A Walk in the Park With the Cast of Parks and Recreation
by Ken Sharp
Originally posted on May 21, 2010.
Unfairly maligned by critics when it first launched, NBC’s Parks and Recreation has truly come into its own with this writer considering it the best comedy on television right now.
Created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, best known for their strong work on The Office, Parks and Recreation follows the same mockumentary style mined by that popular NBC show, its focus not on a Scranton paper company but rather a Parks and Recreation department based in the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana. Spearheaded by the marvelous Amy Poehler as deputy Parks and Recreation director Leslie Knope, the show has really found its groove, its tight ensemble meshing beautifully, balancing touching pathos with screwball frivolity. The welcome addition of new cast members Rob Lowe and Adam Scott as state auditors slashing the town’s budget adds yet another delicious layer to this highly entertaining show.
Poehler’s role as the ambitious and often clueless Leslie Knope has evolved from early episodes to a finely detailed and indelible character. The talented Rashida Jones plays Ann Perkins, perhaps the show’s most centered character, a modicum of pragmatism and restraint. As Leslie’s best friend, her attempts at keeping Leslie grounded and out of trouble are delights. A budding romantic arc between the dour office worker April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) and Pawnee City Hall shoe-shiner Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) doesn’t hit a false note, lending the perfect combination of laughs and awkwardness. Breakout star Aziz Ansari, who plays the role of the sarcastic self-professed “playboy” Tom Haverford, is a scene stealer while Nick Offerman, in his impressive deadpan portrayal of the stoic and perpetually bored Ron Swanson, is finally showing signs of humanity in surprising ways.
Recently, a Parks and Recreation event was held at the Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre in North Hollywood, attended by cast and its show creators. Featuring the premiere of the season finale (“Freddy Spaghetti”) a day before its official air date, press, industry insiders and a coterie of devoted fans gathered to salute this remarkable show. After the screening, Saturday Night Live’s Seth Myers (Poehler’s former partner on “Weekend Update”) moderated an informative and often hilarious Q&A with the cast, show creators and editor Dean Holland. A key point was made during the panel discussion by series co-creator Greg Daniels addressing how the show’s come into its own since its inaugural slate of episodes. “The cast was great before the show was great. We had the scripts and the ideas before hand but then when someone comes along and brings so much life to the character, we try to incorporate it and it becomes much more alive. I think right now the character of Leslie is so much more cool and interesting because of the stuff that Amy brought to it. We’ve found out how to write with her personality.”
PopEntertainment.com contributing writer Ken Sharp spoke with the cast and here are highlights of those conversations…
AMY POEHLER (“Leslie Knope”)
Leslie has really evolved as a character since the beginning of the show. Now you’re really hitting your stride. You’ve created an indelible character.
We always intended for this character comedy to have moments of pathos and I think that Greg and Mike are especially good at that and that’s why I love their other work. We had such a small little kind of seasonette and the show evolved and I’m happy to hear that you think it evolved in the right way. But I know that we always wanted to try and make this character seem like a real person in absurd situations.
Initially, the show received unfair criticism from entertainment writers but it takes time for a show to come into its own. Now many of those same critics are now championing the show as the best comedy on television.
Well, that’s true; it does take time for a show to come into its own. It’s great to hear that the critics like it. We spent a lot of time in the beginning to tell people what we weren’t. We weren’t an Office spinoff. I wasn’t on SNL anymore. There was a lot of that. We spent three episodes reminding people that I wasn’t doing sketch comedy and that it wasn’t The Office. Once people started just watching the show for what it was and not looking for ways to compare it, I think both those things work.
What do you like best about your character?
Her optimism and her sense of duty and also that she’s kind hearted. It’s kind of fun to play someone who has no game. (laughs)
RASHIDA JONES (“Ann Perkins”)
Coming from a show like The Office with a similar vibe, how were you able to draw from that knowledge with your role on Parks and Rec?
Well, I think I was a probably a couple of steps ahead of the awkwardness of playing with the camera. When I first got the job on The Office it’s a weird thing because you’re trained your whole life to not look at the camera (laughs) and then all of a sudden you’re supposed to look at it and treat it as kind of a character. That put me a step ahead but everything else with this show gives it a life of its own. I got to be a part of it from the ground up which is great.
It was pretty ballsy of you to leave The Office as you were a popular character and doing well on the show. What made you want to make the jump to Parks and Rec?
I think my character had seen her final days on the show. It was always going to be a limited kind of thing; initially, I was slated to only be on six episodes so I was lucky for it to go that long. But I always kind of knew it would have an end. So when an opportunity came up to work with Greg and Mike, I didn’t even know what the show was, they hadn’t written it, but I just blindly said “whatever you guys want.”
One of my favorite moments of season two is last week’s episode (“The Master Plan”), in the scene where you were drunk and you were holding the plastic cup drunkenly moving your tongue back and forth trying desperately to find the straw..
(Laughs) That’s weirdly way harder that I thought it was gonna be. It’s hard to not catch a straw. But thank you, I’ve had a lot of practice on pretending to be drunk. (laughs)
Watching the show, it’s obvious that there’s a great chemistry that exists with the cast. Is that positivity conducive to pushing you even more on a creative level?
Yeah, absolutely. I’m sure there are scenarios where nobody gets along and you still make things funny this is definitely not the case. The first thing we think is think “how can we crack each other up?” and hopefully that extends beyond just the people that are around you and you get to make everybody laugh.