By Rick Porter
Picture by normandapita from Deviant Art
Thursday (Dec. 2) marks exactly seven weeks until "Parks and Recreation" returns to NBC on Jan. 20. And when it does, co-creator Mike Schur says, the show's cast and crew will be throwing what may be the first ever season premiere-slash-wrap party.
Schur and the rest of the "Parks and Rec" team initially had planned on being on the air this fall -- even shooting the first six episodes of Season 3 in the spring so star Amy Poehler could go on maternity leave without interrupting the schedule. Then NBC decided to push the show to midseason, which means that production will have wrapped before the season premiere.
"We're currently writing our finale, which is crazy," Schur told Zap2it shortly before the show went on its Thanksgiving break. "We're going to shoot the finale, and then a month later our premiere will happen."
Schur also talked with us about what we'll see in Season 3, finally getting to air after "The Office," the effect of shooting an entire season before it airs and more. Highlights of our conversation follow.
Zap2it: Did you ever lobby NBC to air after "The Office"?
Mike Schur: The show was designed to be a companion piece way back when. We've always felt very strongly that the best match for us tonally was "The Office." ... Back when we were first doing the show that was what we wanted, and we certainly made that point again a number of times [laughs] when they were trying to make up their minds about where to put us. And ultimately I guess they agreed with us, which is great.
How many episodes will you have this season?
It's 16, which I think matches the number of "Office" episodes -- the number they'll have after Jan. 20.
What's it been like working so far ahead of when you air?
There are pros and cons. I'd say if there's a con, it's that it's good to get feedback. [Normally] we get to see the episodes air and read what critics and fans think, see how different characters are being perceived. Then we have time to make adjustments to them if we need to. We shot six episodes back in April and May, so we had a reaaallly long time to edit them and get them exactly the way we wanted. A couple times we thought, "Oh, you know what would be funny is if we shot a talking head to fill in this space," and we've been able to do that. We really have that luxury that a lot of shows on cable and pay TV networks have. We sort of had everything in place before they air, which means we can look at the season as a unified whole, which is really nice.
What kind of stories will "Parks and Rec" be telling in Season 3?
The first half of the season is basically that the [Pawnee] government is in such rough shape that there's no money to do anything, and Leslie [Poehler] takes a huge gamble in the first episode. She comes up with the idea to basically roll the dice and gamble the entire future of the government, or at least her department, on one big project that if it works will provide enough money for them to go forward. And if it doesn't, the whole department will get shut down. The premiere episode is called "Go Big or Go Home." Then she gets approval for the project, and the first half of the year is about her putting the project together. ...
And obviously romantically, there's her relationship with Ben [Adam Scott] ... that's a big topic for the whole year. Rashida Jones' character, Ann, and Rob Lowe's character, Chris ... they develop a romance, and then there's also Andy [Chris Pratt] and April [Aubrey Plaza], who had a wrench thrown in their works last year.
Can you say what the big project is?
Yeah, what the hell. The town used to have a massive harvest festival -- hay rides and corn mazes and tractor pulls -- and it disappeared many years ago. Leslie decides to revive it.
Are the romantic stories what keep Adam and Rob's characters in Pawnee?
Basically, at first they're sticking around because they're kind of wrapping up the job of rescuing the government from bankruptcy, then they kind of stick around because of this new project, then kind of because of the ladies in their lives. They keep making excuses for not going back, because Ben is starting to become interested in Leslie, and Chris is starting to become interested in Ann. So they keep lingering. I think eight episodes in Tom [Aziz Ansari] actually says to Ben, "What are even still doing here, man?" ... Then they have to make a decision about what they're going to do long-term.
Was there a concern in making Rob Lowe's character too broad or too unnaturally perfect?
That was our main concern. We designed the character specifically for him and thought he was great playing it. But then we thought if we don't explain where this comes from, you're just going to get annoyed by him. So in the first episode back, you get a fair amount of insight into who he is, why he is the way he is and what turned him into this kind of person.
What does Ron Swanson [Nick Offerman] think about Leslie's big idea?
He doesn't support government projects, but he does support Leslie. He kind of just stays out of her way while she's doing this big thing and has his own stories. His ex-wife Tammy, played by Megan Mullally, comes back in the fourth episode. He's got his own things going on. ... There are totally separate stories for him, and he just basically closes his eyes and pretends the big government project isn't happening.
Only 16 episodes? Is NBC insane? I like cable runs, but the writers of "Parks & Recreation" did such a great job at keeping all the episodes at the same quality last season. Also, the season 2 DVDs came out and they are awesome! 15 minutes of bloopers!