At the end of last season on Parks and Recreation, Pawnee's most upbeat and tireless civil servant, Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), was presented with a choice: fulfill a lifelong dream and run for city council or continue dating her boss, the equally smitten Ben. By the end of next week's Season 4 premiere, her decision will be made.
If Leslie chooses to run, Poehler asks, "How cynical does [she] have to become to win an election? How does it change her?" In the name of Pawnee, she has already tended to an unsightly land pit, resurrected the town's dormant Harvest Festival, and gone head-to-head with the rival neighborhood of Eagleton over a shared park. Does she really want to scale new bureaucratic heights? "Pawnee is her kid, right?" Poehler says. "So she'll have to start to spending time away from her kid, and won't she miss her kid?"
But don't count Ben (Adam Scott) out just yet. "Good things are happening for Leslie this season, but they're not always at the best time. So Season 4 is kind of her having to live through a lot of fallout. And there's a lot of really funny comedy that comes from the decisions that she makes and unmakes and makes again..."
Looking back, though, Leslie has always known all along what to do. Two years ago at the outset of the second season, Poehler talked openly about the character's long-term journey balancing hometown pride and political ambition, perhaps foreshadowing her character's Sophie's Choice. "Can she fight feeling like she'll never be able to change anything? Will she get caught up in political gain in a way that will make her lose track of why she started in the first place?"
But enough speculating for now. After two seasons of rave reviews — and a slot on NBC's fall lineup — Poehler is just happy to know that viewers are as concerned as she is for Pawnee's lovable leader. "We always believed that if people started to know these characters, they would love them and they would want to see them over and over again. The fact that people say things to me on the street like, 'What's going to happen to Leslie?' 'Oh my God, I'm worried about her!' 'I'm so happy she's done so well!' 'Is she going to stay with Ben?'... that kind of stuff feels like the biggest accomplishment beyond any outside recognition."
Although there's plenty of that too, between Poehler being named one of Time's 100 most influential people (and thanking her nannies while accepting) and Parks and Recreation landing Emmy nominations for best comedy series and lead actress. Poehler submitted last season's second episode, "Flu Season," in which Leslie battles a burning fever that makes her talk to posters and say things like "I'm Leslie Monster and this is Nightline," right before pulling it together just long enough to deliver a game-changing speech.
Asked what she'll do if her name is called during Sunday's awards ceremony, Poehler is decidedly undecided. "I'll probably just do scenes from my one-woman show," she joked. "No, I want my acceptance speech to be very visual, so I'll probably just do it on the fly. Or I'll do a PowerPoint presentation."
"The category is filled with such funny, juicy, talented women that just getting to go to the show feels like winning."
(Nick Offerman, who plays Ron Swanson, told TVGuide.com that he felt differently: "I've seen some predictions that favor these Showtime shows that are, you know, decidedly not comedies but feature incredible actresses. But if the name of the category is best leading actress in a comedy, then I think if Amy doesn't win it, it's a crime. In fact, it's an extremely hot load of bullsh--.")
Win or lose, Poehler says Parks and Recreation is on a roll, and the sea change in terms of where the show is now versus a year ago — when it had spent the summer filming episodes in a vacuum, only to get shelved for midseason — is a welcome one.
"I think we're finally feeling like we're able to exhale a little bit. And I think that's what's really cool. I mean, look, we're very excited to be nominated for an Emmy. It's an awesome feeling, and to have our hard work validated that way is great," she said. "At the same time, we've had such an interesting path on this show. We kind of never knew what was coming next, so we just had to do this thing where we had to put our heads down and try to do a show and try to make it good and not worry so much about the external stuff that we didn't have control over. So I'm proud that it resulted in such a solid Season 3 and such recognition, and I think we're just going to try to do the same thing this year."
"We have a very Midwestern attitude about the way we make our show, much like the people of Pawnee. It will feel really really nice to be able to go as a cast this year and celebrate together."
Check back Thursday for our chat with Nick Offerman, who dishes about Season 3, including his thoughts on Ron Swanson's many Tammys, upcoming woodshop creations and his favorite fan-made ode to Ron.