One last ‘Parks and Recreation’ Q&A with Mike Schur

Senior Television Writer
03.04.15 34 Comments

NBC

It”s been a week since “Parks and Recreation” ended. In my review of the series finale, I said that I put off my usual post-season interview with Mike Schur at the time because he was otherwise occupied. (He did, though, offer an answer of sorts as to the question of who is POTUS in the year 2048.) Over the last few days, though, we emailed some questions and answers back and forth on leftover bits of business from the finale and the final season, including the show finally identifying Leslie”s party affiliation, which guest stars Schur didn”t manage to squeeze into the final season, Ron and Leslie”s brief estrangement, the religious background(s) of the all-important Lerpiss family, and more. So if you haven”t tired of Schur after the two-part interview we did before the finale, here”s us talking “Parks” one last time (sigh)…

Was “Six Feet Under” an explicit model when you and Amy were writing this, or just the lazy comparison all us TV critics will make forever about any finale that features extended glimpses of the future?

Mike Schur: It wasn’t really an explicit model — their finale, which was incredible, was a montage of deaths set to music. We wanted to build the finale around actual scenes that provided glimpses of people’s lives, and then have them also come back together after those glimpses. I think the comparison is more theoretical than actual.

Did you have much more planned, or even at some point written, for the characters other than Leslie, Ben and Garry, beyond the events of the parks department reunion where Ben announces Leslie’s gubernatorial campaign? i.e., Did you think through how anybody else might die, or what Andy would be doing for a job in Washington, or whether Tom and Lucy might have kids?

Mike Schur: Not really. The way it is constructed, you get one extra dash of each character’s life, and then you get to imagine the rest of their futures. That seemed like the right mix. Because there are so many lives to jump into, we weren’t able to explain everything about everyone — like Andy’s job, or or Tom and Lucy”s possible family. But that’s okay — you can’t explain everything, nor would you really want to, I think.

You said in a few of your finale day interviews that it was just impossible coordinating schedules with Lucy Lawless. Did you have any specific Ron and Diane plans for the finale (or earlier in the final season), or just an understandable desire to show Ron with his wife at least one more time?

Mike Schur: The latter. We wanted her to be at Donna’s wedding (as Christie Brinkley was), as that was the most logical place for her to pop in — that and the finale. But we couldn’t make it work, and there were so many moving parts and guest stars we were already shooting absurdly out of order.

Other than Diane, were there any characters you really wanted to bring back in the final season but couldn’t?

Mike Schur: There were a few. Mostly we didn’t get to them simply because of time constraints, and limited space.

Having landed both Bill Murray and Werner Herzog, were there any dream guest stars you never managed to get?

Mike Schur: Hillary Clinton, but that became impossible once we jumped to 2017, because we would’ve had to have answered a question that she probably wouldn’t have wanted us to even pose at this point. We also wanted Rand Paul to be in the Washington episode, and he agreed, but then bailed at the eleventh hour. I think he thought we were making fun of him, or something, which we were not, at all. We were in fact flattering him, by linking him to Ron. I get the sense that maybe interpreting writing and humor is not his strong suit.

When and how did you decide to bring Jon Daly back as the drunk from the pilot, especially given how few viewers were likely to both remember that character and realize it was the same actor?

Mike Schur: Once we broke the finale. I liked the (tacit) implication that somehow Leslie pushing a miserable drunk out of that slide in the cold light of morning was a low point for him, and that he cleaned himself up and turned his life around and was now a productive member of society. That’s got a nice Dickensian flavor to it, I think.

Since (“Parks” writer) Dave King was playing Rabbi Lerpiss, does this mean the whole Lerpiss clan is Jewish? Or just him and Jason Schwartzman’s characters?

Mike Schur: Believe it or not, we talked about that a lot. I think the Lerpiss clan is so sprawling that they can encompass many different religions and ideologies, amongst their various wings. The Lerpisses cannot be pigeonholed as just one thing, Alan. They contain multitudes.

The biggest development of the time jump, at least in terms of what really mattered to the show, was Leslie and Ron’s estrangement. Why did you decide to do that, and why did you wrap it up as quickly as you did? Did you worry it would bum people out too much to see these two at odds for too long? (And did you find that the doubled-up scheduling of the season helped with things like that?)

Mike Schur: We decided to do it because it seemed like the juiciest conflict that would reasonably have sprung up. April and Andy were not going to have marital trouble, nor were Leslie and Ben. And we have always talked about Leslie and Ron’s friendship being helped by their proximity, and their constant contact. It’s a lot harder to just write off people who are different from you when you see them every day and talk every day, and therefore find inevitable points of overlap (like breakfast food). Were that proximity to disappear, it seemed natural that Leslie and Ron could drift apart a little.

And yes, we were definitely afraid it would bum people out if they were estranged for too long. The way the episodes ended up running they were only enemies for eight days, really, (including one half-hour where they put their differences aside), and people were still relieved when they became friends. Which suggests we made the right call. Though by the way, I am glad people were upset — if no one had cared, that would’ve been a really bad sign.

How long did you know Amy could do that Megan Mullally impression, and how much patience did it require to wait until “Ron & Jammy” to deploy it? As I recall, she also imitated Aziz and Rashida at different points of the show; did she have versions of every co-star you could have used if you felt like it?

Mike Schur: None of us knew. She busted it out at the table read and blew everyone’s doors off. We had no idea at all. Amy, as I have said before, has exactly one flaw in her armor, which is: accurate celebrity impressions. That’s the only thing she can’t ace, across the entire range of acting. Then she pulled that Mullally out of nowhere, so maybe like the Borg she has adapted and improved. (Still no Emmy for her, by the way. Just a friendly reminder, to anyone reading this who has an Emmy vote.)

You made a point throughout the show to not mention the political affiliations of Leslie, Ron, or anyone else, but in the finale, it’s the DNC that wants Leslie to run for governor. What made you decide that now was the time to finally out her as belonging to a party that I think most viewers assumed she already belonged to?

Mike Schur: Really it was for narrative clarity — just figured it would be better if the woman who approaches Leslie to run for governor were immediately credible. We could’ve made up some organization, but saying “DNC” or “RNC” just makes it immediately obvious that she is for real. I used to say that we would never mention the words “Republican” or “Democrat” on the show, and we were able to get away with that for a long time because the politics were all at the local level, but when we jumped to 2025 and talked about national races, it became a little harder to avoid.

We never said what party Ben ran for, and we made sure that when he gave his impromptu stump speech to the gaggle of reporters who approached him at Donna’s wedding that he hit both traditional Republican and Democratic issues. I wanted it to seem possible that he was running as a moderate from either party. (Frankly, in Indiana, it’s more likely that he would win as a socially liberal, fiscally conservative Republican.)

Given how much you love to waste time brainstorming extremely minor things like character names, was the future setting a blessing (because it gave you the opportunity for all kinds of crazy background gags) or a curse (because you wound up spending too much time laying out the future)? Do you have a favorite joke about the year 2017? A prediction you think is most likely to come true? And was there anything you guys wanted to do with the future that was just technically too difficult to pull off?

Mike Schur: From a writing standpoint I never found it a curse, with the minor exception that it caused a few headaches for the finale in terms of clarity and reminding people where they were in space and time. (Ordinarily every time a flash-forward ended we would’ve written ‘Present Day,” but the Present Day is not the actual present day.) My favorite jokes were the extreme background things — that Bill Belichick was being forced to defend against claims that his players were aliens or robots, stuff like that. As for what the show predicted — I don’t know if there will soon be holographic 3D tablets, necessarily, but I think the Gryzzl tech stuff and the data mining issues are going to look foolishly simplistic in three years. I think it’ll be far worse, in terms of the way personal data is collected and used, both by the government and by corporations.

What was your reaction when Sam Elliott showed up for work sans mustache?

Mike Schur: He told me about it on the phone. We added that line about how when his hair has completed its journey it simply sheds off by itself, as a way of possibly explaining his mustacheless-ness.

Dratch and Horatio both made cameos late in this season. Getting back to the question of guest star wish lists, did you have a tally of “SNL”ers you wanted to bring in at various points over the years, or was it entirely, “Hey, this is a part Will Forte would be good in, if we could get him”?

Mike Schur: The latter. When you’re looking for funny people to come in for an episode or two, the roster of “SNL” past and present is a great place to start.

We didn’t see a ton of Leslie and Ben’s kids this season. You’ve already said it was hard squeezing in everything you wanted to, but if this had been a 22-episode season, do you think you would have done more stories about Leslie and Ben as parents, or did you always have a limit on how much you wanted to do with that, even though the kids were toddlers rather than infants?

Mike Schur: We just felt like the show was a workplace comedy for six seasons, and it would be a weird tonal shift to suddenly focus on parenting issues. If we’d done 22 maybe there would’ve been one big story about it, but from the beginning we decided the kids would be in the deep background. Also the kids were only three, and three year-olds are not the most disciplined actors. In terms of direct-ability, they’re basically cats who yell.

When I asked Ben Schwartz about which of all the women Jean-Ralphio hit on was actually his type, he said, “All of the above.” In the finale, he tells Leslie he’s always loved her, but then in the flash-forward, he’s again paired with his monstrous sister. Does JR have real feelings for any woman? Is Mona-Lisa really the only woman he can be around for very long?

Mike Schur: I think Mona-Lisa is simultaneously JR’s arch-enemy and the only person who truly understands him. Over the years Ben and Jenny did a bunch of unusable improvs, at the end of their scenes, implying a very dark and twisted quasi-sexual attraction to each other. It was very disturbing.

Exactly how many Swanson brothers are there, and what were they up to in the years before Ron started his building company? Also, if you had remembered that Ron made a few early references to one of his brothers in seasons 1 and 2, would you have stuck with the joke about him not wanting anyone to know about them, or just written it off as something early that the show and character had moved beyond?

Mike Schur: I had completely forgotten that Ron ever mentioned his brother. Someone pitched that he had three brothers working for him at the Building Company, and after we aired that scene, I was shocked to find tweets waiting for me that night about how it was so cool that we had planted this back in S1. Though to be fair, I don’t know that if we had remembered, we would’ve played it out any differently.

We always talked about Ron being from a very matriarchal family — hence his love and respect for strong women. We imagined that Tammy 0 was constantly disappointed that she was having so many boys, because they weren’t as kick-ass as the girls in her family. In my head, the Swansons of Ron’s generation number maybe six boys and one girl, and the girl is unquestionably the coolest and toughest and most badass of the group.

Given her obsession with Leslie, I understand why Brandi Maxxxx would run for city council, but how and why did Joe Mande’s character end up there?

Mike Schur: Our backstory was that Morris ran to prove a point that politics are stupid, and had a platform like Brewster in Brewster’s Millions where he said like “Don’t Vote for Anyone Because This is All A Sham,” or something, and then he got elected. All he does is complain, but I think secretly he was probably kind of happy that he won something.

Is there an episode or even a joke that Harris (Wittels) wrote that you feel best captures his comic voice?

Mike Schur: There were many. I always think of the joke he wrote in “Model U.N.,” when Andy brings a squabbling Ben and Leslie together and says that he hopes this will be like their own Camp David. Then he explains, in a talking head, that when he was in high school his buddy David used to have people over and they would talk and chill out and just open up to each other, and they called it Camp David. Then it cuts back to Ben, who says, very surprised, “How do you know about Camp David?” And an equally confused Andy says, “How do you know about Camp David?” That was the essence of Harris — a long, rambling joke with a silly premise that ends with a huge laugh.

The producer’s cut includes flash forwards for Jamm and Shauna Malwae-Tweep, and we saw glimpses of Brandi and Perd and a few others in the future. Did you ever talk about where other minor characters ended up, or had you realized by that point that the episode was going to be way too long even without an Orin or Marcia Langman flash-forward? Also, did you give any thought to who bought April and Andy’s creepy house? I imagine someone from Gryzzl would love it.

Mike Schur: We had ideas for some others. We had a long Perd flash-forward where he just kept being Perd, in exactly the same way, for like a hundred more years. We had an Ethel Beavers flash-forward, and one for Dexhart…a lot of ideas. But in 43 minutes, you just have to give the time to the main cast. It would’ve been absurd to learn less about Ben Wyatt’s future in order to make room for Ethel Beavers.

There is a whole complicated living situation for Andy/April and Ben/Leslie that we worked out, mostly for internal use. The idea was that Andy and April bought that house for like a dollar, and thus got to keep it when they moved, maybe renting it out to Orin or something. Then the Gryzzl development turned their whole neighborhood into a very desirable location, and the value of their property skyrocketed. So they get to keep the house, even while renting a place in D.C. I also imagine that Keg Jeggings (Werner Herzog) eventually came back from Orlando and moved back in, and that Andy and April were fine with it.

Keg Jeggings may be a top 5 “Parks and Rec” name.

Mike Schur: Matt Murray designed it to flip all of the n’s and g’s so it was Keg Jeggigns (JEG-ines). But no joke, I said that was “too crazy.” Somehow that crossed a line, to me. No idea why.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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