'Parks and Recreation' at PaleyFest: Season finale is 'bonkers'

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Image Credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Pawnee went Paley on Tuesday night as Amy Poehler & Co. hit the stage at PaleyFest to talk all things Parks and Recreation –and bask in some crazy fan love. The Q&A panel, held at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood and moderated by comedian and Parks visitor Patton Oswalt, included wine, assorted memory lane strolls, a hint about the finale, ample guest-star shout-outs, and more. Read on for the highlights:

• Best entrance: While Adam Scott scored laughs for not-quite-moonwalking across the stage and awkwardly trying to sit in a seat (a nod to the third installment of his Greatest Event in Television History), Aubrey Plaza walked out faux-cheerlessly and flipped off the crowd, much to its delight.

• Best casting story: Series co-creator/exec producer Michael Schur relayed the story of Chris Pratt’s audition scene with Rashida Jones, which centered on Andy playing a video game as Ann complained about how lazy he was and tried to motivate him. “Pratt pretended to be playing Grand Theft Auto,” said Schur.”And they never got to the scene because he just kept telling Ann… how he was going to kill someone. He was just like, ‘Watch this. I’m going to drop a car on this hooker’s head!’ And then she would try to talk and Pratt’d be like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait, watch this: I’m going to drop a helicopter on this guy’s head….'”

• Poehler recalled being recruited to star in Parks: “Mike and I knew each other at SNL and he just said a very simple thing to me when he was pitching me the show and the idea of the show, which was: ‘You will really like the way we do this show, and I promise you this will be, like, the best job you will ever have.’ Something very simple and he was right.” (As she proceeded to talk about how Parks “became owned by the people who watched it and kept it alive, and became this bigger, special thing, and all the people that are here tonight feel like they own a piece of it,” she started to well up with tears.)

• When Oswalt asked Poehler and Scott how much ad-libbing they did in the highly emotional, fan-favorite scene in which Ben proposed to Leslie, Poehler said they stuck to the script. She called it  “a very special time” and noted that Schur wound up writing that scene in his hotel room right after they found out they were not nominated for an Emmy while in Washington, D.C., filming the episode with Joe Biden. Scott spoke of it reverently, adding that on the shoot day, he and Poehler knew the scene was coming up but “didn’t really talk much about it and… stayed separate in the house.”

• Schur’s favorite scenes to write for Parks? The ones about the unlikely friendship between liberal Leslie and libertarian Ron. “We just wanted to say, like, ‘All right, one guy can have one set of extremely fervent beliefs that run completely counter to the beliefs of his coworker and they can still just get along and respect each other and admire each other and find things in common,'” he noted. “And they can sit down and have a  glass of whiskey together at the the end of a long night… Those scenes very early on became the kind of meat, the real filet of the show. And we went back on it. We thought it was going to be kind of a background thing and it very quickly just became the center of the show.” While Schur noted that the writers removed the possibility of a romance between the pair very early in the show’s run, Poehler chimed in: “Though I will say every year Nick and I do a scene just for the gag reel where Leslie and Ron make out.” Retorted Schur: “And we never put it on the gag reel because it’s super disturbing. It’s like watching your parents go at it super hard.”

• Season 2’s “Hunting Trip” proved to be a memorable episode for a few cast members. Pratt recalled how the seeds of the April-Andy romance blossomed out of their scenes while they were stuck in the office (“We… had this really magical day where we did a bunch of bits and there was just something happening there”). Meanwhile, Retta was convinced that she was going to be fired by co-creator Greg Daniels because she was scared to disappoint him in a scene that required Donna to cry; suffice it to say, she got a little too caught up in the moment. (“I lost my s—,” she said.) Oh, and Jones got hit in the face with a car door. “That episode was a mess,” said Retta.

• Although Schur gave Garry/Jerry/Larry (Jim O’Heir) a hot wife (Christie Brinkley), three beautiful daughters and a large endowment as compensation for being the office punching bag, he said the writers are constantly pitching that Brinkley’s character leave Jerry. “I’m like, No, no, no,” said Schur. “Never going to happen.” Outside the office, Jerry needs a great life, he added, because “that’s the only way I can emotionally cope with what we do to him.”

• Nick Offerman’s real-life woodshop in L.A. continues to play a role on the show. (As you may know, it’s used to film scenes in which Ron is seen toiling away on various projects.) Offerman made the boxes that were seen in the farewell episode for Jones and Rob Lowe, and gave them as goodbye gifts to the actors — with the cast’s initials burned into them. This year, as end-0f-season presents, Offerman handed out Pawnee baseball bats that were made in his shop.

• During a discussion about the show’s improv-fueled moments, praise was heaped on Pratt for his off-the-cuff recounting of the plot of Roadhouse. Schur paid props to Plaza for creating one of his favorite improv moments on the show — when April defends Ben against a snotty-but-connected intern while they were working in D.C.. “Aubrey did this take, where she was like in his face and was like, ‘If you ever do this again, I’ll rip your head off,'” recounted Schur. “And the kid is staring up at her. But she’s leaning in, she gets really really close, she’s, like, screaming at him and there’s a beat and she just goes, ‘Kiss me. Kiss me.’ And the terror in this kid’s eyes. Because he’s, like, acting. He’s like ‘Am I supposed to do this?’ She’s like, ‘Kiss me. Kiss me.’ And he’s terrified and he makes a small move and she goes, ‘Stay away from me,’ and then she goes, ‘Kiss me.'”

• What to expect from the season finale? (Aside from a Michelle Obama cameo?) “The stuff that happens in that last episode is bonkers,” said Poehler, noting that she didn’t envy the writers who will have to figure out how to pick up the story in season 7. “It ends with a lot of change. A lot of change.” Added O’Heir: “I got chills when we got those final pages.”

• Nerd alert: Schur hinted that Ben’s role-playing game, The Cones of Dunshire, will make another appearance on the show.

• Asked to name their favorite guest-stars, Plaza mentioned Patricia Clarkson, Offerman singled out his wife (“I’ll take Megan Mullally… in about 45 minutes,” he joked), Poehler chose Louis CK, Scott selected Brad Hall, and Retta opted for Ben Schwartz, who was on stage (“He’s the only guest star that’s broken me”). Schwartz, meanwhile, tipped his hat to his on-screen sis, played by Jenny Slate (“I have been asked so many times — and maybe it’s anti-Semitic — but I have been asked so many times if in real life she’s my sister”), O’Heir namechecked Mo Collins, and recurring guest Billy Eichner quipped: “I did a thing with Henry Winkler, who’s the nicest person ever and did the Fonz voice even though I didn’t ask him to.” (Eichner also drew big laughs later when he cracked: “I’m just happy to be on the stage where John Travolta said ‘Adele Dazeem.'”)

• Perhaps the biggest laughs of the night came when Oswalt solicited questions from the audience, and a redhead named Daniel was wholly overwhelmed by his chance to interact with the cast. He kept exclaiming “Oh my gosh,” endearingly had trouble getting his question out, but clearly wanted to know if the actors were like their characters: “Retta, are you always like, ‘Oh, damn, bitch!?'” Daniel would receive a standing O from the Parks gang.

• Poehler seemed to struggle a bit to answer a question about how she wanted the show to end for Leslie. “I don’t even want to think about the ending… but it’s coming,” she said. She did say that she was rooting for a happy one, and that “I love that her dreams are big but her power is small… She’s met the love of her life and that’s sometimes enough.” And in praise of Leslie, she also offered up: “What’s cool about her is there’s nothing cool about her.”

• The final question of the night: What inspires you about your character? “She gets laid,” joked Retta. Offerman deadpanned: “I am told at my job to eat a great deal of bacon and then also eggs and steak and drink scotch — Lagavulin, to be specific, Lagavulin 16 — and not say anything.” Pratt scored laughs with his appreciation and summation of Andy: “Knowledge is very dangerous.”

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