From Sochi to Pawnee we go: Now that the crying Olympic bear has gone back into hibernation, the rabid racoons can come out of hiding, and Parks and Recreation can return to the air. Tonight at 8:30 p.m., NBC’s beloved small-town government comedy kicks off the second half of its sixth — and not final — season.
While the midseason finale, “Ann and Chris,” saw the departure of Leslie’s best friend, Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones), and City Manager Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe), our former city councilwoman (Amy Poehler) will see the arrival of a few new challenges in the second half of the season, the first episode of which will solidify the unsturdy union between Pawnee and Eagleton. “There’s a big dramatic tension of: Is this going to work or not?” says executive producer Michael Schur. “Her arc for the rest of the year begins with her thinking, ‘I set this in motion, I have to make sure that it works. I’ve got to figure out a way to hold this together and not let the town fracture again.’” It sounds like Ms. Knope also will be presented with a career opportunity or two in the first few episodes. “Projects get going. Options emerge for her future,” says Schur. “It is a little bit of a push-pull between ‘I started this and I need to finish it’ but also ‘It’s incredibly time-consuming to do that and I don’t know if I want to spend the rest of my life making sure that Pawnee and Eagleton stay merged.’” Schur dropped more valuable hints about the rest of the season (and beyond), which you can pick up below.
On where the story is headed:
“Our goal this year was to say: Whatever problem she faces has to be the biggest problem she’s ever faced. So the idea was to put her in the toughest possible situation, in terms of something that she wants and something that she has always dreamed about. That’s what happens in this arc, and the decision that she needs to make is not introduced in the finale. In fact, far from it. It’s introduced in the [March 6] episode. A situation arises that puts her in the position of: You can have X but not Y, or you can have Y but not X. They’re both great scenarios and they’re both really wonderful things, but it’s a very dramatic decision and she spends the second half of the year mulling it over and doing things to try to give herself a clearer sense of what she wants to do. It all stumbles forward into this humongous life decision for her, and along the way, it only gets more complicated. She’s swinging back and forth. New elements are introduced and new wrinkles emerge and new problems develop and new solutions develop. But in the back of her head, she’s filtering everything that happens though this lens of: ‘What do I want to do with my life?’”
On the possibility of Leslie remaining with the Parks department:
“The first episode where she was back in the Parks department, where she and Tom (Aziz Ansari) were sort of mano-a-mano, she has this conversation with Ron (Nick Offerman) where she says, ‘Does this department even need me anymore?’ and he says, ‘No, it doesn’t. You have taught these people really well and they’ve all learned a lot from you. And also we both know you’re not going to be here very long.’ So we planted that in the middle of the year to say: She was a city councilor and she took a lot of big swings and she got recalled because in part she merged two towns together. She’s not going to just go back to the Parks department and hang out — that’s just not in her nature. So that obviously is the major issue for the second half of the year. She’s going to be thinking about what her next move is.”
On casting Jeff Tweedy to play the singer of a regionally popular rock band that Leslie is trying to persuade to reunite for a Unity Concert that will help bring Pawnee and Eagleton residents together:
“It was like, who is the ideal person to play this role? And we’re all huge Wilco fans so we were like, ‘Jeff Tweedy.’ And he happened to be coming to town anyway. His manager called him and apparently he is a fan of the show.”
On an upcoming episode that includes a character played by Ansari’s Human Giant castmate Rob Huebel:
“Ben (Adam Scott) and Tom are trying to rent some outdoor tents from him and he’s kind of an a–hole. They say they’re taking their business elsewhere, and then they go to another tent store, but he owns that one too. He’s a guy who’s cornered the market on outdoor tent supplies.”
On how news of NBC picking up a seventh season of Parks affected plans for this season’s finale:
“We had broken the story for the finale and we didn’t know whether it was a season finale or a series finale. Once we found out we were coming back for next season, we made a few changes. We probably worked in more cliffhangers than we would have and we altered a couple of things, but 95 percent of it is the exact story we had already broken. This arc that starts after the Olympics has a natural ending. We didn’t change anything about the way we ended Leslie’s year. Very big moves happen in the second half of the season, all throughout. We didn’t suddenly reverse course and go, ‘We gotta slow down.’”
On the possibility that next season will be the show’s last:
“We haven’t talked about it with NBC officially, but for many reasons — mostly just creatively in terms of where we’re building to this year — it would be natural if next year were the last year. I mean, you never know. We thought season 3 was our last year…. No decision has been made on that, but it wouldn’t surprise me if next year were the final season.”