Michael Schur walks us through Parks And Recreation’s third season (Part 2 of 4) 

Michael Schur walks us through Parks And Recreation’s third season (Part 2 of 4) 

Parks And Recreation co-creator Michael Schur recently sat down with The A.V. Club to discuss the show’s third season, episode by episode. This section of his interview covers episode five through episode eight, beginning with “Media Blitz” and concluding with “Camping.” Part one can be found here.

“Media Blitz” (Feb. 17, 2011)
To promote the upcoming Harvest Festival, Leslie and Ben hit Pawnee’s local media, and it’s revealed Ben’s stint as a teenage mayor bankrupted his hometown.

The A.V. Club: When I think of Pawnee, I think of Springfield, but I also think of the town from Newhart, the town from Green Acres. Do you have any rules about what the town is like, or is it infinitely expandable and elastic?

Michael Schur: To me it’s infinitely expandable. There aren’t any hard and fast rules for introducing new characters. We do it mostly these days when we have actors who we want to get into the show because we think they’re funny. 

That’s where Jean-Ralphio came from. I met Ben Schwartz and was like, “That guy’s funny. That guy’s going to be in our show somehow,” and we designed this character for him. It’s also what happened in this episode. I am a huge fan of Nick Kroll and Matt Besser, and when we came up with this idea for the characters to do a media blitz to promote the festival, we thought, “Oh! Shock jocks. There’s a local shock-jock team, and if we could get those two guys…” They were our dream team, those two guys. We were like, “That’s going to be funny,” and if it worked we could always bring them back. We got them, which was great, and it was the dream situation, because the shock jock is a character that every comedian understands—at least exactly how stupid and douchey those guys are—and then you get two awesome comedians, wind them up, and set them loose. 

The only real rule for character expansion is that it has to be somewhat realistic. We’ve strained credulity at least once, which is that we had this New York Post-style tabloid in the town called The Pawnee Sun, and that is absurd, that a town with 65,000 people would have a tabloid newspaper. I did write a thing for the book that’s coming that explains, actually, how I had to come up with a creation myth to try and explain it. [Laughs.] Because that’s the craziest thing we’ve done on the show in terms of the size of the town or the inner workings of the town. Everything else is pretty realistic, including that there would be some FM radio DJs in the area who think that they’re really funny and are not.

Other than that, there’s no rule. It’s just when we see an opportunity, especially when it’s an opportunity to create a character to come back, as Kroll did later, in the episode that Amy [Poehler] wrote at the end of the season. We were, “Oh, if we can get these two really funny comedians to be the local radio guys, they can pop up whenever we need them.”

AVC: This episode returns to the Harvest Festival. It was there in the previous three, but—

MS: It had faded into the background a little bit. 

AVC: How did you make that decision to bring it back into the foreground?

MS: We wanted the arc to be at some level about the Harvest Festival, so in “Flu Season” the cover story was that Leslie was doing a presentation to the Chamber of Commerce, and in “Ron and Tammy: Part Two” the party they’re throwing is to try and get the cops involved, but when we got toward the end of it, we really wanted to make it seem like, “Okay, we’re getting close to it now.” So this was that idea: To bring it back to the foreground by promoting it and by having them do a whole media blitz. But the whole point of the episode to me was that we had gotten Adam Scott, and he had been mostly a straight man, a funny straight man, but still a straight man for the first six episodes he had been in the show. And being a fan of his, I knew that he could also be extraordinarily funny. 

So the whole point of this episode was to create a showcase for him to be funny, and the analogy I remember using is that when The Matrix was being advertised, you saw people bending over at the ankles and dodging crazy bullets with weird vapor trails, and at the time I saw it, I was like, “Whatever this is, I’m in. I don’t have any idea what this is, but I’m going to see this on opening night,” and then I went to see it, and there are like, 40 kung-fu battles in that movie, and they had given no indication in the marketing that there was any kung-fu. It was like you knew it was your birthday, but then it also turned out that it was Christmas. [Laughs.] Like, “I can’t believe how great this is,” and that was the feeling. 

I was like, “I feel like he will have established himself as an actor, and a great straight man, and a great male anchor for the cast, and now we’re going to show that he has this other level that he can dial his performance up to,” and that’s exactly what he did. He was super-funny, and I mean, that’s a great thing for a comic actor to be given. “You’re going to have three nervous breakdowns. [Laughs.] Here’s your episode; you have three separate nervous breakdowns.” He was so great doing it, I feel like it helped define his character through this horrible gauntlet of fire, in terms of dealing with his past and exorcising these demons in a funny way.   

AVC: How did you come up with the character and his origin?

MS: His origin myth was an early candidate for Leslie’s origin myth. When we were working through the pilot and trying to come up with a backstory for the main character, I’ve always been obsessed with those stories where an 18-year-old becomes the mayor. You always hear about their elections and never how they ran their city or town that they were elected in, and so I had the idea for Leslie that she would be one of those people. That when she was 18, she was elected mayor and instantly, instantly ran the town into the ground, and that the story of the show would be her slow march back to respectability. We decided not to do that, because it seemed too high-premise-y for a main character. 

When we decided to bring in Ben, I was like, “Oh, I’ve got that in my back pocket,” and we gave that story to him. When I met with Adam Scott to talk about the show in general—at the time, Party Down’s fate was unclear, so it wasn’t clear whether he was available or not—but then when he became available, I called him, and I said, “Here’s what we’re thinking. Here’s your backstory. When you were 18, you were elected mayor of your town, and then you ran your city into the ground,” and instantly, he said, “Yup. Okay, great.” He instantly knew what it was. He got it; he knew the character. I think what’s good about it for him is that it very much plays into his strengths as an actor, because he is a very realistic actor who can be serious and pragmatic in an enjoyable way. The idea that this guy’s whole life has been about trying to rectify this mistake, just instantly he internalized that and knew what it was. 

The real inspiration for that was the book The Mayor Of Casterbridge by Tom Hardy, which was one of my favorite books in high school. The story of that book is essentially that this drunken moron loses his wife in a poker game, and this other guy takes his wife and leaves. The book jumps ahead many years, and (the moron) is now the mayor of the town, and he’s spent his whole life trying to make up for that one mistake. It’s actually a very sad book because it’s about the fact that you can’t, so that’s Hardy’s position. I always felt like The Mayor Of Casterbridge is a great model, with a different ending hopefully, for a comedy character of a guy who made a tragic, moronic mistake, and just ground it out and worked his way to the point where he could put it behind him. So the key to doing that was meeting Leslie and having Leslie take him by the hand and tell him, “You have to confront this issue. Publicly. If you’re ever going to get past this, you can’t hide from it. You have to get out there and vomit all this stuff up and cleanse your system of it.” That’s what the episode was about, the way in which she helps him take a giant step forward in his life’s journey toward rectifying that mistake. 

AVC: But funnier than Thomas Hardy. 

MS: Hopefully, yeah. [Laughs.] But you know what, he’s not unfunny. Thomas Hardy is insane, and in that book he does things that are very counter to what I believe is good dramatic writing. There’s a lot of random coincidence, and his whole point in that book is that the universe will not help you in any way. There’s a key moment in the book where someone is trying to deliver a message that is very important, and out of nowhere, a bull escapes from a pen, rambling down the street, and gores the guy who’s delivering the message. [Laughs.] It’s completely random and coincidental, which isn’t very strong writing, I don’t think, but it’s kind of funny when everything that can go wrong goes wrong. Hopefully, [Ben is] more relatable to an audience in 2011.

“Indianapolis” (Feb. 24, 2011)
Leslie and Ron head to Indianapolis to accept a commendation and eat at a steakhouse, respectively. While there, Leslie comes to believe Chris is keeping a huge secret from Ann.

AVC: You said that you had to throw out an entire episode. What was going to happen in that one?

MS: You know, it’s funny, we were just talking about it the other day, because it’s unclear in our production schedule whether we’re going to be airing the week of Halloween, and it was bumming us out, because we didn’t get to do any holiday episodes. As a kid, I was a huge fan of holiday episodes, and we were trying to remember what the story was that we had written. I think it was something involving a costume party at The Snakehole Lounge that Tom was throwing. I think the story was that Ann went in a really bad costume, or something, but I honestly just don’t remember. If we have to do a Halloween episode, we might just look it up, take it, and do it. [Laughs.] We had the whole thing beaten out, and it was written, but we had to junk it. It was the B-story; it wasn’t the main story. 

The A-story was still Leslie, Ron, Chris, and Ann being afraid… oh, you know what it was? Ann was afraid of the Halloween party at the Snakehole Lounge, and she was dressed in something kind of dopey. When Leslie calls her and says, “I think Chris is cheating on you,” and she says, “I’m driving up there,” she doesn’t even change out of her costume, so the only real comedy of it was that she showed up to confront Chris, and she was dressed as a blue Power Ranger or something. There was a separate comedy story where Andy and April were dressed up in costumes, and I don’t know what the deal was, but it wasn’t a tremendous amount of work to junk the story, because we kept the party in The Snakehole Lounge, but converted it into Tom’s cologne release, which is probably funnier than a boring Halloween party anyway. And then Ann wasn’t in costume. That was the only real different [thing].

AVC: It seems like you occasionally will struggle to find stories for Ann because she’s outside the central world of the show. How did you bring her in more this year?

MS: Well, it culminated at the end of the season when she actually gets a job in city hall, but the design of the show was always that Ann was the normal citizen who’s drawn into the inner workings of the government and got to have an outsider’s perspective on what happened. And then she became friends with Leslie. So she wasn’t 100 percent as integrated into the average A-story as some of the other characters because she didn’t work there, but that was the design at first. She wasn’t supposed to be. The friendship between Leslie and Ann was conceived of as the central relationship in the show. It was two women who were friends. There’s a lot of good emotional stories we’ve been able to tell of female friendship. It happens later in “Eagleton.” The story isn’t about their friendship, but it hinges on their friendship. 

This issue gets raised sometimes, but I never thought of it as a problem. I thought of it as an extra thing that was going on. That there’s this outside character that can be brought in when we need her and the importance of her is not her role in the main A-story. It’s the fact that she and Leslie have become friends and are now invested in each other’s lives. And the whole point of [“Indianapolis”] was Leslie is going to Indianapolis to receive a commendation at the Statehouse, which she says very flatly, without any joke in the cold open, she says it’s a really big deal for her. And then, when her friend is in trouble and sad, she completely blows it off and just drives back to Pawnee and spends her time cheering up her friend and getting her friend drunk and helping her friend get over this awful thing that happened. So, to me, if you don’t have this outside friendship between those two characters, that story is not nearly as rich or good. It’s just a comedy story of a woman who got dumped instead of really, at its essence, a woman who was going to Indianapolis for one reason, then completely changed the purpose of her visit and turned it into a fact-finding mission about whether or not Chris was cheating on [Ann]. And then, in the aftermath of the realization, blowing off this thing that’s important to her in order to make her friend feel better. That story was, I think, very successful in terms of an emotional story. If they were working in the same office, I don’t know if that story’s any better. It’s just a pure friendship story. It’s not anything involving her job or anything.

AVC: When I think over other comedies, there aren’t a lot that have an outsider character. Was that always in the design of the show?

MS: Yeah, the idea was—and this actually did kind of come from The Wire—there’s this sort of superhero creation myth that goes on in The Wire in season one, which is Special Crimes Unit. All of these people are drawn in from all these different places. You meet Kima Greggs in the drug unit and you see Herc and Carver working with her. And then you meet McNulty and Bunk in homicide, and you meet all these people who work in all these different areas, and then when this unit gets put together, they all come in together, and they’re put in this office. And most of them are morons, but Lester Freamon was working in the property office because he’d been relegated there, and he gets drawn in and totally accidentally, he turns out to be the greatest detective of all time. [Laughs.]

And so we wanted to have this sense of this central project or this central idea of building up a new park brought in these people from all over the place. It brings in this woman who lives next to the park, it brings in her boyfriend at the time, it brings in the Parks Department, it brings in the city manager and the city attorneys, and it brings in citizens from all over the neighborhood. It kind of has this feeling that these people never would have met if not for the fact there was this big hole in the ground and it needed to be fixed. That was always the design for it. 

And we actually wanted it to be more disparate than it ended up being. Originally, we were talking about having there be people from outside of the town to come in and oversee the construction, and you would get this sense of people floating in and out in the same way that you do in The Wire or in a drama. And ultimately, we scaled it down. It is sometimes difficult because every episode… in fact, I don’t know, only one out of every five or six is really about that project in the first couple seasons. So you do end up having to search a little bit for a way to integrate the characters more. 

But I kind of like that. I like that it’s not everyone working in the same place, doing the same exact job. We got a lot of mileage out of Ann being a nurse. We got a lot of stories about her workplace and her life and her boyfriend, and then when her boyfriend got a job at city hall, that drew her in more. And then we had her start dating someone who worked there who was Leslie’s ex-boyfriend. The relationships are more intricate and unusual and complex than they would be if everyone worked together and just kind of paired off when we needed them to.

“Harvest Festival” (March 17, 2011)
It’s time for the Harvest Festival, and all of the Parks Department’s plans are put in danger by the local media deciding the project is cursed.

AVC: Were you always going to just end the Harvest Festival story in this episode, or were there times you thought about carrying it out through the whole season?

MS: No, we wanted to split the season in half, roughly. And we always imagined it as the first half of the year is the buildup to this event, and then the event happens. And the second half of the year is the aftermath. Once we knew [the season] was 16 [episodes], we didn’t know whether it was gonna be seven or eight, but we knew it would be one of those. I just didn’t want to drag. I think that arcs like this are better if they’re not the entire year. There’s only so much, and you also end up forgetting about it, then you bring it back, you forget about it, and you bring it back. It just seemed like we should accelerate it and have it happen. And, obviously, we knew it was gonna be a success. And it seemed exciting to have it be a success and then show the aftermath of that success, which is the first giant, real, public success that Leslie has had. So it was always gonna happen.

[pagebreak]

AVC: This is the episode where the media comes to believe in a curse. Do you ever worry about getting too weird with what other people of Pawnee are thinking?

MS: Very much so. And this story was very, very hard to break for the simple reason that we couldn’t have our characters believe in the curse. Because curses are inherently ridiculous. And we couldn’t have the citizens of the town [believe], largely. At least we couldn’t show them believing in the curse for the same reason. It started to look very cartoonish. And the solution was proposed by Dan Goor, who wrote the episode, and, I believe, Emily Kapnek, who is now doing Suburgatory on ABC. They’re both excellent writers. 

The solution was very brilliant. It was, “Let’s make this into a media firestorm creation and just focus on that.” Because that is really what the media does. Especially small-town local media. They will always fan the flames of any controversy. And so it didn’t matter that the idea of there being a curse was inherently absurd. The media would seize on it and discuss it and make elaborate graphics like “Curse Watch” that would float over their screens. And Leslie’s point, which she states in the episode, is it’s a controversy. It’s a thing. It’s gonna cause people to associate negativity with this event. She says in the episode, “You are all amazing, wonderful people. Let’s all just go out there and have fun and not focus on the fact that even if one thing goes wrong, we’ll all lose our jobs.” 

So the idea is she says that, which is true in terms of the setup, and this is the thing that goes wrong. No one had to say outwardly, “I think this festival is cursed” in order for there to be a problem, because the media was bearing that burden in a very realistic way. And then the other thing that we did is we had the Native American say, “There’s two things I know about white people:  They love Matchbox 20, and they’re terrified of curses,” which is, by the way, also true. I think if we had just said, “Oh, this festival is cursed,” yeah. But if a Native American guy in a town that’s had a lot of history with Native Americans and their problems and the ugly, ugly history of white people and Native Americans, if he says, “This is built on an Indian burial ground. I hope the souls of my ancestors don’t curse you,” and he does it with a straight face? Even if we know he’s fucking with them, you know they’re gonna pause for at least a second and try to figure out whether there’s any realism to what he’s saying. [Laughs.] Those two things—having him explain he was kind of doing this to screw with them, which is his right, given the way his ancestors were treated by their ancestors, and also the fact that the media created the problem—allowed us to tell the story in a way that didn’t seem like we were saying, “Oh, this town is full of crazy people.” 

My favorite thing in the episode on this subject was sort of improvised by Amy. At one point Ben says, “Do people in this town really believe in curses?” Originally, it cut to a talking head, and there was a mural, and she says, “Pawnee’s a very superstitious town. Once a traveling magician came to the town and pulled a rabbit out of a hat, and the crowd thought he was a wizard and burned him alive. The year was 1973.” And you’re seeing a guy tied up to a stake and you pull back and you see a bunch of very modern cars and guys with mutton chop sideburns and stuff. But we ended up cutting that and using this thing she improvised, which was [Ben asking], “Do people in this town really believe in curses?” And she goes, “Oh no, no. We all just believe that people always behave rationally, and we’re all in charge of our own destinies. Come on!” Which is a very excellent explanation of it. 

I used to write this baseball blog called “Fire Joe Morgan,” and a large part of this blog was about pointing out the absurdity of things like people saying the Red Sox were cursed before they won the World Series. No, they weren’t. They were mismanaged, and their players were bad. There’s no such thing as jinxes. There’s no such thing as curses and superstitions, but we talk about them all the time. In sports, in society, in every aspect of our lives, we talk about these things as if they’re real. They’re not real! There’s no such thing as curses. But that does not stop people, especially media outlets, from seizing on them because they make for good stories, and they make for good ghost stories. 

AVC: You introduced Li’l Sebastian in this episode. I think every small-town comedy I’ve ever seen has featured a storyline about miniature horses.

MS: [Laughs.]

AVC: What is inherently funny about miniature horses?

MS: I don’t know. I think if you take any animal and radically change its normal size, you’re gonna enjoy it. It’s Clifford the Big Red Dog or something. It just looks like a normal horse, but it’s much smaller. I don’t know why. I think if you had a giant bunny rabbit as a hero of a town, that would also be enjoyable. Just a giant, 7,000-pound rabbit sitting there motionless. I think that would also be funny. I don’t know what it is. I think it’s a universal truth that you just can’t resist the size of a tiny horse. [Laughs.]

AVC: We talked a little bit about how you skewed away from political satire, but you have kind of embraced the idea of satire of the media’s role. How pointed do you feel like you can get with that and how does that reflect the views of you and the writers?

MS: Well, I feel like my frustrations with the media in this country are every bit as intense as my frustrations with the political system. 

Let me back up. I don’t know if we’ve shied away from political satire. I think we still do political and social commentary and satire. It’s not the point of our show at all, but when the opportunity arises to do it, I think we do do it. And I think we enjoy doing it. I mean, I’m very proud of the episode “Sweetums” from season two, which was an entire network comedy show episode based on the absurdity of the corn lobbyists and the corn syrup lobbyists. Corn syrup is a terrible thing that makes kids get fat, and we managed to tell an entire story about companies that pretend to be creating healthy products that aren’t. So, for me, that’s political commentary disguised as a comedy story about an evil corporation. But it’s still commentary. 

I think that all of the media commentary that we do on the show is the same thing. It’s not the point of our show, and the point of our show is not to grind axes and try to educate people or anything like that. It’s to be funny. But because we’re telling a show about a town and about a government, when the opportunity arises to maybe make a point or two, or at least raise an issue for discussion, we always like to do it. A large point of “Harvest Festival” was to say, “If the media would just cool it and stick to reporting facts and informing people, instead of trying to be sensationalistic and grab ratings, then I think the world would be a better place.”

 It’s like a lot of things in a capitalist society—which, by the way, I like capitalism. [Laughs.] I’m not a socialist or anything. I think capitalism is a good thing, by and large, but the news… There are certain things that shouldn’t be, in my opinion, tied to financial gain, and the news is one of them. The news is a public service. It’s a way to inform people of what’s going on in their world. And when you make it about ratings and make it about ad dollars, there’s no incentive to inform people. The incentive is to be sensationalistic and get as many people to watch as you can without any regard for truth or objectivity. In cases like this, it’s just a way to show that that’s what they would do. If there was any hint of a controversy regarding a Native American curse and a burial ground and a large government project that was spending a lot of money and was risky and high-profile, this is exactly what would happen. Again, we’re really not trying to grind any axes. We’re just trying to show this is what happens in these scenarios and small towns.

“Camping” (March 24, 2011)
Leslie organizes a camping trip for the Parks Department to brainstorm its next big project after the success of the Harvest Festival.

AVC: This was the first after your lengthy break.

MS: The first one we shot, actually, was the wedding episode (“Fancy Party”), because at the time we came back, it was that insane heat wave where it was like, 112. And so we shot the indoor one first before we had to do the two outdoor ones just to try to avoid the heat. It didn't really work. It was still, like, 99 every day. 

AVC: In “Camping,” the characters are casting about for something to follow up the Harvest Festival. How much of that was also you guys casting about?

MS: That was in there, definitely. I think Alan Sepinwall wrote that he thought that the episode was, in part, us trying to express our concerns about how to follow up an episode as good as the “Harvest Festival.” And it worked out. I can understand why it seems that way, but the reality was that none of these episodes had aired, so we didn't know whether people were going to like “Harvest Festival” or not. There was certainly an element of writer anxiety in that script. And at some level, Leslie is kind of a writer herself, in the sense that she’s constantly having to come up with ideas and new innovations and ways to improve her town, so it was essentially a writer’s block episode. It was essentially an episode about if you’ve had a success in any phase of your life, how do you follow it? And there was a little bit of, I guess you would call it just writerly anxiety that we translated into her brain. Season two seemed pretty good, what if we can’t do it again in season three? But really it was about writer’s block. 

And [writer] Aisha Muharrar came up with this idea. We wanted them to go camping because we thought that would be fun. And we didn’t know what the story was, and she came up with this idea. We had discussed an episode at some previous point where [Leslie] would be concerned that she suddenly would have no idea. Like, a woman who had a thousand ideas would have no ideas one day. And Aisha was the one who figured out that the camping retreat was her attempt to jump-start her own brain after the Harvest Festival and the success of that. And she wrote the episode and did a great job. But it was essentially a story of a person with writer’s block.

AVC: At this point in the season, you guys are pretty far into doing this in a vacuum. Nothing’s aired yet. Nothing will air until you’re done filming. What is that situation like?

MS: It was very odd. All that we had to base our confidence on were our own internal guidance systems of what’s good and the read-throughs. And the read-throughs were going incredibly well. Suspiciously well, at this point. I mean, we had a run in the middle of the season, right around now, where the read-throughs were the best part of my week. And even when I think a script is really good, I’m terrified of read-throughs, because you’ve worked so hard for so long, and it all comes down to this moment where you sit down, and you read it, and very often massive flaws in storytelling or joke-telling or both are revealed when the actors read the scripts. 

I get very, very nervous before read-throughs. And I think that probably comes from SNL, where the read-through is the worst part of the week. You write these sketches at 5 in the morning on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, and you go to the read-through, and it’s five hours long, and there’s 50 sketches. If your sketch bombs, that’s it. You’re done for the week. You’ve been publicly humiliated in front of everyone you work with, and you also have nothing to do for the rest of the week. [Laughs.] It’s a very, very awful, bad feeling. And I get very, very nervous even now. 

But around now, in the middle of the season, I stopped getting nervous because the read-throughs were so fun and so joyous and wonderful, and the scripts started to just roll on top of each other. And I think it was maybe for “Camping” or for the “Harvest Festival” or for the wedding. One of these in here, I came into work on the day of the read-through, and I said, “I can’t believe this. For the first time in my life, I’m not nervous before a read-through.” Because we just felt, even though it was a complete vacuum and nothing had been aired, I had seen edits of the first three or four at this point and was just like, “Oh, this is going to be great. This is just great. Everyone’s being funny, Rob Lowe’s hilarious, Chris Pratt’s hilarious, Aubrey’s hilarious.” Everything seemed to be working. And I remember talking to Amy around now, just sort of checking in, and I said to her, “Unless I am completely crazy, this is gonna be a great season of television. If it ever airs. [Laughs.] Cause I don’t know. It might not. But if it does...” I am not usually an overly confident person, but I became confident around the middle of the season that we were doing really good work. And so it was just a question of when it was ever gonna appear on television.

AVC: Was there concern at some point?

MS: Well, NBC kept saying, “You know, we’re thinking about October” and then they would say, “It’s probably not gonna be until this date.” There wasn’t any reason to really be concerned. Look, it costs a lot of money to produce television, and it was fairly unlikely that they would have sunk the millions of dollars into this season without ever airing it. But sometimes, they burn things off over the summer. We just didn’t know. So until they called us and said, “Here’s your première date,” it was at least a possibility. And so I just tried to block it out and just feel like I can’t control that. I can only control the script and the shooting and the editing, and so that’s what I’m gonna focus on. 

AVC: Sometimes, the strength of comedy is less about the characters than the relationships between them. This season, it seemed like you built episodes around Leslie and Ron, Leslie and Ben, or Leslie and Ann a lot of the time. What are the biggest strengths those three relationships give to story lines?

MS: Leslie and Ann was the original relationship that we had worked out. It’s a female friendship story. They’re very different people. Leslie is all optimism and can-do-it and “let’s shoot for the moon,” and Ann is very practical and pragmatic. And the idea is she grounds Leslie a little, and Leslie drags her into the world of possibility a little more, which is just a nice tension. 

Leslie and Ron is probably, now, the other central relationship on the show. And that developed into a thing. There’s an old adage about when people want their daddy, they vote Republican, when they want mommy, they vote Democratic. You know, the stereotype of the nurturing, caring mother and the tough, disciplining father, and that’s sort of what they’ve become. The mommy and daddy of the world of the office. 

And then with Leslie and Ben we wanted a romance for our main character, and we designed a character. You know, in the very first episode that they’re in, she comes in and yells at him for the third time. And he goes, “You wanna go get a beer?” And she says, “It’s 11 in the morning!” And he’s like, “I think you could use a beer.” And so they go have a beer in the bar, and he very casually says to her, “You want to run for office some day, right?” And she says, “Yeah, how did you know that?” And he just blows by it and says, “If you want to run for office, you gotta be an adult, you gotta make these tough decisions.” And that was designed to show right away that he had identified her as a kindred spirit. He understood her, and he had identified that she is ambitious and she has a plan for her life and her career. 

And the flip side of that is when she says, “Have you ever been elected to office before?” And he says, “Yes, in a tiny town called Partridge, Minnesota,” and she goes, “Wait a second, you’re Benji Wyatt?” And she, when she was a kid, read about him. So the idea was always, let’s create a character for her whom she hates at first—because that’s more fun than love-at-first-sight, for a comedy show, at least—and two people who were maybe fundamentally different but are also, in some ways, fundamentally the same, and slowly move them toward each other. And that was the other main arc for the season, Leslie and Ben starting off very much at odds and then him simultaneously falling in love with the town and her. 

Amy typically encapsulated this more eloquently than I ever could by saying that Leslie’s like the single mom and Pawnee’s her kid. And if you love Pawnee, then she’ll love you. So the idea for us was to show Ben slowly being won over by the town. Like in “Time Capsule,” he says he actually finds the passion of the public forum inspiring. And he says, “Don’t get me wrong. These people are weirdos, but they’re weirdos who care.” And she looks at him, and I think that’s the first moment when she looks at him and thinks, “I like you. I’ve identified you as a person I like.” And so the whole season was about them coming together and him simultaneously falling for the town. Finding a home.

Tomorrow: Episodes nine through 12, starting with “Fancy Party” and concluding with “Eagleton.”

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