Image Credit: Mitchell Haaseth/NBCYou waited. You whined. You did other things that begin with the letter W. And finally, last week Parks and Recreation returned to NBC, and you got to watch the always-hopeful Leslie Knope (played by the always-delightful Amy Poehler) bet the farm –- and Pawnee’s Parks department — on an attempted revival of the city’s Harvest Festival. Curious to learn what’s in store for these quirky government employees? Wondering how the Parks gang felt about that extended hiatus? Series co-creator Mike Schur and Poehler offer some insights below:

On season 3 debuting in January instead of in the fall:

MIKE SCHUR: We were very anxious to return, and it felt like something we didn’t have a ton of control over, so our attitude was just: Put your head down, do your job, and make the shows as good as they can be so that wherever they air, they’re as good as they can be…. We’re in a really good time slot on a really great night following another really good comedy, so for the time being it has turned out as well as I could have been imagined.

AMY POEHLER: It was frustrating to be shooting good shows and not have them be on, but I’m excited to have them be on in the space we’ve always wanted them to, which is after The Office. I know it’s no one’s God-given right to be on TV… [But with the extra time], we had the luxury in some of the earlier shows to go back and tweak a few things, which always helps. It was very prescient that we ended our season wondering what’s going to happen with the Parks department. In our first episode, which we wrote before we knew when we were going to be back, it’s all about: We’ve taken too much time off and we’ve all gone a little crazy, so there’s a lot in the first episode that makes a lot of sense, which is kind of weird.

On the shape of season 3:

MS: Because of Amy’s pregnancy, we finished season 2, took a three-week break, and started shooting season 3. In order to give that chunk of shooting a bit of shape, we decided to make a mini-arc out of what turned out to be seven episodes. So the first part of the season is the build-up to this huge project that Leslie’s working on where she’s gambling the entire Parks department on the idea of pulling off this giant project, and then the project itself.

On a theme of season 3:

AP: In many ways, the arc of the whole show in is: How does one person work in government and not become cynical? How does someone believe that change could happen without losing faith? In season 3, Leslie’s gone from dreaming about building a park to just trying to save her job. She’s basically doing triage — she’s trying to stop the bleeding. So there are a lot of people fighting for their lives, [which] is indicative of what’s happening across the country. But those let’s-dig-deep moments are really fun shows because the ensemble gets to work together. There are a lot of episodes coming up where a whole bunch of us are doing crazy stuff together, which is always a blast.

On tonight’s episode “The Flu”

AP: We see Leslie dig deep. She is super sick and has to deliver a big speech. We see how cold medicine and public speaking don’t mix.

On the softer side of Ron (Nick Offerman):

MS: In [“The Flu”], Ron gets Andy [Chris Pratt] to fill in for the day for April [Aubrey Plaza] because April’s sick, and he ends up having a male bonding day with Andy where they toss the football around and grill burgers. And he ends up revealing in a tiny, tiny, tiny way that’s still true to the character that he has genuine feelings of caring for the people who work around him in the Parks office. So there’s a little bit of a gentle arc in the season of Ron being more of a dad figure to everybody.

On the relationship between Leslie and Ben (Adam Scott):

MS: Ben travels all the time and never really puts down roots, and what happens is that he really starts to fall in love with the town of Pawnee, and part of the reason that that is true is because of how much Leslie loves it. You might say that her optimism and enthusiasm for her job and the town that she lives rubs off on him…. The largest arc of the season is Leslie’s romantic arc with Ben, and whether they can overcome certain obstacles of their own.

AP: The best way I can describe it is when Leslie first meets Ben, he’s like a Bad News Bear. Pawnee is like Leslie’s kid, so Leslie’s like a single mother. If you’re nice to my kid, I like you. So Ben starts being nice to Leslie’s kid, he starts liking Pawnee, fitting in a little bit and thinking about sticking around. Once a single mother sees the guy lift the kid on his shoulders, she’s pretty hooked.

On the relationship between Ann (Rashida Jones) and Chris (Rob Lowe):

MS: In her past relationships on the show, she’s been very much the one in control. She was in control of Andy, because he was sort of a baby, and she was in control of Mark [Paul Schneider], because Mark had never been in a long-term relationship before. And this is the first time that Ann just completely loses herself and really falls for a guy super hard. And the relationship goes in a lot of funny, unexpected directions.

On Tom (Aziz Ansari) freaking out on Ron:

MS: Even though Tom has a new girlfriend whom he really likes, he can’t come to peace with the fact that the very manly, mustachioed Ron Swanson is now dating his ex-wife, so there’s a three or four episode arc where that affects Tom’s relationship, and the whole thing comes to a head in the episode in which Megan Mullally returns as Ron’s ex-wife [Tammy]. Tom decides to fight fire with fire, and takes Tammy as his date to a government function, and a lot of unpleasant things ensue from that terrible decision.

On Andy trying to win over April:

MS: He’s desperately trying to prove to her that he is worthy, and he goes about that in a very innocent way. Chris helps him try to figure out what it is in him that April was attracted to, and the only things that [Andy] can come up with are that he’s nice and he’s in a band. So his entire approach to wooing April is to be really nice and to somehow highlight the fact that he’s in a band. It’s really about trying to win April over at all costs, and the fifth episode is the key moment in that arc…. It’s almost like Andy’s a Knight of the Round Table, and he’s got a lot of different obstacles that he’s got to overcome in order to win the love of a fair maiden.

(Twitter: @dansnierson)

Episode Recaps

Premieres: Thursday, Sept. 26, at 8 p.m. on NBC Stars: Amy Poehler, Adam Scott, Nick Offerman, Aziz Ansari What to expect: Leslie (Poehler) heads to…

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