Parks and Recreation Season Finale Screening And Panel

Photo by: ©2010 NBC

Last night I got the chance to watch the season finale of “Parks and Recreation” and hear from the cast and creators of the show at a panel at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.  The episode, “Freddie Spaghetti” is everything you expect from this show, which has had quite a story arc of its own.


Last night I got the chance to watch the season finale of “Parks and Recreation” and hear from the cast and creators of the show at a panel at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.  The episode, “Freddie Spaghetti” is everything you expect from this show, which has had quite a story arc of its own.

Last year “Parks and Recreation” joined the NBC schedule very late in the spring, running 6 episodes.  While it was considered a knock-off of “The Office,” because it shares the documentary style of that show, it had the seeds of something interesting, so NBC renewed it for a whole season.  As with any television show, it takes time to figure out who the characters are, what kind of stories to tell, and most importantly for a sitcom, how to be funny.  Through the course of this season the show found its voice, and became one of the most critically well-reviewed shows on NBC’s schedule.  Curiously, the Peacock has decided to push the show to return during midseason, a decision which has left fans puzzled.  While it is widely known that Amy Poehler is pregnant and expected to give birth in a few weeks, the writers, cast and crew delayed their hiatus to start work on the third season, before Poehler went on maternity leave and so episodes would be ready to air in the fall.  In fact, the cast and crew were shooting all day prior to the event, as was pointed out by Chris Pratt, who had nothing to wear to the panel other than sweatpants, so came dressed in his “Andy clothes” from wardrobe.

After the screening of the episode, the cast was brought on stage with the show creators Greg Daniels and Mike Schur and producer and editor Dean Holland.  The panel was moderated by Seth Meyers, from “Saturday Night Live,” who started things off by thanking the Academy for not moving the panel to midseason.

Seth opened up the questions to Amy Poehler and the writers: Who came first – Leslie or Amy?

Mike Schur explained that he and Daniels had talked to Amy about doing a show before the conceived of “Parks and Rec,” but she was pregnant.  The first version of Knope was actually a man, but they talked to Ben Silverman about waiting to shoot the pilot until after Amy had her baby.  The network agreed and they delayed shooting by 3 months so Amy would be available.

Seth then asked Amy what she most wanted from the show and her character.  Her answer: Money.  Seth: “You haven’t changed…what did you want Leslie Knope to be?”

Amy was confident the writers would develop a character that was complex and funny.  The show was being written while there was a lot of optimism and “Yes We Can” attitude in the zeitgeist, which became a big part of Leslie’s character.  Greg Daniels acknowledged that the cast was great before the show was great.  The writers had some scripts but when the actor comes in, they bring the character to life and from seeing their performance the writers start to incorporate more of what the actor brings into the character in the script.  As a result, Knope became more cool and interesting with what Amy brings.

Where did the Andy and April romantic arc come from?  It was accidental!  Schur explained that Chris and Aubrey clicked in a scene together in the hunting episode and the writers took that and ran with it.

When Seth asked how much gets cut out of the show, you could see the pain on everyone’s faces.  “Endless amounts,” Holland sighed.  They always write the show long so they can edit it to be the best 22 minutes they can get, but very often they have to cut down a show by half to get it to broadcast length.  Fortunately for fans, the DVDs will have lots of extra scenes, and they’ve put a couple of extended episodes online.  

Improvisation is a big part of the ‘mockumentary’ style – how big of a role does it play on “Parks and Rec?”  Poehler defended the writers, saying that most of the stuff that makes it into the show is scripted.  The characters are written so well and realistically that the actors improvise lines, but they don’t need most of it.  Having the freedom to improvise does however allow for great moments to emerge, and for actors to modify line readings with their own character’s voice, often for the better.

Meyers began to turn his questions to various castmembers, starting with Aziz Ansari, by asking what aspects of Tom’s life and history does Ansari use to inform his portrayal.  Aziz then lists several humorous “facts” he knows about Tom, which have never been specifically called out on the show: Tom buys his clothes from Brooks Brothers boys, Jamie Foxx is his hero and Tom always drinks muscle milk.  As fun and crazy as Tom is as a character, Aziz really enjoyed playing some of the vulnerability and the emotional arcs Tom had throughout the season, particularly Tom’s relationships with his ex-wife Wendy and with his new girlfriend.

Nick Offerman was asked, “What is your favorite part about playing Ron Swanson?”  Nick thought a moment and responded thoughtfully, “The bacon,” which he does get to eat a lot on the show.   “I get to cane chairs and build canoes.”  They use Offerman’s own workshop as Ron Swanson’s workshop.  The writers find Ron an easy character to write; since they are a bunch of ‘pasty white nerds’ they imagine the last thing they would want to do, and instantly know it is something Ron would love.  Offerman grew his signature mustache for the role, and it is indeed a part of Ron that was discussed as important before they shot the show.

Meyers then turned to Rashida Jones to find out how Ann and Leslie’s friendship is different than her friendship with Amy Poehler?  According to Jones, the relationships are very similar.  She and Amy babble at each other all the time, and do so on camera as well, so there’s a lot that transfers from them to their characters.  Poehler adds that Leslie is a bad listener (unlike herself) but a good friend.

Strangely quiet for most of the panel were Aubrey Plaza and Chris Pratt, who, are so much like the characters they play you almost wonder if there’s any acting going on.  Like her character April, Plaza kept her answers short and to the point, while Pratt rambled, stumbled and joked, much like Andy does on the show.

The best moment of the event may have been the unintentional set up of a joke.  Already Jim O’Heir who plays Gerry had been “interrupted” once or twice by his castmates in a nod to the way poor Gerry is abused on the show.  Unfortunately, O’Heir got his own character’s treatment when he started to answer a question and Rob Lowe showed up, late to the event, as he started to speak.  Just to emphasize the joke, Seth Meyers broke in with, “I’m sorry to interrupt, Gerry…” to introduce Lowe on stage.  The audience was delighted and O’Heir couldn’t help but laugh.

Speaking of Rob Lowe, Meyers mentioned that this was his first appearance in a show about politics…of course, this is far from true, as Lowe just came off the drama “Brothers & Sisters,” where he played a politician and may be best known for his first major foray into TV on “The West Wing” as Martin Sheen’s President Bartlett’s speechwriter.  Lowe seems to really love the comedic take on the political world, and noted that he was a fan before they called him to do the show.  He acknowledged that every 10 years he seems to relearn the lesson that his career takes him in strange directions; just as he wished he could get on a show like “Parks and Recreation” he got asked to be on “Parks and Rec.”  “The Universe works in bizarre ways,” Lowe noted, as Poehler pointed out that his first day of shooting happened to be on his birthday.

Adam Scott, who has also recently joined the show was also a fan before he came onboard.  The writers admit they were fans of his on “Party Down” so the mutual appreciation society is fully in effect.  “We’ve earned none of this [praise],” he joked as the audience greeted the cast with applause, including him.

Perhaps one of the more mysterious characters on the show is Donna, as played by Retta.  Meyers asked her what she knows about Donna that the audience perhaps doesn’t really know.  “She lives beyond her means.”  At the mention of Donna’s enormous credit card debt, Pratt and Ansari added that Donna is a “dirty freak” as well.

Meyers, who has been prone to breaks of character on SNL (as many castmembers of that show seem to be) asked the question of who breaks up in scenes the most.  Everyone points to Aziz Ansari, who apparently cracks up during his own lines the most.  “It’s funny!”  None could really disagree, as Tom is written as a guy kind of in love with his own wit.  Ansari described the hardest scene he had all season, when Gerry makes a presentation to the staff and his pants rip.  Ansari didn’t know the pants would really rip, and he couldn’t stop laughing.  Since Tom is the type of guy who would laugh at Gerry hysterically, he didn’t contain his reaction, though it did have to ultimately be edited down.

Nick Offerman doesn’t break much, but in last week’s episode, he had to endure an adorable puppy licking insatiably at his mustache (which was seasoned with beef and turkey flavor baby food for the puppy).  Greg and Mike took a great deal of pleasure in knowing that they had to cut out pretty close to the end of his last line in the scene, because Offerman started to giggle as the puppy went to town lapping up his ‘stache.

Offerman also talked about working with his wife, Megan Mullaley, on the show.  Mullaley played Ron Swanson’s “bitch ex-wife Terri” and the two had a ball working together.  Things got a little uncomfortable up on stage when Offerman provided details of how ‘porn-y’ his make out scenes with Mullaley felt to him, and their methods of practicing it broadly at home in the backyard.

The writers were asked about the conception of the show.  Schur noted that he and Daniels had been “West Wing” fans and the idea of a comedy version of that, but with bureaucrats in a city no one pays attention to was appealing.  They liked that a crisis on “Parks and Recreation” is about “getting the drunk guy off the slide” versus a nuclear showdown on “The West Wing.”

Pawnee was created to avoid any issues with using a real city, and now Pawnee has become a character unto itself.  Fortunately, the characters who populate the world of Pawnee, Indiana are interesting, funny and quirky, much like their town.

The “Parks and Recreation” season finale airs tonight on NBC.

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