'Parks and Recreation': Exec producer Michael Schur on the finale's shocking last scene, that surprise cameo, and the future

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Image Credit: NBC

[SPOILER ALERT: Do not read this story until you have watched "Moving Up," the season 6 finale of Parks and Recreation, which aired tonight.]

Leslie journeyed all the way to San Francisco in the season finale of Parks and Recreation, but she left her heart in Pawnee. And so the city’s unofficial head cheerleader devised a way to snag her dream job running a regional branch of the National Parks Service but remain in her dream town by strong-arming and binder-ing her boss into moving the office from Chicago to Pawnee. In the boffo hourlong episode, Tom’s Bistro pulled off a successful early opening (well, the second time around), the Unity Concert was a crowd-pleaser, the rights to The Cones of Dunshire were rightfully returned to Ben, and… let’s see, was there anything else that happened… oh, just that IT’S THREE YEARS INTO THE FUTURE AND LESLIE JUST FIRED JON HAMM. The final scene of the episode was a mouth-agape game changer, as we saw future Leslie (Amy Poehler) running around on the third floor of City Hall, terminating Hamm’s incompetent National Parks employee (who had somehow in the last three years screwed up more than future Larry, a.k.a. Terry) and preparing to walk into some sort of high-level situation with husband Ben (Adam Scott). You have tons of questions. We have tons of… well, some answers. EW spoke with exec producer Michael Schur about the wild finale (which he directed), Parks in the future, and the future of Parks.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So… you really like to keep fans off-balance, don’t you?
MICHAEL SCHUR:
Yes, 100 percent. I’m a broken record about this, but I think that’s the best weapon we have in our arsenal, and that’s doing things unexpected and throwing people off-balance. It’s the last potent weapon for a network television show. And by the way, Shonda Rhimes agrees with me. That’s why people love Scandal so much, because they never know what’s going to happen.

That would have been quite a way to end the show if this were the last season of Parks. How different was the plan for the finale if this was going to be the last season?
We got to a point where we had mapped out the last couple of episodes — Leslie’s pregnancy and the triplets and then the confluence of events in the finale, which was going to be Leslie taking the job, figuring out how to maneuver it so she could physically stay in Pawnee even though she took the job, Tom’s restaurant opening and then looking like it was about to collapse and then having him save the day by throwing a big party. We had a meeting with NBC to talk about the future of the show, and we were given really every assurance that we would have another season. So at that point we were like, “Well, we can either radically reconceive all of these big story moves that we’re doing to try to leave things more open-ended, or we can just figure out a way to take everything that we’ve got — that we like — and throw a crazy wrench into the works.” And then out of that brainstorming session came the idea that we would jump into the future — quite literally into the future — and I just thought that was more interesting. I liked the way that we were concluding all of the stories that played out, especially the second half of the year, but really all year. So it didn’t seem right to screw everything up. We could have had Tom’s restaurant fail, we could have had Leslie turn down the job, but I thought it was more interesting and juicy to take everything that we had done that seemed like, “Oh, wow, that’s a neat little bow on the end of the show,” and then all of sudden something crazy happens. Leslie says [to camera] as she’s hanging the picture on the wall: “I’m just going to take a deep breath and enjoy this as long as I can.” And it turns out that for the viewer, “as long as I can” is about one second until a whole new series of yet-undeveloped crazies.

And then we get the double time jump — a month and then three years.
That was my fun, little impish wink at the audience. “Oh, they jumped forward a month!” and you see what’s happening and “Oh my God, it’s three years!!!”

How did you settle on three years? Did you toy around with smaller time jumps or even more radical jumps?
We talked about a bunch of different scenarios. One of them was nine months, so she’d had the kids, and we sped through the entire pregnancy and birth and the first week at home and all of that stuff. And then it was like, “If you’re going to jump nine months or a year, do something that really suggests that a lot of stuff had happened.” There’s something about that period of time: The kids are walking around and they’re wearing kid clothes and they’re maybe in pre-school at this point. It seemed like the right amount of time. It was a gut-level thing. We talked about: Is it five years? Is it 10 years? It seemed like enough time to be for really radical change without everybody having gray hair.

I’m guessing the series finale will be like Six Feet Under and we’ll jump decades ahead and see everyone’s death? Can’t wait to see how Jerry dies!
When Garry dies, who’s now Terry, he’s going to die peacefully in his sleep at the age of 110, with Gayle, who is still alive.

And hot.
And hot. And his three children and his 16 grandchildren and his 34 great-grandchildren, and they’re going to be peacefully singing his favorite song anshe clutches a picture of Li’l Sebastian and drifts peacefully into the afterlife. Somehow he’s going tooutlive them all and he’s going to be the happiest when he goes.

I thought that you guys would have wanted to have fun with Leslie being pregnant, and that the birth of the triplets would be a big deal and it would be reported on by Perd Hapley. The time jump obviously skips all that stuff… unless you’re actually setting up the series finale with the time jump, and we begin next season by flashing ahead a shorter distance into the future and then we build up to that moment we saw in the finale, perhaps with occasional flashes of the future.
Ah, you’re imagining a sort of J.J. Abrams-style development…

Or is that not the case and when we resume, we will be three years into the future?
Here’s what I’ll say: First of all, we won’t start really planning the season for another month, so I don’t want to say anything definitively. But what we decided when we did this was: This is not a yank. We are not teasing something that we are not going to then pay off. The majority of the season is going to take place in that time period, and that is allowing for certainly the possibility of episodes that fill in certain gaps that go back in time a little bit. That, who knows, go forward in time. Now we’ve established this as a possibility. But we’re not going to see Leslie pregnant for the whole year, we’re not going to see her give birth. The whole season is not going to be about filling in those gaps — the main action of the season will take place in that slightly futurescape. We may go back and see a couple of things here and there of what happened in the interim, but we’re not faking you out. This is a real shift for the show in terms of when it takes place.

Is much of the action next season leading up to that three-years-from-now moment we saw? Or do we move past it early on?
Subject to change based on the discussion of the writers, I intend to go past that moment. I intend that to be one of the earlier things that you’d see.

NEXT: Will everybody be back next season?

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