'Parks and Recreation': EP Michael Schur on Leslie and Ben's twist
[SPOILER ALERT: Do not read this story until you’ve watched Thursday night’s episode of Parks and Recreation, “Flu Season 2.”]
Oh, baby — did Parks and Recreation just throw another curve into the Leslie Knope: Rise to Glory story. NBC’s small-town comedy has never been afraid to switch up the game plan for our pathologically peppy protagonist (see: running for City Council, being recalled from City Council), and the show did it again Thursday night with “Flu Season 2”, giving her a special delivery of good news while she’s in the throes of a career dilemma (take a job running a National Parks Service branch… in Chicago?) and a job crisis (can she and Andy persuade Scott Tanner to reform Land Ho to replace that daddy-abuser Chipp McCapp on the Unity Concert bill?). EW spoke with Parks executive producer Michael Schur about the pregnancy plot and what it means for Leslie (Amy Poehler) and Ben (Adam Scott).
EW: Once again, Leslie’s world gets turned upside down. When did you and the writers first decide that Leslie should get pregnant?
MICHAEL SCHUR: We’ve been talking about it for years. We actually did an episode last year that was sort of about them saying, “Okay, it’s time to start thinking about this.” And then it was just a question of timing, and I felt like the time to do it was at a moment when it was maximally disorienting and confusing, because that’s usually the way these things go. (laughs) It’s not the, “Oh, this is the perfect time to find this news out,” you know? So we just waited until we had concocted a really complicated, stressful scenario for her and then dropped it in at the end of the year. And the episode that comes on after this is about the realities of it. This is the fun moment when it’s like, “Hey! This is awesome!” But the next episode is like, “What does this mean for us, practically speaking? And our marriage? And financially, and all that sort of stuff?” But for this one, we just wanted it to be a fun episode — where it’s really not the best news you could hear about, at that exact moment, in terms of stresses in your life.
You guys love screwing with her world and her plans. This would be the kind of move that many shows would put in a finale – and not reveal it toward the beginning of the episode.
The only thing I really knew was that I didn’t want to do it in the finale because the finale is when everyone’s expecting things like that. I liked the idea of making it the act 1 break of episode 19. (laughs) I think it’s really unexpected when it happens at, like, 8:37 p.m…. I’ve said this so many times, but I truly believe that the main weapon that TV producers have at their disposal is surprise. Because everyone is expecting things, people know the rhythms of shows now, they know to expect big moves in February and May. It’s in the DNA of the show — like Andy and April’s wedding and Ron’s wedding and Leslie and Ben’s wedding and all those gigantic character moves, we just prefer to drop into the middle of seasons when no one’s expecting them.
What’s the pregnancy timeline? Will she give birth at the end of 2014, or about halfway through next season?
I don’t want to say exactly…. We have some plans for exactly how it’s going to go but suffice to say that by the end of this season, you will have some ideas about what next season is like, in terms of their timeline.
Is it possible we’ll be dealing with a time jump?
I don’t want to rule anything out at this point but the extent to which we deal with it this year is primarily just the fact of it. And next season will be more of the result.
You’ve said that it wouldn’t surprise you if next season were the show’s last, although there’s no official word. So, is Leslie’s pregnancy part of the end game? Did you always envision the birth of her child as something that would happen in the final season?
Yeah, to some extent. It was sort of a big question that was left on the table. We very consciously chose not to make that a driving question in her life, where she was going to prioritize having kids above all things in her life, and that’s partly because of who she is. It just wasn’t the number one priority for her, so we didn’t do a lot of episodes where she was like, “I want a baby!” It’s a thing that she’s thought about and wants to have happen, but it hasn’t been the foremost thing on her brain. But it was a big question. She loves her job, and she’s got this new job offer that’s going to be even better, and she’s married to a great guy, so it’s an obvious question: When is that going to come into play? The last big burning question in her life was when and where she was going to expand her family.
Blink twice if it’s triplets.
That’s a terrible question for a phone interview!
How will this complicate her decision about whether to move to Chicago for the National Parks Service job?
The only thing that’s been keeping her back from this job offer, the one little thing that she can’t quite come to terms with is leaving Pawnee, and it’s safe to say that she always imagined raising her kids in Pawnee and living there for her whole life. There’s a little tidbit in the finale where a quote of hers is thrown back in her face. There’s a little plaque that says: “Only a moron would live anywhere but Pawnee, Indiana – Leslie Knope, multiple occasions.” This obviously does complicate it to some extent because it’s now even more of a pull for her to stay in the town.
I imagine the show will have a lot of fun with a pregnant Leslie. Will she be the most prepared expectant mother ever or just the craziest?
The episode that airs next week is very fun because the financial realities of having a child are significant, and the main plot of the episode is that Ben the accountant takes over a little bit, and he very quickly goes from thrilled about being a father to terrified about saving $500,000 for college. What’s nice is that the roles kind of flip, and Leslie is in the position of calming him down and keeping him under control. It’s always fun when Adam Scott gets to go hyper-ballistic. It’s a new set of emotions and feelings and experiences, and I don’t think there’s any danger that she’ll be underprepared — let’s put it that way.
Do the financial pressures weighing on Ben mean that he might be taking back his job at the accounting firm?
Well, I will say — perhaps related, perhaps not related — that Barney the accountant does make one more appearance before the end of the year!
How far ahead have you mapped out the storyline? Do you already have the sex and the name of the baby? You know, Khaleesi and Daenerys have become very popular baby names…
We’ve committed to the details of it, but I don’t know 100 percent when exactly those details will be released in the world of this show… When a piece of pop culture becomes a popular baby name, all I can do in my head is project forward 40 years to that person being a judge or an accountant and being like, “Yes, my name is Khaleesi, you haven’t seen it but there was a show called Game of Thrones…” I think it’s probably better to do what people commonly called the Supreme Court test: You imagine that your child is a Supreme Court justice and how that would look, and, you know, Justice Khaleesi wouldn’t be super likely.
Is there already a return visit from Chris (Rob Lowe) and Ann (Rashida Jones) in the works, so Leslie’s kid can have a play date?
Not for this season, but certainly down the line. I would imagine at some point that will definitely happen.
You’ve done baby storylines with Chris & Ann, Ron (Nick Offerman) & Diane (Lucy Lawless), and Ben & Leslie. So, obviously the question looms: What about April (Aubrey Plaza) and Andy (Chris Pratt)? Hasn’t Aubrey said that her dream is for April to get pregnant?
Oh, Aubrey keeps telling me that her dream is for April to become pregnant. The thing about the two of them, though, is that they’re young and stupid and irresponsible in a way that I really like. In the prom episode, just in passing you hear that Andy tried to jump a car over a lake. I think if he were a dad, that would be a lot less charming. I won’t say that will never happen or might not happen next year — who knows? — but I like the fact that they can jump in a car and drive to the Grand Canyon when they want to, and they can jump their cars over lakes, and they can be irresponsible and young. At least for this season, there’s no plans for that.