Showrunner Michael Schur on building Parks And Recreation’s fourth season (Part 1 of 5)
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Having built Pawnee, Indiana into the most fully realized TV town not named Springfield during Parks And Recreation’s third season, showrunner Michael Schur and his team set about crafting the series’ most ambitious set of episodes for Parks And Rec season four. Leslie Knope’s campaign for city council formed the spine of the 22 episodes, but there was also tricky romantic territory to cross, and the matter of what would become of the parks department in the theoretical Councilwoman Knope era. In addition, viewers witnessed the brief reign of Entertainment 720, the introduction of the other two Tammys in Ron Swanson’s life, and the Twitter-ready phenomenon of “Treat Yo’ Self,” all of which Schur discussed with The A.V. Club in a lengthy conversation about the season. Today’s installment covers the beginning of the season, from episode one, “I’m Leslie Knope,” to episode four, “Pawnee Rangers.”
“I’m Leslie Knope” (September 22, 2011)
After meeting with a pair of campaign advisors in the season-three finale, Leslie must make a difficult decision between her political ambitions and her relationship with co-worker Ben Wyatt. Meanwhile, Ron Swanson hides from his first wife, the mythical “Tammy One.”
Michael Schur: We threw a lot of balls in the air in the season-three finale. There was a feeling that we wanted to do the most dramatic cliffhanger-y finale we could. And the biggest problem with that episode was figuring out how to answer all those questions in 21 minutes and 17 seconds. One big breakthrough we had was moving Ron out of the middle of the action right at the beginning, which is why, in the cold open, he disappears with a weird survivalist pack that he’s made in the event his ex-wife comes back. It was sad, because you never want to move Ron away from the center of the action if you’re us.
In our pre-production time, we decided that a story for the entire season was going to be the election, so we needed to end that episode with Leslie standing on a stage and saying, “I’m running for city council.” The whole episode became about how to make a satisfying story with that ending. That was the M.O.—by the time this episode is done, she’s standing on a podium, in a park, surrounded by her friends, saying “I’m running for city council,” and that was where we started.
The A.V. Club: Was removing Ron so early a move to destabilize Leslie?
MS: It seemed appropriate that he would be the person to give her the push she needed into making this tough decision. By removing him, it allowed her to flail around for a while and [seek] advice from other places. Until she followed Ron’s lead and ran away from her problems. [Laughs.] What you’re left with is, hopefully, the idea that she sought him out because she knew he was going to tell her what she wanted to hear, which is, “I know this is a tough decision. I know you really like this guy you’re dating, but this is your dream, and you don’t run away from your problems.”
AVC: It’s like she has to seek out her guru in this cabin in the woods.
MS: [Laughs.] Yeah, with a giant beard. It’s like she’s climbing the rock and finding the Zen master who can unlock the key to her heart. To me, Leslie and Ron’s relationship is the heart of the show. There’s a couple different heartbeats, I guess: One of them is Leslie and Ann’s friendship, and one of them that we didn’t expect when we started the show is Leslie and Ron. When she needs a shoulder to lean on, she goes to Ann. When she needs just a solid, rock-like moral foundation, she goes to Ron.
AVC: At what point did you realize Ron was becoming that for Leslie, and their relationship was becoming that core?
MS: Well, I think it evolved over season two a little bit—the first “Ron And Tammy” episode that we ever did was in season two. It was the first time Leslie stuck her neck out for him, and that unlocked a door for us. The next watershed was “Woman Of The Year,” where Leslie thought she had won this award for being a powerful, leading figure in the feminist community. But the award had been given to Ron because the feminist group was making a political statement and trying to get attention for giving a feminist award to a man. That was the first episode that Ron really stuck his neck out for Leslie. It went in quantum leaps over season two, and it’s grown more and more ever since. At the end of the day, it’s really because of the two actors involved. They are so good together, and they represent diametrical opposites in the political spectrum. Ron is so far to the right, he’s coming back around from the left. [Laughs.] And Leslie is obviously incredibly pro-government. They revolve around each other, and they have a mutual respect for each other, despite the fact they couldn’t have more differing views on the way the world should work, and the way the government should work. It’s a little bit of a fantasy for me—and for the other writers—that two people that far apart on the political spectrum could be so close and such good friends. If Ron Paul and Barney Frank were best friends, I think the world would be better off.
AVC: In addition to the election storyline, the première also establishes a theme for the season: sacrifice.
MS: It’s very tricky, because as soon as Adam Scott showed up, our intention was to make Ben a love interest for Leslie. I’ve said this before, but the idea was always that it would take them a while to get together, and then it wouldn’t go smoothly because of the circumstances under which they met. But as soon as we started developing the relationship—again, this is about actors as much as it is about writing or planning—it became clear that this was it for Leslie. We created a scenario at the end of season three where she had to choose between the secret relationship and her dream. In order to pull that off, there was only one move we had: Ben had to figure out what was going on, and he needed to step up and say, “It’s okay, we can stop dating each other until this is sorted through.” It’s a good move for the character, because it shows he knows how important it is for Leslie to do this thing she wants to do. In a more significant way, it solidifies in Leslie’s mind that he’s the right guy for her. So in one fell swoop, we were setting in stone how good of a match he is for her—how much he understands her, how much he cares about her and her dreams and her future, even though they’d only been dating for a short time.
It also allowed us to create some conflict and tension by having them break up, which we played out over the first half of the year. So that was a good little plot move, and I wish I could remember which writer came up with it. In any case, sacrifice was huge, and the sacrifice Ben makes is a meaningful one. At some point, I was talking to Adam Scott about how there was a growing cult of Ben Wyatt on the Internet, and his response was that it’s because Ben Wyatt does things he would never be able to. He’s a better boyfriend than Adam could be. [Laughs.] He does have this incredibly selfless, kind of beautiful, good-boyfriend streak in him that made it really hard in the first half of the year for Leslie to keep going forward without dating him again.
“Ron And Tammys” (September 29, 2011)
The latest (and final?) chapter of the “Ron And Tammy” saga introduces Patricia Clarkson as his first wife, Tammy One, and Paula Pell as his mother, Tammy Zero. Their presence leads to an alcohol-fueled battle for the man’s very soul.
AVC: Here’s a telling quote about Ron from The A.V. Club’s review of this episode: “Rather than answering my questions about the character, the new information opens more doors.” Do you feel like every time you reveal more about Ron Swanson, you’re actually creating more mystery?
MS: Well, that’s certainly the goal. We would be failing miserably if we did an episode in season four that only told people things that they already knew—about any character. The fun of having a character like Ron—and Donna is a similar character—they’re private people. To paraphrase, they contain multitudes.
If we had brought in Tammy One—after several episodes with Megan Mullally’s character, Tammy Two—and Tammy One was exactly the same kind of person as Tammy Two, that would’ve been really boring. I would have been extremely bored by that, as a writer and as a viewer. We talked a lot about what kind of person [Tammy One] was—what her job was and what their relationship was—and how it figured in. To me, when you’ve spent 50 episodes talking about the fact that this character has two ex-wives, and you’ve met the second one, and she’s a very specific kind of person, then you have to stick the landing on the first one. So there was a lot of discussion about how that puzzle-piece fit in.
It’s essentially a prequel, right? We’re writing a prequel movie to all of the movies you’ve seen with Megan’s character. So we needed to create one where if you were a fan of the show, and you knew a lot about Ron and what his second ex-wife was like, then you would see his first ex-wife and go, “Now I understand more deeply why he married the second ex-wife. Now I can fill in that missing piece of his history.” That was the idea behind her being his teacher, and the characters having a pedagogical, psychosexual drama from the time he was 11 or something. The fact that she worked for the IRS made it very fun because of how much he hates the government and government regulation—it’s his ultimate nightmare in four different directions.
In every episode, the idea is to reveal new things about the characters, and if we don’t do that consistently throughout the season, then I think we’re blowing it. I don’t like shows where you feel like you know exactly who the people are and exactly how they’re going to behave in every situation. Then it just becomes color-by-numbers where it’s like, “Now these characters are at the circus. Now they’re in a coffee shop.” And you watch their complete, set-in-stone characters unfold in exactly the way you expect them to. That kind of television doesn’t really interest me as a writer. I don’t know that we always succeed, but that’s always the idea: to keep filling in background details and suggesting new colors to Ron—and to every character—that you haven’t seen before. When Tammy One came, her relationship with him was so alpha/beta that by the beginning of act two, he’d shaved off his mustache, and he’s saying things like “cool beans.” [Laughs.] That gives you a pretty significant glimpse into the kind of relationship they had, and will always have.
AVC: From a creative standpoint, is it exhausting trying to move things forward incrementally every episode?
MS: It’s incredibly exhausting! And it’s scary, because every time you try to create a new character detail or show a different side of a person, you’re risking people who like the characters saying, “Oh, I don’t like this version of Ron,” or, “I don’t like this character detail.” It’s much more tempting to create characters that people like and then just coast. That sounds easy, but I think it’s boring. I don’t think it’s rewarding for viewers, and I don’t think it’s rewarding for writers or actors to do the same things all the time. It just seems like more fun this way. I’m not martyring myself here—we’re certainly not the only show that attempts to do this. A lot of shows try to do it, and I think it’s the way it should be done.
AVC: Looking at “Ron And Tammys” as a prequel, you stepped that up a notch by also putting Ron’s mother, Tammy Zero, into the mix.
MS: That was the surprise twist. We had this idea that someday we would see Tammy Zero, so those details of his history were just sitting out there waiting. Originally the idea for this episode was to meet Tammy One, and then we thought, “Oh, maybe in season five we’ll meet Tammy Zero.” But once we started breaking the episode, it seemed fun to throw an extra Tammy onto the pile, and have it be that Tammy One and Tammy Zero were best friends when Ron was growing up—which adds a new element of psychosexual drama to the mix. Amy Poehler suggested that Paula Pell—whom we both had worked with at SNL, and who plays Pete Hornberger’s wife on 30 Rock—play Tammy Zero. And it was like, “Oh yeah, we’re totally doing that.” [Laughs.]
It was an action-packed episode. We just kept throwing in new twists and turns. This is the third year we did a Ron and Tammy episode, and I felt like maybe this would be the last one. I’m not sure. We may do another one—we’d love to have all the actresses back at different points—but as for Ron and Tammy episodes, it’s possible that this would be the last time we do that. So we wanted to blow it out and make it a gigantic celebration.
AVC: Do you see the Ron and Tammy episodes as Parks And Rec’s answer to Cheers’ “Bar Wars” series?
MS: That’s certainly in the back of my mind. Those episodes were my favorite ones of Cheers. I had lunch with Ken Levine six months ago, which was a huge thrill for me because he worked on Cheers, and that was my favorite show. I believe he wrote some of those “Bar Wars” episodes. But that idea that there’s this looming, malevolent presence—just outside the world that you’re used to—is very near and dear to my heart, and I love those episodes so much. A lot of shows have those recurring characters. Cheers had a lot of them. Cheers had Harry The Hat, who would come in every once in a while. It was something to look forward to, when you saw an episode of your favorite show, and there was that special, recurring star who pops in every once in a while to cause trouble. So yeah, that is the model.
AVC: At the end of the episode, Leslie enters into a drinking contest to save Ron from his mother and ex-wife. Was that meant to indicate that Leslie has had more influence on Ron than all the Tammys combined?
MS: I don’t know if it’s about influence. I’m not sure Leslie could ever out-influence your former teacher and doctor and mom’s best friend and wife and everything else. [Laughs.] The theme is still sacrifice, and we wanted to drag April into the mix. So we had April, unsurprisingly, fall under the spell of Tammy One, because Tammy One and April are kindred spirits at some deep level. We wanted to have a big finale, where Ron realizes neither Tammy One nor Tammy Zero nor Tammy Two is the woman that has his best interests at heart. He has these friends he’s begrudgingly made; Leslie and April are looking out for him on a more basic level than his horrible first ex-wife or even his mom—because his mom isn’t thinking about what his life is like now. She’s thinking about what his life was like when he was taken from her by Tammy One as a child. That was really about showing his true home now is with the ladies of the parks department.
“Born & Raised” (October 6, 2011)
To promote her book, Pawnee: The Greatest Town In America, Leslie seeks Pawnee’s highest literary honor: an endorsement from local television personality Joan Callamezzo. Unfortunately, Callamezzo springs some “gotcha” journalism tactics (and attendant choreography) on Leslie, leaving it up to Ben and Tom to charm a Joan’s Book Club selection out of the lonely, horny host.
AVC: This one brings up the second torn-from-the-headline plot of the season. Are those types of stories inevitable when working with a campaign arc?
MS: We’ve done them before: There’s one about corn syrup, which is something that has been annoying me for a long time. Then we did an episode when that weird Miss California disaster happened. But yeah, I think it ramped up in season four because Leslie’s a candidate for office, which means her life is an open book. And we wanted to establish that when you run for office, every stupid detail of your life is up for discussion and is dissected, which I think is a tragic fact about politics. It means there are a lot of really smart, good people who made one mistake in 1987 and don’t want to run because they don’t want to put themselves and their families through that kind of scrutiny. I understand it; I get that people’s moral and ethical choices matter and people who are voting for politicians want to know everything they can about the candidates, but the media devours people’s lives.
Like this thing with Mitt Romney. He bullied this gay kid when he was in boarding school. That’s a terrible thing to do. And the way that it’s unfolding now is that Romney is saying, “Oh, I don’t remember that.” He has to pretend. He clearly remembers; everyone involved with the incident remembers, so I’m guessing the guy who actually held the kid down and cut his hair remembers doing that. I wish he had just said, “Yeah, it was a shitty thing to do. If I could live my life over, and if I knew then what I know now, would I do it? Absolutely not.” If he said that, at least I personally would be like, “Right. We all did really stupid and hurtful and mean things when we were in high school. That’s what high school is about: making huge, terrible, stupid mistakes and hopefully growing from them and learning from them.” It was a crummy thing for him to do, but I wouldn’t vote or not vote for a presidential candidate based on anything that person did when they were 17 or 16 or 15 or however old. If everyone’s life when they were a teenager were relevant now, then who the hell would you vote for for anything? Who would get a job? Who would be able to do anything in life if you had to be held accountable for every action you took when you were 15 years old? No one. It would be complete anarchy.
That birther thing was still a hot topic, amazingly, when we were writing and editing this episode. Chris Traeger says to Leslie at the end of the episode, “You can’t control where you’re born, but you can control where you live and how you live your life. You chose to live here. You chose to spend your life helping this town, and that’s what matters.” First of all, President Obama was born in Hawaii. I don’t know how much more proof he could have given at that point. But second of all, even if he hadn’t have been, seriously, who cares? Who cares, in all caps with an exclamation point after it. WHO CARES?! It’s not something he can control, and it doesn’t say anything about his character. John McCain was born on a naval base in Panama. I didn’t care about that. I don’t care. At some level, the birther movement is not about hardcore, Constitutional originalists being very concerned with following the letter of the law. It’s about the weird and disturbed people who are—probably on some level—racist, not liking the fact that a black man named Barack Obama is the president, and trying to find a way to say that without saying “I’m a weird, crazy racist.” That’s what that movement was about. But I also wanted to make clear that even if, in the future, a Caucasian gentleman who wants to run for president happens to have been born in Bern, Switzerland—who cares? That law, as I understand it, was established because they didn’t want people from England to come and usurp the country and be in league with England. I think we’re probably safe from that at this point. I don’t think we’re in danger of having a secret British national loyalist running for president and then selling us back to England or something. We’re probably okay.
That was the point we wanted to make with this episode—two points, I guess. One is, now that Leslie’s a candidate for office, her life will be under a tremendous amount of scrutiny. Also, for the kinds of things that are uncovered about people over which they had no control, who cares? We should all just stop caring about this. If anyone in the world actually does care, you should stop caring about that. [Beat.] Sorry. That was a little ranty. I got angry all over again thinking about the birther movement.
AVC: Leslie’s been under that type of scrutiny before; it’s just on a larger scale now.
MS: Now it’s on TV. There’s more at stake. These things have bigger consequences now, because she could win or lose an election if there’s a scandal. There’s also a bit of foreshadowing because we knew that the main plot reveal in the season was going to be her and Ben’s relationship: how that was going to play out in the media and how that was going to affect the minds of the voters. So we wanted to do a mini-tempest-in-a-teapot episode at the beginning of the year before the more significant one later.
AVC: And Leslie can’t get away from Joan Callamezzo.
MS: No. A lot of this is just the genius of Mo Collins: The first time she appeared, we very gently indicated that Joan loved Tom—because Tom flattered her constantly—and she kind of was indifferent to Leslie. But Mo took it in this other direction where she straight-up doesn’t like her. [Laughs.] It always makes me laugh, and we don’t really write it in. It’s really a lot of the way Mo plays those scenes; it’s that she just doesn’t like her, and there’s nothing Leslie can do. It doesn’t matter how intelligent her answers are or whether she’s on the right side or wrong side of an issue: Joan just doesn’t like her. This was a really good episode for showing the weird, out-of-nowhere disdain Joan has for Leslie.
AVC: And she really misinterprets Tom’s flirting in this episode.
MS: Well, she either misinterprets it or sees what she wants to see. This was a really fun Aziz [Ansari] and Adam Scott episode, because we locked them in a room with Mo for an entire episode. I think my favorite joke of the year is when Joan says, “I’m going to go powder my nose, amongst other things, if you know what I mean,” and then she leaves, and Adam goes, “Is she going to go powder her vagina?” That was probably the hardest line for them to get through. On our gag reel, there’s an extended sequence where there’s just take after take of them trying to get that line out without laughing.
AVC: That’s a difficult joke, because it could easily turn into one of those laugh lines that’s only a laugh because it points out something else that’s funny.
MS: In this case, the phrase “amongst other things” is common enough in the world of suggestive flirting that the setup doesn’t immediately appear to you. Your mind doesn’t immediately jump to what that means, because it’s such a common thing that people say, or that rhythm is so common. So it felt like we could go ahead and just have Adam ask that question legitimately. “Is that what that means? I’m not sure.” But you’re right. If it had been any more obvious when Joan said it, it would have fallen flat, because he would have just been explaining what she said, but the setup was oblique enough to where it made sense.
AVC: Adam’s inherent dryness sells it as well.
MS: The crazy thing about him is that he gets huge laughs just saying things. We don’t really write jokes for his character, per se. He just says things, and they’re funny. Again, I could probably spend the rest of this Walkthrough just praising the actors, but he’s the funniest straight man in the world to me. I don’t think there’s anyone who has his role on the show—a sane, normal-person role—who gets more comedy out of that role. We’re always sort of in awe at our readthroughs when he just says things out loud, and he gets huge laughs. Earlier in the episode, we come back to them having lunch, and Joan is saying that she was once walking through the mall, and Val Kilmer told her she should become a model. Adam’s line was simply, “That never happened.” When he said it during the readthrough—I remember it very clearly—it was the biggest laugh. He’s literally just saying something out loud. That’s not a joke, really. He’s just naming the scenario, and somehow he manages to get a tremendous amount of comedy out of that. It’s a writer’s dream: You can just write normal sentences and have the actor turn them into jokes.
AVC: Leslie’s book, Pawnee: The Greatest Town In America, was alluded to as early as “Time Capsule.” When was it decided that it should be a real-life tie-in?
MS: We did that time-capsule episode in that weird six-episode adjunct season we filmed after season two. At the time, it was just a funny joke that Leslie would—without anyone asking her to—write a book about the entire history of the town. Then the show was moved to midseason, and that meant we were done shooting by Christmas. And in the time between that six-episode adjunct season and the rest of the season, we were approached about the possibility of doing a Parks And Rec book. A big part of writing a book that’s associated with a TV show is that you can use the TV show to promote the book. So I was like, “Well, we’ve already referenced this book that exists in the world. It’s very organic. We wouldn’t have to shoehorn it in, because we’ve already written this little story.” So it was a natural project, and the fact that we had a short season that year meant the writers had more time to do this extracurricular project. We set the entire staff to work, and we hired this guy named Nate DiMeo, who was the captain of it and oversaw the whole thing. It was a very ambitious, weird little project, but I’m so happy we did it. In the time between when we finished season three and we were waiting for it to air—it didn’t air until January—it was a good distraction to keep writing about Pawnee and these weird aspects of the town.
AVC: Is there any chance Joan’s Book Club selection The Time Traveler’s Optometrist is being written during the downtime between season four and season five?
MS: [Laughs.] Someone should get on that. There’s a number of books referenced on the show: Recently we mentioned Groffle, The Awful Waffle, Leslie’s kids’ book. There’s a lot of potential book projects out there that maybe we’ll get into someday.
“Pawnee Rangers” (October 13, 2011)
The Pawnee Rangers and the Pawnee Goddesses—led by Ron and Leslie, respectively—take simultaneous camping trips that overlap with Tom and Donna’s annual celebration of excessive pampering. They treat themselves to clothes, mimosas, and fine leather goods, while Ben—still reeling from his breakup with Leslie—treats himself to a Batman costume and a good cry.
AVC: This episode introduced the world to the wonder of “Treat Yo’ Self.”
MS: Probably the most oft-quoted story of the year, at least anecdotally, to me.
AVC: It has the hashtag built right into it.
MS: [Laughs.] Yeah. We have 10 cast members, and we’re always on a quest to create new, interesting combinations of people. This is something I learned from Greg Daniels at The Office—because The Office had, like, 20 cast members. And Greg would do this exercise sometimes where he would say, “All right, you two people go off and come up with five Oscar/Kelly/Toby stories, and you guys go off and come up with five Phyllis/Creed stories.” It was just a good exercise; we have all of these great, funny people, and we should be constantly trying to find new, interesting configurations. I remember there was a story in season four called “Finer Things Club,” where Toby, Oscar, and Pam had this club they had invented where they would read a British novel and sip tea and wear Sherlock Holmes hats. And then they would read a French novel, and they would eat baguettes and brie. It was one more way people would stave off the inevitable, endless decay of working in a boring office. I believe that story came directly out of one of those exercises, like, “Toby, Oscar, Pam, go!” [Laughs.] I don’t remember who it was, but Mindy Kaling got very excited about that story and wrote it.
So this was the same thing. You have Tom, who has a sort of hedonistic and materialistic streak in him—so does Donna—so we invented this tradition they have where they go off to a mall and get massages and facials. They have this one day a year—for Tom, it’s really like 200 days a year. But he makes a big deal out of it on this one day. He and Donna found a little sliver of commonality. The capper was to throw Ben in there, who has absolutely no Venn-diagram crossover with that slice of their lives.
I am still not good at predicting what will catch on with the Internet and what won’t, but this seemed tailor-made—especially with those three actors—for people to get locked into it and have it become a thing. The big capper would be that Adam was wearing a full Batman suit and start crying. [Laughs.] We knew if we had that, no matter what, people would enjoy the story.
AVC: What other new combinations of characters would you like to see in future seasons?
MS: We try to mix it up all the time. Sometimes it’s not about people having an entire story together, but rather just having moments together. In “Born & Raised,” we decided to do a story with Ron, April, and Ann, which I don’t think we’d ever done before. There’s a nice Ann-and-Ron moment in an episode later in the year when he thinks Ann solved a problem, and the two of them are sitting on a bench in his office. He’s talking to her about her future, and Ann is just incredibly uncomfortable. It’s like, “What’s happening right now? Why am I in Ron’s office? Why am I sitting on this bench?” So we do it all the time in individual scenes. We did a lot of Ron/Chris Traeger stories, which was a lot of fun and something we hadn’t really done before.
With 10 characters, there are 10-factorial combinations of two people, so there’s no shortage of possibilities for who can be in a story at any given time. And that’s just two-person stories. If you would say three-, four-, five-person stories, then the world’s your mathematical oyster. I would like to always try new combinations; it’s just fun. They’re all good. You can’t go wrong. We’re never concerned about any two people in any scene together because everybody’s funny.
AVC: While Tom and Ben are off treating themselves, Leslie and Ron are off in the woods with the Pawnee Rangers and the Pawnee Goddesses. This is an episode where the personal philosophies we were discussing earlier come toe to toe.
MS: Yes. This idea was pitched by Nick Offerman in season two. He thought that Ron would unquestionably lead some troupe of youngsters. We chewed on it for a long time, but it didn’t come together until we figured out the backstory, which was that Ron had this group, and Leslie had tried to get a girl into it, had been denied, and had started her own group, which was a very Leslie-ish thing to do. And the two of them, in Leslie’s mind, were in direct competition for who had the better group. Ron didn’t care about the competition aspect. He didn’t particularly care about whether a girl could be in the group or not, though he did have a personal philosophy about it. What it was really about for him was molding young men’s minds. That unlocked the point of the episode, which is that Ron feels that he is part of a dying breed, and the boys that he’s leading in this how-to-be-a-man survivalist group are just not interested in the same things that he’s interested in. It is about the clash of personal philosophies, but it’s not like “boys vs. girls.” Ron has a very specific worldview, and the point of the episode was that he starts being concerned that no one younger than him has that same worldview—which is a lonely feeling. Then it became about Leslie realizing this, and that she’d been a jerk in flaunting the excellence and fun.
AVC: In Leslie’s mind, everything is a competition?
MS: Certainly if you tell Leslie she can’t do something—or, by proxy, that a girl can’t do something—you’re asking for it. [Laughs.] That was the basic idea. You’re just going to incur her wrath. In that sense, yes, it’s absolutely a competition. If you deny her something or act in such a way that you believe women are inferior to men, then you’re screwed, because she’s not going to let you off the hook. She has a very single-minded sort of tunnel vision when events like that arise. That was a very tricky thing, by the way—to try to figure out a way we could establish that a girl had tried to get into this club and had been denied, without making Ron seem misogynistic. Because he’s not, and that’s been a well-established fact. He wanted there to be one thing where boys could go and learn how to take care of themselves without being distracted, and that was the group’s rationale for not letting girls in. It’s not that he doesn’t think girls can do these things. He thinks it’s important at times for boys and men to experience these things together—just on their own. It’s a very fine line, and we debated that endlessly in the room, how to phrase things and tell that story without making it seem as though Ron were anti-woman. It’s a very important part of his personality that he is 100 percent pro-woman. He likes strong women. He likes to date strong women. He admires strong women. He goes to a lot of WNBA games. It was very tricky. I think we pulled it off, but I guess the audience is the judge of that, ultimately.