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'Parks and Rec' boss dissects Leslie and Ron's big showdown

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PARKS AND RECREATION
Ben Cohen/NBC

All is finally right again in Pawnee.

When Parks and Recreation returned for its final season, many fans were disheartened to learn that Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) and Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) were now enemies. How could one of the best non-romantic dynamic duos on television suddenly turn on each other?

It was a tragedy of errors that broke TV’s favorite non-couple up. As Ron saw his former Parks colleagues all moving to Leslie’s National Parks office, he sought out his former protégé for a job under the guise of meeting for lunch. Though Leslie joyfully agreed to meet him, she stood Ron up because of work. In turn, Ron quit the Parks Department and opened up his own company, the Very Good Building and Development Company, which was used to tear down Ann’s (Rashida Jones) house to construct the Morningstar building, which completely overshadows the park that Leslie spent the whole series working to build.

Now competing for the Newport land—Ron’s company would help Gryzzl build their campus, while Leslie hopes to turn it into a National Park—their tension hit a boiling point, forcing their former colleagues to lock them up in the old Parks Department so they would talk things out during an out-of-the-box episode that really showed off the best of Offerman and Poehler. How did the episode come to fruition? EW caught up with executive producer Mike Schur to find out:

How did this idea of a Ron and Leslie-centric episode come together?

Mike Schur: It was one of the first ideas we had for the season. It was like, we’re doing this little arc where Ron and Leslie have had a falling out and one of the first ideas that we had for that was to do an entire episode that’s like a two-person play. The rest of the cast is there for the very beginning and the very end and that’s it. It’s the two of them. Really, the nature of having a big ensemble cast on a 21 minute and 30 second-long network TV show, where everyone in the cast is f—ing awesome, is that these actors don’t get to strut their stuff as much as you would like. It’s a big episode for anyone except Leslie if they’re in six minutes of screen time. I was like, you know what, goddammit, I’m going to give Nick Offerman and Amy Poehler an episode. Their relationship has always been the center of the show in many ways; the philosophical center and emotional center of the show. Certainly all the issues of government we’ve ever raised, they have been the yin and yang for that ongoing argument. To put them both in a room and let them talk to each other, that was as simple as the idea was.

How nervous were you going into the final season with the two characters who are the heart and soul of the show now being enemies?

Schur: I could not have been less nervous about it. It’s good [if people are uncomfortable with it]. That’s the desired reaction. I would be nervous if you were telling me that people were watching this show and going, “Oh good, finally Leslie and Ron hate each other.” That would make me very nervous. because that would mean that we grossly miscalculated how people felt about them. Also, it’s those two people playing those two characters with this writing staff and the other actors on the show, so I was never nervous about it at all. I felt very strongly that it was an interesting storyline and that the two of them would hit a walk-off grand slam when we decided to resolve the story and that’s what happened.

This is also the episode where we learned what Morningstar was. Did you feel weird tainting this park that had been such a focus of the series?

Schur: If we were going to tell the story of them falling out, we had to walk a very fine line where they both had to have screwed up a little bit. They’re both very obstinate people when they want to be. It couldn’t be one sided. It had to be two sided, so they both had to contribute to the problem. So we created a back story of a scenario where we felt that each of them had f—ed up a little bit. That’s where we landed. It was tricky and it required a lot of modulation. Now I hate Ron a little too much and I’m on Leslie’s side. Now I hate Leslie a little too much and I’m on Ron side. We tried to make it be a 50-50 split. We really tried to make it a story about two people who love each other very deeply and respect each other very deeply who, mostly because of a series of circumstances, came to a little bit of a falling out, and we worked backward from there.

We really saw an emotional side to Ron in finding out why he got upset with Leslie.

Schur: I hate to reduce it to this, I really do—I don’t even know if I should say this because it always comes off lame to talk about this stuff—but if you’re a voting member of the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences and you can watch this episode and determine in your heart of hearts that Amy Poehler shouldn’t win an Emmy and that Nick Offerman shouldn’t, at the very least, be nominated for one, then I give up. I really do. That’s a short-handed way of saying that the concept of the episode led me to believe that a certain kind of exciting thing was going to happen on screen and I think that that was born out in the final product.

Ron and Leslie are friends again, but technically they’re still on opposite sides of what to do with the Newport land.

Schur: Part of the episode is that at the end of it, all their problems are not solved. Leslie still has problems and Ron still has problems. There’s still a large arc that continues that needs to be addressed. There’s a lot of other stuff that’s going to happen over the course of the season. We wanted to put the resolution to their story before the resolution to the main Leslie plot arc because we didn’t want everything to just wrap up at the same time. What’s fun is that when the episode airs, you watch it and you’re like, “Well, that’s good, I’m glad about this, but wait, there’s still a lot of shit that’s got to happen here.” A lot of stuff has to happen to make everything be OK even after that episode airs.

Parks and Recreation airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.