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'Parks and Recreation' Boss Mike Schur on the Eventful Finale & Season 4

by Joel Keller, posted May 20th 2011 10:00AM
Parks and Recreation cast for season 3Last night's 'Parks and Recreation' season finale was a game-changer for the show. Something big happened to every major character in the last act of the last episode, setting up a Season 4 that will have a lot going on.

Both in my recap and in my colleague Mo Ryan's assessment, we bring up those changes and speculate what that might mean for the show coming out of a successful third season -- one that placed the series among the best on television.

Executive producer Mike Schur had a "go big or go home" attitude about the finale, especially because he and his staff wrote it in a vacuum. As most fans know, all 16 episodes were shot before the first one aired, so he had time to perfect them all.

"I had months to edit the episodes and really hone them. It was like a control freak's dream," he told AOL TV.

In a wide-ranging interview, Mike talked about the finale, how he plans to address the changes in Season 4, his thoughts on the Ron Swanson turkey burger and his joy at being able to use a former Indiana Pacer as a recurring character.

What was the thought process behind shaking up everyone's lives in the last 7 minutes of the finale?
Well, you know, Greg Daniels' theory about finales, which came from Season 2 of 'The Office,' was write the juiciest, most exciting cliffhanger-y possible scenario you can write, and then you have all summer to figure out how to get yourself out of it. Basically his theory was, you swing for the fences. You're trying to do an episode that's so compelling that you're going to have people waiting all summer to find out how you solved the problems you created.

I am a big believer that people should be in a very different place at the end of every season than they were at the beginning of the season. So that was our only goal; we just sort of tried to follow through on the characters, and what the characters' lives had presented them, over the course of the year. I just wanted it to feel like everybody made a move. So we had everybody make a move.

Which of the stories have you already figured out for next year?
The general rule that I have is, you don't do anything unless you at least can come up with a conceivable, interesting way of solving the problem. So there are possibilities for all of the stories that we've discussed at some depth, sometimes very casually, and sometimes in greater depth and stuff. So I don't know; we get back together with the writers [on May 23], and I don't know if we're going to completely abandon all of our proposed solutions or stick with some of them and abandon others, or what. But we've at least talked about all of those stories and how they might play out over Season 4.

And there's always a way to get out of it, because you can always just say there's a three-month lapse, and everything's changed back.
Yeah, you could. Although, again, that kind of feels like a yank to me. I want [the solutions] to be fulfilling. At the end of 'The Office' season 2, Jim told Pam he loved her. And when you picked up in season 3, he had left his job and was working in Connecticut. We kept him there for seven episodes, or eight episodes or something. We didn't just go like, "Oh yeah, now everything's back to normal."

I don't think you can do "everything's back to normal," because it just feels like you've taken the audience on a crazy ride and then told them it was all a dream, which is a little bit of a cop-out. So I think we're going to follow through on our stories in a way that hopefully is satisfying, and doesn't make the audience and the viewership feel like they were promised something that they're not going to get, you know?

We already see a hint of that in the credit tag when Detlef Schrempf is giving Jean-Ralphio and Tom some business advice.
[Laughs] Yeah, exactly! Tom is doing it; they set up an office and it's crazy. It doesn't really look like it's going to be a successful business plan or something, and we wanted to do that because we wanted to show like yeah, he's moving on. He's going to go do something and we're going to have to follow Tom Haverford in a new job when we come back next year and see how it plays out. So we really wanted to signal right away to the audience like we're not yanking your chain, there's going to be changes on this show. And you know, eventually, who knows? Maybe Tom will come back and work at the parks department or in a different capacity or something. Who knows what the future holds?

I want to see more Detlef, by the way.
Oh, don't worry. I really can't tell you how much joy it brings me to be able to tell people that I've created a TV show where Detlef Schrempf playing himself is now officially a recurring character. [Laughs]

Of the side characters that we saw in Season 3, like Crazy Ira and the Douche, who are we going to see again in Season 4?
Obviously, Jean-Ralphio is very likely. Ben Schwartz is on another show and we're trying to work out a way to get him for at least a couple episodes. But he and Tom have started a company together, so clearly that's a likelihood.

Besides the previously-stated fact that you wanted more episodes, what part of the season do you think you could have improved on?
Well, this sounds like a cop-out, but I don't think there is anything. I don't think there's a single thing I would change about it, except that I would make it longer. Everything from the actors' performances, to the editing, to the direction, to the writing, everything turned out as well as I could have possibly hoped. I was very, very proud of it, even back when it was just a bunch of footage that we had in the edit bay and that I didn't even know whether it was going to air. I felt like the whole creative team had done a really great job, and made a really great season of TV. So, you know, I wouldn't change anything. I honestly wouldn't.

Rashida Jones did seem to be a little adrift during the season. Is it because she was so separate from the rest of the team? Were you guys finding it harder to work her in?
I know that that opinion has been expressed before, certainly. And I 100% understand that. But you know, the whole design of her as a character was that she was an outsider to the world, who was dragged into the world by Leslie.

To me, everybody fills a different role on the show, and Rashida has been asked to fill some slightly thankless roles, I think. She was basically a straight person for a really long time, and then this year, she became a little more part of the comedy ensemble, just in terms of the way that stories were broken for her and the relationships that she had and stuff like that.

Is it easier to create these characters knowing the actors, and setting their personalities based on that, rather than trying to build a completely different character and having them "act" as somebody else?
Well, I don't know if it's easier or harder. It happens to be my personal preference. I think that the best characters have elements of the people playing them in them somewhere. And you know, none of our characters is exactly like any of our actors. But there are certainly elements of Aubrey that are in April, and there are elements of Tom that are in Aziz. Aziz is ultimately not like Tom at all. But he's not completely dissimilar.

Because Nick is so easily, like in such a facile way, able to talk about oscillating spindle sanders, and woodworking awls, and stains and stuff, that you say yeah, it makes perfect sense for Ron Swanson to be a woodworker. You can just see in the actor's face that he knows what he's talking about, that he's not making it up, you know? Real people are a lot more interesting and layered and rich than most characters are on TV.

By the way, how strange is it when elements of the show make it into pop culture? Like on the Eater blog some guy actually put together a fried turkey leg wrapped in a hamburger.
Yeah. A Ron Swanson turkey burger, yeah. [Chuckling] Honestly, there's nothing you could do that is more flattering to me than that. Anything that you create in a writer's room or on a set, if then someone just watching at home likes [it] enough to take the time to like make something out of [it], to me, that's the most flattering thing that can exist. It's like winning an award or something.

Would you ever eat that kind of burger?
Never in a million years. [Laughs]

Ron is so no-nonsense. Do the writers like writing for him?
Yeah, I think they like writing for him for a lot of reasons. One of which is just that he's a great mix of a superhero, and also a deeply flawed, and very human and vulnerable person, which is just fun to write for. And I think also they like writing for him because Nick Offerman is a once-in-a-generation comedic performer, I think. His internal comedy clock is like a perfectly tuned metronome, and you can write incredibly complicated sentences [for him].

I wrote this joke for him in ['The Fight'] episode where he says, "You know, I don't recommend a product unless I use it exclusively and I truly believe in it, and my only official recommendations are U.S. Army issue mustache trimmers, Morton salt, and the CR Lawrence thin 2 winds oscillating ax scraper knife blade," or whatever that crazy [thing] is. The take that we used that you see in that episode was the first take. He just sat down, and he riffed off that incredibly complicated, intricate sentence 100% perfectly, in exactly the right tone, with exactly the right inflection, and got every syllable exactly right.

But is Nick also taking the Ron persona and running with it? Or is it just the fact that they're intertwined?
No, he's not Ron, but he's also not different than Ron. You know what I mean? There is an overlap of the Venn diagram, both in the way he talks, and I think now when we write for Ron, his voice is very strongly in our head, and he comes up and hangs out with the writers all the time, and he's funny just in conversation. Again, I think this is one of the things about why Season 3 took off. I think the writers got better at writing for the actors, and the actors got better at saying the writers' words, and everyone just kind of got better because they'd been practicing for a while.

Can you see Ron and Tammy being a yearly occurrence?
I definitely would love that. You know, Megan [Mullally] is a dream to write for, and that character is really funny, and I think their relationship is incredibly interesting and rich and fun. So obviously, in the finale, there is a little throw forward to some more of Ron Swanson's marital woes coming back to haunt him, and I would venture to say that if Megan is available, that she will be involved in that storyline in some way.

After the Ron and Tammy episode this year, did you get a little upset when NBC ran the Andy/April promo by mistake?
Oh yeah, that was unfortunate. I mean, it was a completely honest mistake; obviously we had made all of the episodes before they were airing, and there were a lot of different digital tosses and promos, and all these different things that had been made, and it was just a simple case of like someone pushed the wrong button ... didn't push the wrong button, but attached the wrong promo to the wrong episode. It was unfortunate, and it bummed us out, but it was a completely honest mistake, so ultimately you can't get that upset. The people who were kind of in charge of it were very apologetic, and you know, what are you gonna do?

Starting in the fall, 'Parks and Recreation' moves to Thursdays at 8:30PM ET on NBC.

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What a great response to the question about the April/Andy promo!! He is just a great guy =)

May 21 2011 at 11:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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