Watch your back, Michele Bachmann, and better not take a nap, Janet Napolitano: A new female force is rising to political power and her name is…Knope. On Thursday’s feel-good, satisfying season 4 finale of Parks and Recreation, our beloved deputy director of the Pawnee Parks Department, Leslie Knope, triumphed over Bobby Newport in the election to claim a seat on the city council. Why did the Parks writers choose victory over defeat for Leslie? What happens to the department as we know it? And is Andy about to go all Bert Macklin on us for real? While you pick the streamers out of your hair and yell, “City council, bitches!”, check out EW’s Q&A with series co-creator/exec producer Michael Schur (who remains “cautiously optimistic” that NBC will renew the show.)
You shot two endings — one in which Leslie (Amy Poehler) wins, and one in which she loses. How close did you come to using the other ending?
We made the final decision that she would win two weeks before we shot it. But there were various times throughout the year when we were like, ‘Okay, she’s going to lose.’ And we were searching actively for the way that we would craft the story to make it not a super-huge bummer that she lost. It was obviously the biggest question of the whole year. I talked to Amy about it probably 30 times and we talked in the writers’ room another 100, and we convinced ourselves of both versions many times over. But once we knew that her friends were going to help her in the Christmas episode, I became more and more convinced that the end of that story had to be that she wins. The spirit of that Christmas episode was basically the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, and it just felt to me that once you were on a path of coming from that kind of emotional place, the idea of an arc beginning that way and ending in disappointment seemed inappropriate. As soon as we started the story that way — where all of her friends decide to put their lives on hold and pitch in to help her achieve her goal — it seemed like, ‘Man, she should really achieve that goal.’ If the end of It’s a Wonderful Life had been that he’s penniless and throws himself in the river, that would’ve been kind of a bummer.
Can you take us through the pros and cons of both options, and what ultimately tipped you in the direction of her winning? It seems that having her win would allow you to explore fresh story territory, but it might be difficult to find a way every week for Leslie’s story to organically intersect with the Parks Department’s.
That’s a huge part of it. The new kinds of stories we could tell seemed really fun and exciting and scary in a good way. The thing that tipped us over into the she-should-win column is, we had a long conversation with a member of the Indiana State House of Representatives who had served on the state election commission. We had gotten conflicting reports but he was the one who told us that the laws and statutes regarding people who are in elected office would not prohibit her from keeping her Parks Department job, that she could in fact keep her job as the deputy director of the Parks Department and also serve as a city councilor. I had not thought that was the case but there’s a rule that’s super arcane — the language is that you have to have a significant position in the government to render you unable to hold office. And like most things in government, it’s very unclear what that means. But it essentially means that Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) could not be a city councilor and Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) probably could not because he’s a department head, but someone who’s a worker within the department could do that. So it was like “Okay, that’s good. Now we know that it’s legal.”
After that, the pros were mostly like, ‘New stories and new responsibilities are always a good thing.’ And she also doesn’t have to abandon everything that we’ve built in terms of the Parks Department dynamic. We got very excited at the idea that she would simultaneously be Ron Swanson’s boss and his employee. That seems really fun. We talked a lot about how that would work and how their dynamic would shift because their friendship and work dynamic is so central to the show. And the cons are: You get to a point on the show where you’re like, ‘I know who the characters are and I know what their jobs are,’ and the temptation is significant to just coast on that for as long as you can and keep cranking out good stories with the people that you have in the places that they are. But I get bored by that. I would always rather take the scary, difficult way to do a season than say, “Let’s start over and do more stuff that’s the same”…. The plan is that she’ll still be in the Parks Department and she’ll also be serving as a city councilor, which is good. If we want to do a traditional Parks Department story, we can do that and completely ignore the fact that she’s in the city council. And if we want to do purely a city council story where she has to deal with other new people that we introduce, then we can do that too. [Or] we can have the two worlds cross over, clash with each other and intermingle. The world is our oyster.
Have you figured out who the new characters will be?
There’s two councilmen we haven’t met, and we haven’t met the mayor, and there’s any number of other present or former power players in the little town that we could introduce. We haven’t put in any thought at all as to what kind of people those might be or who might play them.
NEXT: Schur on the alternate ending