'Parks and Recreation' finale: Exec producer Michael Schur on why Leslie [SPOILER] the election, what's next
[SPOILER ALERT: Do not read the following story about Parks and Recreation‘s season finale, “Win, Lose, or Draw,” until you watch the episode. Seriously. That would be such a Jerry thing to do.]
Watch your back, Michele Bachmann, and better not take a nap, Janet Napolitano: A new female force is rising to political power and her name is…Knope. On Thursday’s feel-good, satisfying season 4 finale of Parks and Recreation, our beloved deputy director of the Pawnee Parks Department, Leslie Knope, triumphed over Bobby Newport in the election to claim a seat on the city council. Why did the Parks writers choose victory over defeat for Leslie? What happens to the department as we know it? And is Andy about to go all Bert Macklin on us for real? While you pick the streamers out of your hair and yell, “City council, bitches!”, check out EW’s Q&A with series co-creator/exec producer Michael Schur (who remains “cautiously optimistic” that NBC will renew the show.)
You shot two endings — one in which Leslie (Amy Poehler) wins, and one in which she loses. How close did you come to using the other ending?
We made the final decision that she would win two weeks before we shot it. But there were various times throughout the year when we were like, ‘Okay, she’s going to lose.’ And we were searching actively for the way that we would craft the story to make it not a super-huge bummer that she lost. It was obviously the biggest question of the whole year. I talked to Amy about it probably 30 times and we talked in the writers’ room another 100, and we convinced ourselves of both versions many times over. But once we knew that her friends were going to help her in the Christmas episode, I became more and more convinced that the end of that story had to be that she wins. The spirit of that Christmas episode was basically the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, and it just felt to me that once you were on a path of coming from that kind of emotional place, the idea of an arc beginning that way and ending in disappointment seemed inappropriate. As soon as we started the story that way — where all of her friends decide to put their lives on hold and pitch in to help her achieve her goal — it seemed like, ‘Man, she should really achieve that goal.’ If the end of It’s a Wonderful Life had been that he’s penniless and throws himself in the river, that would’ve been kind of a bummer.
Can you take us through the pros and cons of both options, and what ultimately tipped you in the direction of her winning? It seems that having her win would allow you to explore fresh story territory, but it might be difficult to find a way every week for Leslie’s story to organically intersect with the Parks Department’s.
That’s a huge part of it. The new kinds of stories we could tell seemed really fun and exciting and scary in a good way. The thing that tipped us over into the she-should-win column is, we had a long conversation with a member of the Indiana State House of Representatives who had served on the state election commission. We had gotten conflicting reports but he was the one who told us that the laws and statutes regarding people who are in elected office would not prohibit her from keeping her Parks Department job, that she could in fact keep her job as the deputy director of the Parks Department and also serve as a city councilor. I had not thought that was the case but there’s a rule that’s super arcane — the language is that you have to have a significant position in the government to render you unable to hold office. And like most things in government, it’s very unclear what that means. But it essentially means that Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) could not be a city councilor and Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) probably could not because he’s a department head, but someone who’s a worker within the department could do that. So it was like “Okay, that’s good. Now we know that it’s legal.”
After that, the pros were mostly like, ‘New stories and new responsibilities are always a good thing.’ And she also doesn’t have to abandon everything that we’ve built in terms of the Parks Department dynamic. We got very excited at the idea that she would simultaneously be Ron Swanson’s boss and his employee. That seems really fun. We talked a lot about how that would work and how their dynamic would shift because their friendship and work dynamic is so central to the show. And the cons are: You get to a point on the show where you’re like, ‘I know who the characters are and I know what their jobs are,’ and the temptation is significant to just coast on that for as long as you can and keep cranking out good stories with the people that you have in the places that they are. But I get bored by that. I would always rather take the scary, difficult way to do a season than say, “Let’s start over and do more stuff that’s the same”…. The plan is that she’ll still be in the Parks Department and she’ll also be serving as a city councilor, which is good. If we want to do a traditional Parks Department story, we can do that and completely ignore the fact that she’s in the city council. And if we want to do purely a city council story where she has to deal with other new people that we introduce, then we can do that too. [Or] we can have the two worlds cross over, clash with each other and intermingle. The world is our oyster.
Have you figured out who the new characters will be?
There’s two councilmen we haven’t met, and we haven’t met the mayor, and there’s any number of other present or former power players in the little town that we could introduce. We haven’t put in any thought at all as to what kind of people those might be or who might play them.
NEXT: Schur on the alternate ending
What can you tell us about that alternate ending?
It was a concession speech that she gave where she thanked her friends and she said that she would keep fighting for what she believed in. It was a very nice speech and Amy delivered it incredibly well. We were not going to show the scene with Ron and Chris where Ron turned the job down because that was irrelevant, and we were going to shoot a slightly different tag where it was more about “Let’s go out and celebrate all of your hard work!”
Will we get to see it on the DVD?
The other version will never be seen by human eyes. [Laughs] It’s such a big deal in the life of the character, and the reason we shot the other version is to make sure that we were choosing correctly. At the end of the day, it would weirdly cheapen it if we go, “Here’s a DVD extra where this happens!” It’s a gut feeling on my part as a producer that we should pretend that the other version never existed. If the show lasts for eight years and we release a giant deluxe box set for whatever device people are watching TV on in 2017, maybe we’ll do it as a very special extra thing, but until then I don’t think we’ll show it to anybody.
Was there anything else left on the cutting room floor?
There was a big thing in the Chris story that was extremely funny and very difficult to cut. The original story was that he post-coitally asks Jennifer (Kathryn Hahn) if she has any interest in keeping their relationship going in a very casual way, even after she leaves for D.C., and she goes, “Huh. Let me think about that,’ and then when she just bolts without even saying goodbye to him, he is just left there. There was a scene at the end at the victory party where Ann (Rashida Jones) kind of set him straight and said, “She was eight feet away from you and could have said goodbye and she didn’t,” and then he was like, “I’m going to go get her anyway,” and he left and ran off to go to D.C. I think we left the first scene but not the second scene because I liked the idea that he had been in this long funk because he’s had all these romantic failures, and in the version that airs, he got out of his head a little bit. He stopped thinking so much and grumping around and just had a crazy, wild escapade with a powerful fun lady who wasn’t interested in anything other than his body. That kind of snapped him out of his funk and he is now going to be fine. The way that we cut it down was good because it led to this version of the story that’s simply: A guy had a bunch of romantic failures over the course of a year and then a hot sexy lady said, “Let’s go have sex,” and he said “Okay,” and then everything was fine. It was nice to have Kathryn unexpectedly pull him out of that spiral.
Ben (Adam Scott) is off to Washington to work on a congressional campaign. How much of that will we get to see? Will most of it take place during the hiatus?
When you do a big move like having someone agree to take a new job or move in with someone, you need to follow through on that. And that was something that came from the office when Jim (John Krasinski) moves to Stamford at the beginning of season 3. It was like, ‘If were going to do this, he’s gotta be there for awhile.’ If five minutes into the season premiere he was like, “I miss Scranton,” and went back to Scranton, then it’s like, “Why did you move him? What’s the point?” Our plan is to have him in Washington for a few episodes. I don’t know how many that’s going to end up being. We’re committing to him being in D.C. for at least a little while.
Any chance you’ll shoot on location?
We’re certainly talking about it. I think Leslie Knope in Washington, D.C., would be a delightful thing to see, you know? We learn in the finale that she has 50 scale models of the Washington Monument that she gives out to people. She obviously has an incredible love and admiration for government and for Washington specifically.
One downside to Leslie’s win is the end of Bobby Newport’s story. He proved to be a great foil — or anti-foil — for Leslie and subverted our expectations of what her rival might be like. Could he return next season?
For chrissakes, it’s Paul Rudd! However often he wants to appear on our show, we’ll figure out a way to make that happen. He was so perfect at creating a character who was both Leslie’s nemesis and incredibly charming and winning. Part of the misdirect we wanted to play with the audience was if we created a cold, evil, diabolical person and we had her lose, you’d be even sadder. Instead, we wanted to create a guy that [made] people think, ‘Well, it’s not the end of the world if he wins.’… The way that he played that character and the way we ended up writing to that character means to me that he can definitely come back and play a role in the future.
The romance between Ann and Tom (Aziz Ansari) ended quickly, but could their drunken reunion at the end of the episode indicate some kind of rekindling?
We just wanted to put a little funny period at the end of this weird sentence. I don’t know if you should read anything in terms of what we’re committing to for the future. The fun of their relationship for me was that it was completely self-destructive and all over the map and that Ann was never really invested in it and it was based on inertia. We just did that in the tag to have a little fun — and we haven’t even started working on next year — but I don’t think when we come back in season 5 that Ann and Tom are going to be living together.
The idea of Ann and Tom as a couple was pretty implausible. How do you think that story line ultimately turned out?
We knew at the time that there would be people who didn’t like it but I totally defend it. The reality of medium-size town life is that if you are 30-something-year-old woman and you don’t have a boyfriend and there’s a guy that you know pretty well who’s single and who makes you laugh, you would at least have a drink with him. That is a completely understandable position for Ann to take, and at no point did she ever indicate for one second that she was anything other than very casually interested in him. And I think that partly because our show has a lot of very intense soulmate relationships with Leslie and Ben, and Andy and April, people were trying put it in that category, or at least believed that we were going in that direction with them and that would have been really implausible. Really we just did it as: These two people are going to very causally hang out with each other for about six hours total and we were just going to play it for comedy and that’s what we did. I think it was really fun and I totally understand why some people might not have liked it as much other stuff, but to each his own.
Ron once again proved the polar opposite of Leslie in terms of ambition, turning down an opportunity to be the assistant city manager. Was that something you wanted to highlight in the finale?
There’s a longer cut of the episode that’s going to be on NBC.com, and you get a little more detail about his story. He’s a creature of habit and he’s not a guy who’s interested in power or glory. We just liked the idea that he has this opportunity to move up in the world but he likes where he is. He likes his office, he’s gotten used to the people he works with, and they have a good understanding. And also there’s been little hints spread out over the last couple years that as a pure hardcore libertarian, he has invested heavily in gold and gold is extremely valuable right now so he obviously doesn’t need the money. And the other factor for us was that there was lots of change happening with Leslie starting a new part-time job and maybe Ben being in Washington, and all this sort of stuff. We wanted to send a signal to people who are fans of the show: Don’t worry, Ron will be in his office doing crypotgrams or whatever he does in there and it’s not going to be an entirely different show.
Speaking of new opportunities, there was a twist at the end of the episode for Andy (Chris Pratt). Will he definitely become a police officer next season?
He’s going to make Bert Macklin a reality — not quite at the federal agent level, but as a member of the Pawnee police force. That’s our plan as of now, obviously subject to change. Our plan is to have him spend a year training and then become a cop. He’s not moving backward. And I like that the idea came from April (Aubrey Plaza). That was a nice pitch from one of the writers, that she was the one who figured out a way that he could take this goofy energy that he has and put it toward something.
The police academy scenes are going to be amazing.
We’re just going to re-create scenes from the original Police Academy movies.