It was a laugh a minute from the moment the PaleyFest panel for NBC’s Parks and Recreation began last night at Beverly Hills’ Saban Theatre. The first 22 minutes, in fact, were especially hilarious, considering that the time was filled with a screening of this Thursday’s new episode of the comedy, titled “Lucky,” which was notable because it was written by series star Nick Offerman, who plays Ron Swanson.
The episode was focused largely around an interview that Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) was supposed to do with a scandal-obsessed host played — rather memorably — by Will & Grace’s Sean Hayes (see an EW exclusive clip of the episode now). And Donna (Retta) spends some gut-busting time with Jerry (Jim O’Heir).
But, on to the topic at hand: last night’s Parks and Recreation panel! Because Parks was added to the Paley line-up rather last-minute — a panel for The Office was canceled last week — several of the show’s cast members weren’t there. Poehler, Chris Pratt (Andy Dwyer), Retta, and O’Heir cleverly toted cardboard cutouts of their missing castmates — Rashida Jones, Adam Scott, Aubrey Plaza, Aziz Ansari, and Rob Lowe — onto the stage as a gag. Poehler explained that they didn’t bring a cutout of Offerman because he was shooting a movie in nearby Burbank, Calif., and was going to try to make it, however last minute, to the theater. (Offerman, however, never did show up.) Producer and director Dean Holland, executive producer and writer Daniel Goor, and series creator Mike Schur also appeared on the stage.
There’s no need to bore you with a complete tick-tock of the night — plus, you’ll be able to watch a stream of the entire panel on Hulu after the PaleyFest is over on March 15. So here are 15 important takeaways — everything from the possibility of a season 5 and when Paul Rudd will return to whether Pratt’s wife, Anna Faris, will guest and why Retta loves Twilight (oh yes) — from the lovely evening:
1. Leslie and Ben are together for good. “I hope that Ben and Leslie,” Poehler said at the top of the panel, “are a team from now on.” Added Schur: “We can’t break them up now, for God’s sake.” Then, Poehler kissed the cardboard cutout of Scott and cradled it like a baby. During this segment, Schur also explained that they almost named the series The Education of Leslie Knope because “the idea was that you’d follow her career education and her growth as a person.”
2. The Tom and Ann pairing functions as a “comedy relationship” on the show. Schur said that they have so many “soulmate relationships” on Parks — Leslie and Ben, April and Andy — that they needed to add a different kind of couple to the mix. “We thought about this as early as season 2,” Schur said, “that they would make a terrible mistake and sleep together. It’s very clear why Tom would be interested in Ann, [but] it’s somewhat less clear why Ann would be interested in Tom.” But then he says that in a town of 57,000, “You would try it. You would have a drink with him, and see if there’s something there.
3. We’ll see who wins the campaign by season’s end. “We hate stasis,” Schur explained, “that’s a big thing on our show.” So that’s why, he said, “We’ll find out in the finale who wins.” But he wasn’t revealing whether it’d be a win for Knope or not. “We shot two endings, partly to hedge our bets in case we changed our minds and partly to throw snoopy-snoopers off.” Added Pohler: “I won’t tell you because I know. It was really touching and moving to do both the acceptance and concession speeches as Leslie. Acceptance and concession speeches are the same until the end.” How many people know the ending? “The people on this stage and about a dozen more,” Schur said. Pratt corrected him, though: “I was there, but I don’t know. I don’t need to know! Would Andy know?”
4. Retta loves to treat herself, she loves Twilight, and those crazy eyes are all hers. “Oh please,” Retta said, when asked about the infamous “Treat Yo Self” episode last fall, “I’ve been treating myself for years. I do a lot of online shopping. Amazon is my friend.” And yes, Retta went on and on about how much she loves the Twilight series. “It’s good!” she yelled. “S—!” She explained why she loved the series, saying, “The third one’s good sex! And the fourth one is bananas, I was just beside myself! That sh-t is f—ing good!” Lastly: Do the writers write her famous eye movements into the script? “That’s not written!” she said. “I bring that! You can’t write that!”
5. The cast members’ comments and looks to the camera are all them. “We almost never write into the script when the characters look at the camera,” Schur explained. He went on to say that some characters — most notably Leslie — hardly ever do it anymore. “There’s no reason for her to be ashamed,” he said. “We generally don’t write that in at all. It’s actor’s choice. Sometimes they do it, and sometimes they don’t.” Explained Retta: “When Donna does it, it’s like, ‘Did you see this jackass?’”
6. Even though he’s 64 (!) on the show, Jerry probably isn’t retiring anytime soon. He said he’s only two years from retirement, but you can bet that O’Heir doesn’t have any plans to leave the show — and he’s only 50 in real life. “They jumped me 14 years!” said O’Heir of his character’s Sweet 16 birthday episode. (Jerry is only 16 cause he was born on Leap Day.) The age was just for device purposes, of course. “I look amazing for 64,” O’Heir continued, “I look like sh-t for 50.”
7. No more Tammys this season. “I believe we have seen the last of the Tammys for this year,” Schur said of Ron Swanson’s two former wives (Patricia Clarkson and Megan Mullally) and mother (Paula Pell), all of who are named Tammy. “We’ve created this situation where any of those actresses’ can pop in and just ruin [Ron Swanson’s] life.” He added that they’ll only show up about once a season. “The rule of thumb is one episode a year,” Schur said. “We don’t want to overplay that card.”
8. Jean-Ralphio will make a return this season… most likely. “We have not finished editing all the episodes,” Schur teased of Ben Schwartz’s fan-favorite character, “but we have certainly shot another scene with Jean-Ralphio this season.” There’s no final cut yet, says Schur, “But we got a crowbar and wedged him into an episode.” Added Retta of what Schwartz shot: “His hair is amazing.”
9. Paul Rudd returns on April 19 in episode 20, “The Debate,” which reveals there are three other candidates in the city council race. “It’s the big city council debate with Bobby Newport [Rudd] and Leslie,” Schur said. “Paul is in it, and he’s so goddamned funny.” Then, Schur added: “I don’t think this has been announced yet: There are three other candidates in the race.” One of them — a single-issue candidate obsessed with gun rights — will be played by Brad Leland, who portrayed Buddy Garrity on Friday Night Lights. “He’s insanely funny,” Schur said. “He’s so, so great.” In fact, Poehler directed the episode, which she jokingly called episode “420.” (Joked Poehler about her directing: “When Louis C.K. was on the show, I asked him what it was like to direct yourself, and… I don’t remember what he said.”) With the campaign coming to a close in the finale, Rudd also appears in the season’s last two episodes, too, of course.
10. Glee’s Mike O’Malley shows up in May 3’s episode, “Bus Tour.” “He plays in the second to last episode of the year,” Schur told the crowd. “He plays a guy who owns a crummy van rental place.” The Knope campaign pays O’Malley’s character off so that seniors can’t get to the polls and vote for Newport. “It’s an excellent Donna episode,” Schur teased. Added Retta: “I have to strong-arm him. I make it happen.”
11. Chris will pull himself out of his depressing rut. “He’s a crazy spiraler,” Goor said, with a laugh. “The last four episodes of the season are him actually hitting bottom and then what he has to do to get him out of that rut.”
12. Bradley Whitford’s guest appearance will include a West Wing-style “walk and talk.” “It was, personally speaking, a huge dream of mine” to have Whitford on, Schur explained. “I’m the biggest West Wing fan in the world. There are many little, very tiny West Wing references in [his appearance].” But his initial appearance make the biggest homage to Whitford’s famed show. “The very first scene in the show,” Schur says, “is a walk and talk.”
13. Poehler is open to appearing in the Arrested Development movie. “I would do anything,” Poehler told the crowd, after an audience member asked if she’d reprise her role for the movie. “I’m such a fan of that show. I’d get coffee for them, I’ll do whatever they want me to do.” Have there been talks? “They haven’t gotten to that stage yet,” she explained, saying the series’ episodes for Netflix are currently in the works.
14. Chris Pratt promises a guest spot from wife Anna Faris if Parks goes to season 5. “If they give us another season,” he said. “I think it’s going to happen. If we get one more season, my darling wife is going to come and play and be hilarious. I promise you!”
15. There’s no word about season 5… yet. “It’s a weird aspect of the TV season that you kind of have to just sit on your hands for a month or two,” Schur told an audience member who asked about the possibility of another season. (The audience member was dressed as a Pawnee Goddess, while her husband was dressed as a Pawnee Ranger. “You have too much time on your hands!” Retta said. “I love it!”) Schur continued: “We’re cautiously optimistic, I would say.” Added Poehler: “We’ve been used to this take it day-by-day attitude. We really hope that we’re going to be able to do…10 seasons?”
Tanner on Twitter: @EWTanStransky