15 things we learned from the 'Parks and Recreation' PaleyFest panel
As with Sunday night's "Lost" panel, I stepped in to do a little TV duty this week and attended tonight's "Parks and Recreation" panel at the PaleyFest.
I'm not sure there's a group of characters that I like spending time with each week as much as the "Parks" group right now. Pawnee has taken its place right alongside Springfield as one of the most fully-realized comedy communities in TV history. Each year, we learn more about the people of Pawnee and we learn more about the main characters and we just plain dig deeper into the roiling cauldron of weird that is headed up by the great Leslie Knope, played by the also-great Amy Poehler.
After a very spirited round of interviews on the red carpet, I headed upstairs where they were just starting to screen this Thursday's new episode, "Galentine's Day." After this, there are only six more episodes this year, and there was a fair amount of talk tonight on the carpet about how crazy the finale is going to be. Nick Offerman talked about trying to shoot a scene with Michelle Obama, but in the end honoring their mutual decision to always stay 250 feet away from each other so they don't make their respective spouses suspicious. Jim O'Heir talked about how he worked with Genuwine twice before learning that Genuwine is actually famous and not something made up for the show. It sounds like they've gone as big as they can, but week to week right now, I feel like they are just effortlessly knocking it out of the park. With characters this great and a cast this gifted, how can they do anything but make great TV?
After the episode, which features some great Andy/Ron scenes, always a good thing, the cast came out to take their places on the stage. Billy Eichner was first. He's new this year, playing the insane Craig, and he seemed to still be amazed that he's part of the show. Ben Schwartz was next, then Jim O'Heir, Retta, Adam Scott, Amy Poehler, Nick Offerman, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Platt, and show-runner Mike Schur. Plaza flipped everyone off as she took her spot, and as Offerman walked out to thunderous applause, he shrugged off his suit jacket, sized up the crowd, then slowly put the jacket back on, soaking up the screams. If you've never been to the Dolby Theater, it's gargantuan, and when it's completely packed, the crowd makes a tremendous noise. It's a wall of powerful sound, and it was the same for each person as they walked out.
Finally, Patton Oswalt took his seat next to Mike Schur, and they jumped right into it. Patton started to ask about how Mike Schur put this remarkable comedy ensemble together, and he did the same thing I've done as a moderator in the past, using a whole lot of enthusiastic words to ask a fairly simple question, and Mike Schur didn't let him get away with it. He broke in with, "You're doing great, Patton. Really great. Just take a breath. We're going to get through this."
Patton responded by getting more and more inarticulate on purpose until he was essentially grunting "How you get the show to be the show on the show I watch of your show?"
With questions like that being fired fast and furious on the stage, we ended up learning quite a bit of hard-hitting new information about "Parks and Recreation." Here are the highlights.
1) Amy Poehler is a talent magnet.
Mike laughed as he answered. "A lot of the credit goes to Allison Jones and Nancy Perkins." If you're not familiar with them, Jones is a legend. She cast "Family Ties," which means she helped break Michael J. Fox. She also cast "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," "Freaks and Geeks," "Arrested Development," Veep," "The Office," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Spin City," and "Undeclared." She's also been a huge part of the landscape of modern movie comedy helping put together "The 40 Year Old Virgin," "Superbad," "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World," "Superbad," and "Bridesmaids," among others.
"Additional credit goes to Amy Poehler," Schur continued, "because when you have Amy Poehler on your show, other people want to do your show." He said that Poehler and Rashida Jones were onboard first, and then they started meeting funny people. They saw Aziz performing and right away decided to write something for him. He gestured at Pratt, sitting next to him, and said, "This guy? No one was employing him. Look at him. He looks like this AND he does comedy? It's not fair." He talked about feeling incredulous when he realized that no one had hired Nick Offerman or Aubrey Plaza and how they were immediately added to the cast when he met them.
2) Chris Pratt got hired because of "Grand Theft Auto"
Schur went on to detail Pratt's audition for the show. They gave him a scene where he was playing video games, both of his legs in casts, and he was trying to get Anne (Rashida Jones) to bring him something while she complained about how lazy he was. When they began the scene, Pratt started describing all the things going on in his imaginary game of "Grand Theft Auto," and because of his ad-libs, they never actually got to the scene. "He would just say the most insane things. 'Hey, watch me drop this car on this hooker! I'm going to use this rocket launcher. Hold on.' We let him go for ten minutes."
3) Amy Poehler gets very emotional when she talks about the show.
Patton talked a bit about Amy Poehler's past and her great early appearances on Conan O'Brien's show, where she'd pop up as Andy Richter's super-intense little sister, and before Amy could respond, she took a few moments to really take in the size of the crowd at the Dolby Theater. As she talked about playing Leslie, she got very emotional, and it's obvious this job and this show mean the world to her.
"I think that Leslie gets to take really big swings and play really grounded moments. It's an actor's dream. We get to really act on this show, which can be rare in comedy. Mike and I worked together at SNL, and he said something simple to me to pitch the show. 'You will really like the way we do this show, and it will be the best experience you'll ever have.' And it's true. This show became owned by the people who watch it and kept it alive, and all the people who are here tonight feel like they own a piece of it. The secret to every success is that it's collaborative, and I think that comes from the people here, and I'm going to cry. Retta and I are drinking wine. I don't remember your question."