July 31, 2018 at 10:30 AM EDT

Fans of Parks and Recreation will be taken by complete supplies when they catch on to the charm of NBC’s nifty little reality experiment, Making It, a new competition series about creativity, love, and the comic infectiousness of Nick Offerman and Amy Poehler.

The former Parks and Rec costars have reteamed for the closest thing you’ll get to a Pawnee reunion: a soul-nourishing reality series that pits a handful of crafting experts, each with their own unique material expertise, against one another in clever arts-and-crafts challenges. Judging the creations are Barneys window-dresser Simon Doonan and Etsy trendspotter Dayna Isom Johnson, while Offerman and Poehler have the time of their lives hosting the proceedings with panache and puns.

Ahead of the show’s premiere on July 31 (10 p.m. ET on NBC), Offerman, a master woodworker in his own right, spoke to EW about what it took to conquer a new craft — reality TV — and why the warm, fuzzy feeling you get from the show isn’t an accident you need to get checked out. 

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Nick, is this the most wholesome thing you’ve ever done?
NICK OFFERMAN: It’s healthy and medicinal family fare. I can say with extreme confidence that it is the brainchild of Amy and her estimable production company, Paper Kite. They came up with this great show idea and they decided Amy should host it, but they said, “Who could host with you? Who’s somebody who knows his way around a hammer and nail?” And they said, “Oh, Nick.” And also, traditionally I’m very good at standing next to Amy while she’s hilarious, so I had that on my résumé as well.

Crafting can be a solitary practice, and you’re well-known for your own solo crafting hobby of woodworking. Had you actively been looking for a way to utilize that side of you, or do you not keep it as readily open?
It’s something that I love and I love to promote. I love to encourage people to make things. I think that’s one of the healthiest human attributes that has really gotten lost in this consumerist age of one-click shopping. So my woodworking shop is a huge part of my life, but I’ve tried to keep it separate from my work in entertainment because woodworking generally doesn’t lend itself well to the pace of a television schedule.

The internet has already lost its mind at your crafting pun-offs. Did you have a favorite pun that didn’t make it to air?
[Giggles] First of all, no. We milked every goddamn pun. We put every pun on air plus seven that shouldn’t have made it. I mean, you know, that was the idea, that Amy and I would be the cheerleaders and ambassadors between the audience and the makers, and that would free up Simon and Dana to be the judges, so they could be responsible for expertise and crafting intelligence, leaving Amy and I free to enthusiasm and jackassery. We had a really funny writer, Neil Casey, and between the three of us, we were constantly asking, where can we make fools of ourselves in service of this good-hearted program? Amy and I are always willing to be totally stupid for a laugh, and we found many opportunities to do so.

What kind of old feelings were stirred up by being back on a set with Amy?
The overwhelming feeling was one of comforting dependability. I’m so glad that we got to do it together because Amy and I both work really hard and we enjoy when we can bounce things off one another or lean on each other, and that feeling was always very prevalent. That’s a great comfort, knowing that we’ve never done this before, they’re going to take us in the woods and have us do this little thing, but whenever we’re together, there’s just always a feeling of, no matter what, it’s going to be okay. At the very least, combining our skill sets always results in something usable. [Laughs]

What surprised you the most once the show got underway?
There’s a great many people who worked incredibly hard, and that does not include me. But all of us as a group, I think, were pretty pleasantly astonished at two things: One, how brilliant the maker contestants are. There are lots of us that like to make things, but it takes a special kind of genius to make original ideas this quickly and effectively. Episode after episode, we just said, “Oh my gosh, you people are magicians.” The other astonishing thing was watching this group of television producers create this kind of show. No one’s ever done a show like this, and so they had to make it up out of whole cloth as we went along, and that was incredible to watch.

Were there any challenges on Making It that made you wish you could be a contestant?
Not really, if only because of my staunch realism. There were definitely inspiring challenges where I thought I would love to make one of these for myself or for Megan [Mullally, Offerman’s wife], but I draw the line there. The difference between me and the contestants on the show is, they actually could pull it off in 3 hours. I like to take my time making things. I don’t like to be under the gun.

What did you learn about what it means to host a reality game show?
I was surprised by how emotionally invested I immediately was in all of the contestants. They were all these talented, multi-faceted, and situationally vulnerable human beings, and I grew up in an agricultural family and I come from small Chicago theater and I grew up playing a lot of sports, and all of those team feelings came into play. We’re all on the same team here — I want you all to hit a home run — and the fact that somebody gets cut from the team every week is heartbreaking.

So, now can you attest to how much it sucks to send someone home on one of these things?
It really does. I liken it to award shows. The silly thing about award shows [is that] they’re a nice pat on the back to receive accolades, but the fact that they are in any way set up as though they are merit-based just doesn’t have a lot of logic to it, as though you’ve beaten the others in a footrace. So that helped and hindered the eliminations here because it was like, well, you’re amazing — there’s no denying that what you’ve done is astonishing — but it was just maybe three percent less good than this other one. I try to think of it as, someone got an A-plus, but you happened to only get an A. Have a safe trip home. 

What is one way the show is exactly like Parks and Recreation, and one way it’s absolutely not?
One way the show is like Parks and Rec is that its heart and its themes are all centered in optimism and the goodness of the human spirit. Parks & Recreation dealt with the complications of human foibles but always ended up happy in the end because of the affection and the relationships. In the same way, our show turns on affection. To quote my favorite writer, Wendell Berry, when you make things with your hands, that’s a wonderful way of saying “I love you.” Nobody makes things for themselves to sit in some sad hermit cave and just make beautiful dreamcatchers for themselves to admire. You make things for people. Often, it involves your family or your neighbors or your friends. Not only is it a way to save or even make money, but it’s a way to productively occupy your time rather than playing video games or shop online. You can be making things. And it touches on the same human themes by which Parks and Rec makes us feel so warm and fuzzy.

And one way it’s different?
Making It is a hardcore real-world-consequences contest that involves tears and heartbreak and victory and harsh defeat. People are sent home with their shameful A-minus grades to deal with the consequences of their sloppy glue jobs.

Making It airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on NBC.

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