TCA Tour: Parks and Recreation

NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” suffered through a first season which impressed only a handful of viewers and critics, only to return for its second season with everyone suddenly trumpeting it as one of the funniest shows on television. Now, this is certainly not unprecedented for shows from executive producer Greg Daniels, who endured the same fate with “The Office,” and when you think about it, every series has to endure a certain amount of growing pains. But what’s required of a show’s creative team to take a confused show and straighten it out?

“Well, I think it’s fair to say that we make some kind of change to the overall idea of the show for every episode,” said co-creator / executive producer Michael Schur. “It’s a constant process of learning what is good and what is not so good, and there is a little bit of an arbitrary pause, in that our first season is only six episodes, so that was the time that we had the most amount of time to sit around and think about what we liked and what we didn’t like. But there wasn’t, like, a ‘Eureka! Oh, here’s what we do’ moment. It’s just a constant kind of process of shooting episodes and writing episodes and cutting them together, seeing which way the characters seem to be developing and talking to the actors and getting their input. I think that…again, we had this sort of weird mini season of six episodes like ‘The Office’ did, and then we took, whatever, four months off, so when it came back, I think there was a temptation to say, ‘Oh, what has changed now?’ I would like to think that, if we had just been airing continuously, the episodes would have turned out the same way and that it would have seemed like a more gradual evolution, because I think that’s what character comedies are all about: evolution.”

I don’t know about the rest of the cast, but at the very least, Nick Offerman remembers precisely when he firmly grasped his character, Ron Swanson. “When I was originally auditioning for the role, Mike said, ‘I think this guy has a really big mustache,'” he recalled. “I think that was probably the moment. I was, like, ‘Ah, yes, I see…'”

Nonetheless, Ron has evolved a bit since then, something which Greg Daniels spoke to. “I guess it was the ethics episode in the first season where he kind of stepped up and defended Leslie,” he said. “Originally, he was more of an antagonist, I think, because he was a person who didn’t believe in the mission of the department that he was in, she was so optimistic, and they were so at odds. But then they developed a nice kind of grudging friendship, and when we saw how well that worked, we wrote towards it.”

Amy Poehler chimed into the discussion as well, adding, “What was discovered, too, was (that) Ron liked Leslie because she made his job easier.”

“It’s a very symbiotic relationship at this point,” said Schur.

“Co-dependent,” corrected Poehler. With a wink and a nudge, she added, “But we all know what those relationships are like, right?”

Poehler spoke to the way her character, Leslie, has changed since the beginning of the series…and, by her estimation, it isn’t by very much. “I think that inherently and fundamentally everything that we thought Leslie believed in and who she was stayed the same,” she said. “I think there was just some small changes or maybe just revelations in where she would go, what she would do, and some of her boundaries and stuff.”

“I think what it is is we started off thinking that the comedy was going to come from (the fact) that she was going to be responsible for all the predicaments that she got into,” said Daniels. “And then later we realized that it’s just as funny and the world is just as irritating for her to be unfairly put into predicaments.”

“One of the keys to her personality, we always thought, was optimism,” said Schur. “It turns out that it’s hard sometimes to tell the difference as a viewer between optimism and cluelessness, and a lot of people responded to us that they thought she was kind of clueless or ditzy or something, which was never part of the conception. Obviously, we were just presenting it a little bit incorrectly somehow, so we changed it. We kept the optimism, and we just sort of altered the way that it presented itself in the stories, and I think that made a big difference.”

Schur also addressed the way the characters who had previously been in the background have evolved into full-fledged “Parks and Recreation” players. “That was always a goal of ours,” he admitted. “It’s a big building, and it’s got a big, long hallway, and we put a bunch of offices without anybody living in them on the set just because we always figured we would love to just add as many fun characters and draw them in. There’s this character named Kyle coming up, I think, for the fourth time, who will be a guy who just sits down at the shoeshine stand and gets his shoes shined by Andy. Every time we’ve needed a guy to sit down, we’ve just written that it’s some guy named Kyle…and now he’ll have been on, like, three or four times by the end of the year. And now what happens is that, in the writers’ room, people start saying, ‘Hey, let’s do a Kyle story,’ and then, suddenly, that’s a guy who’s in the world. It’s fun to sort of, like, bring actors in and sort of have them stick around and come back.”

“Yep,” said Daniels. “Kyle’s the new star for Season 3.”

Lastly, Aziz Ansari earned quite a few laughs during the course of the panel courtesy of a journalist asking him about his seeming obsession with Twitter, first by trying to completely downplay its importance. “I just do it when I’m bored, like standing in line at the grocery store or something,” he assured us. “It’s just something to do. I just like dicking around and wasting my time. I just write dumb stuff on there when I get bored.”

Poehler pointed out, however, that Ansari’s show-specific Tweets tend to result in a great response. “People that follow Aziz obviously follow the show,” she said, “and when he would mention that someone was going to be on the show, for example, on his Twitter, it was a big deal. And if I may, there’s a recent Twitter opportunity that we turned into a promo opportunity…”

At this, Ansari switched from shrugging to pimping. “Oh, yeah,” he said, “Questlove from The Roots was writing about our show, and on Twitter he compared our cast to the Wu-Tang Clan, which is one of the coolest things I’ve ever read. And he went down and, like, said each person. Like, Leslie’s Rizza, Tom is ODB, and it just went on. So we made a cool video…”

“We won’t spoil it,” interrupted Schur, “but this week there will be a little viral video released on the Internet that capitalizes on the insane comparison of by Questlove of our cast to the Wu-Tang Clan, so look for that.”

Look no further:

Parks and Recreation is the Wu-Tang of Comedy – watch more funny videos
  

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