ron’s face with his big mustache on a plaque that says “Woman Of The Year.” I think we’re making T-shirts with that design on them.
Nick told me he’d love to have his wife Megan Mullally guest-star eight times a season. Will she be returning anytime soon?
Almost immediately after that [November 5th] episode we started trying to get her back, but she’s doing a play in New York right now. We’d love to have her back [as Tammy]. She was super funny.
One thing you seem to have stumbled upon is the “Will they, won’t they?” thing with Andy (Chris Pratt) and April (Aubrey Plaza). Was that in your original plan?
It really wasn’t. That came from a moment in the last episode of Season 1: Andy was talking about his band, and we saw that April was staring at him a bit intensely. We thought: Maybe there’s something there? Then as soon as we saw footage of their B-story in “Hunting Trip,” which was so fun to shoot and the two of them were so fun together, we were like, “This is our romantic intrigue for the rest of the year.”
We’re going to be meeting April’s family soon. Any fun casting there?
It’s not stunt casting; we just found two really good actors that we like [as her parents]. We also got a funny girl to play the sister. All you had to do for that entire audition was roll your eyes. We then chose the one who looked the most like Aubrey.
Tell me about the episode airing later this season that Amy Poehler wrote.
It’s the third-to-last one of the year, and the premise is that Leslie is volunteering to cohost a cable access telethon for charity, and her shift is from 2 to 6 in the morning. It’s all about her trying to get through the wee hours of the morning.
And what can you say about Rob Lowe joining the show?
He’s coming in in the second-to-last episode of the season, and he’ll be with us for a number of episodes stretching into Season 3.
But see, when you say “Rob Lowe,” I don’t necessarily say “sitcom.”
He was very funny in ‘Wayne’s World’ and ‘Thank You For Smoking’…. I’ve always thought of this show as a half-hour comedy version of ‘The West Wing.’ Like, if ‘The West Wing’ were a half-hour comedy instead of a brilliant hour-long drama, this is the show it would be. So when we found out he was [leaving ABC's 'Brothers & Sisters'], we were like, “There’s the perfect guy.” The role is that of a powerful person entering our world from the outside, so it seemed like a perfect fit.
I know you won’t say, but I’m going to assume he’s a possible love interest for Leslie.
Anytime Rob Lowe is anywhere, he’s a possible love interest for someone!