Knope we can, and yes, Parks and Recreation's Leslie did!
After spending the majority of Season 4 fighting her way through a lopsided election against the biggest imbecile in Pawnee, Ind. — you're so pretty, Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd) — Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) is finally a City Councilor. But just as her dreams finally came true, Leslie's boyfriend Ben (Adam Scott) nabbed a job in Washington, D.C., which is where Ben will be stationed when the comedy returns this fall.
With executive producer Mike Schur and the brain trust behind NBC's Thursday night staple back in the writers' room, TVGuide.com has the scoop on what's in store for Season 5, including how the series will change now that Leslie is in office, how close she came to losing the election and what the distance between Leslie and Ben will really mean next season. Plus: Tammys + The Avengers = Awesome? Get the scoop:
Were you guys worried at all that you'd be relegated to a different night considering NBC is expanding to four nights of comedy now?
Mike Schur: Yeah. I certainly knew that was a possibility. For obvious reasons, the network had some problems, and they need to fix them. There are no guarantees in this business, and so we certainly talked about the possibility, and the pros and cons of being on another night. Thursday is so crowded. There are so many huge shows on Thursday nights. We just were like, "Look, if you want to put us on Sunday mornings at 11 after Meet the Press then that's fine. Just put us on there somewhere."
What lessons did you learn from last season?
Schur: We were all very happy with the season creatively. The challenge that we have is to find something fun for everybody to do, and it's always been our preference to have every person to be funny in every episode. That was the challenge last year that will continue to be the challenge this year, especially since start the season with certain characters off on little adventures in Washington, D.C. and stuff like that.
You guys shot two different endings for the season finale — one with Leslie winning the election and one with her losing. Was that just to throw people off so there were no spoilers or was there an actual possibility you guys considered having her lose?
Schur: It wasn't just for show. That was an obvious side benefit of it, but it was such a huge decision and had such ramifications for the future of this show that we wanted to make sure we had our bases covered. We decided after endless amounts of debate and a very split writers' room, I would say, but eventually everyone got on board with the idea of her winning. We shot both endings. We figured if a version leaked out that she won, but everybody knew that we had shot both endings, then there still would have been doubt in people's minds.
How will the show change now that Leslie is in office?
Schur: The No. 1 most important thing is to make the show feel the same even if she has a new job or a new part-time job. I don't want anyone to tune in and feel like they're watching a different show, but you also have to honor the fact that the character has this big change in her life. You have to say what her new job is like and how it affects her life. We're going to end up concentrating part of the time on her role as a City Councilor and part of the time on her old life in the Parks Department where she still works, and part of the time seeing how the two intersect, and how they affect each other. That's the general idea. Going forward I imagine there are many episodes where if you didn't know that she is a City Councilor, you would not learn it from the episode.
Leslie has always dreamed of being in office. Do you think it will be all that she hoped for, or is that the fun of next season in seeing how it's not?
Schur: That's a big part of the fun of it is seeing what the reality is. The reality is her old job isn't all wine and roses, it's a lot of frustrating stuff and she has to press forward with her eternal optimism all the time just to do the kind of things she wants to do. I don't think that's going to get any better as a City Councilor. She's not a dummy. I don't think that she has any misgivings about how difficult the road ahead is because she's pretty experienced now as a person who works in government. I think part of the real charm of the character, especially the way that Amy portrays her, is that she doesn't care if she runs into obstacles, she just puts her head down and plows through them. It will just be that the obstacles are slightly bigger and more important.
How will Leslie deal with Ben off in Washington?
Schur: The decision to move Ben to Washington at the beginning of the season was in part because it's very hard to come up with realistic ways that their relationship can come under stress and strain, as all relationships do at some point, because they're so gooey and mushy and in love with each other. As far as how long they're going to be apart or anything like that, we certainly don't know that yet, but we want to make it real. We don't want to have it be that in the premiere all of a sudden he's back. That would be pointless. He's going to be gone for a while. It's also a little bit like the way that Tom (Aziz Ansari) was gone at Entertainment 720 where we still found ways to work him into the show and he was still an important part of what was going on.
You have mentioned before that you didn't think you could ever break up Ben and Leslie. Is that still the case?
Schur: Anything is possible. I would never say never. They're not Ross and Rachel. They're not a mismatched pair where their relationship is based on this hot friction. They are made for each other.
Because Ben is working with Jennifer Barkley, do you expect to see Kathryn Hahn return?
Schur: We certainly hope so. She's an in-demand actress. Say she wanted to be in Anchorman 2 or whatever and then she disappears; well that screws that up. We're looking into that literally as we speak and we're hoping that it all works out.
If last season was about the election, have you guys figured out what this season is gearing up towards?
Schur: We've got a bunch of different ideas. The fun of these characters is that they're all always looking for something new and interesting to do with their lives. Like Tom Haverford is the best example. He's not content with his life, he always wants to strive for bigger and better things and I think that that's true most of the characters.
We dropped a hint during the tag at the end of the finale that Andy's (Chris Pratt) been talking about. Andy's in love with police officers, FBI agents, and CIA agents for a pretty long time. There's a career that he could have as a police officer in Pawnee, and he was excited about that prospect.
Burt Macklin really needs to be a regular character on Parks.
Schur: I love Burt Macklin so much. I was also just completely blown away by Chris Pratt last year personally. I know that I'm biased because he's on my show, but I feel like if there were any justice in the world he would get nominated for an Emmy. I don't think he will because the award shows work in mysterious ways.
If we decide to go with that story line, the point of it would be to see the whole process: from applying to the academy to training to figuring out whether it's even what he wants to do. It would be a more concerted effort and dedication that he's ever shown to any one thing in his life. So I do not think it would be a totally easy pass to glory for him.
Considering Ron (Nick Offerman) helped Andy with college, would he also get involved?
Schur: Yeah. That's a nice little unexpected aspect of that show that we certainly never planned on, but grew organically. Ron doesn't have kids of his own and he has adopted April (Aubrey Plaza) and Andy as his children and has, despite his best efforts, become emotionally attached to them in some way and wants to see them grow and change and become better people and stuff. I think he would certainly continue to play that role for both of them going forward.
Speaking of April, with Leslie focusing on the campaign last season, it really provided an opportunity for Aubrey Plaza to step up. Will we see more of that next season?
Schur: Yeah. We really want to keep moving in that direction with her in figuring out what her future is. She's entrenched in the Parks Department and she's getting interested in the possibilities of this life, and just growing up in general and getting some responsibility at what it's like to be married and want to be an adult. I don't ever want to lose the essence of April because the essence of April is what made me fall in love with Aubry Plaza as a performer originally.
Tom and Ann (Rashida Jones) are such an odd pairing. Can you talk about the reaction in the writers' room when that was first pitched?
Schur: Well, it was debated heavily. I imagine this is what Friends was like when they were like, "Maybe Monica and Chandler should get together!" Anytime you do any move like this, you know it's risky and you know it could backfire. It was a guarantee that there would be people who didn't like it, but we really didn't care. We talked about it a lot and we just decided to keep this super casual and not try to turn it into something it would never be. It was just a comedy relationship for 99.9 percent of the time.
But she agreed to move in with him in the finale!
Schur: Yeah, but she said it when she was super drunk and so was he. That's another thing that we're debating right now, whether it happened and then the next day she was like, "What the hell am I doing?" or whether they are living together. The important aspect of that scene is that they were so drunk the chances of them actually remembering that it even happened the next day are pretty slim.
You promised at PaleyFest that we'd see the Tammys — Megan Mullally, Patricia Clarkson and Paula Pell — again at some point. Have you already started planning?
Schur: They're certainly such an important part of Ron Swanson's life, and he is such an important part of the show that I'm sure we'll try. The question is how, and I don't know. I think that the last episode where there was all three of them was such an epic conclusion to the trilogy that we would need to maybe go in a different direction and show them in a different way. They can't all be battling each other all the time.
Maybe they could team up?
Schur: Oh, possibly. Like an Avengers situation!
Chris (Rob Lowe) was in a major funk last season. Will he be out of that next year?
Schur: [Jen Barkley leaving without saying goodbye] did affect Chris, but I think the point of that story for Chris was that he had just had a crummy year, he had hit a lot of romantic road blocks and he was in a funk. He found his salvation in this torrid goofy two-day long affair with this dragon lady who just snapped him out of it and said it doesn't all have to be so serious. That complete detachment that she had as a character probably helped him. Next year obviously we'll want to tell a different story with him, because I don't think we want to repeat ourselves, so I think he'll be a happier person, or at least a person in a different emotional space.
Is there anything you wouldn't do on Parks and Recreation? For example, getting Ron and Leslie together.
Schur: That's what leapt to mind that we would never do that, but I think saying never is a terrible idea. Because you say never to something and then you have it in your head that it's impossible, and then if it comes up organically as a good idea, you've already declared that it's impossible and then you're fighting yourself for no reason. Ron and Leslie getting together is a thing that feels like it wouldn't work and that we're betraying the interesting platonic relationship that they have together. I would never say that we will never do it. If Ron and Leslie getting together is the best possible idea of the millions of ideas we toss around every year at some point in the future then we'll do it, because why not?
Would you ever want to see Ron and Leslie get together? Hit the comments with your thoughts on the new season of Parks and Recreation, which returns Thursday, Sept. 20 at 9:30/8:30c on NBC.
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