'Parks and Recreation' Mike Schur on the eventful season finale
"Parks and Recreation" just concluded its sixth season in memorable fashion (here's my review), with the Pawnee/Eagleton unity concert, a trip to San Francisco, big cameos and then a very crazy idea at the very end of the finale which could give us a very different show in season 7.
As usual when "Parks" wraps up a season, I emailed co-creator Mike Schur some questions about what went down, and why. It goes without saying that big big spoilers are coming, immediately.
When, how and why did you come up with the idea for this three-year time jump?
Mike Schur: We were breaking the final batch of episodes and had begun discussing the finale story. Some of it was sort of pre-destined, because we had the Unity Concert, which was going to put the merger storyline to rest, by showing that the town en masse would speak louder than the naysayers. And Leslie was going to accept the job, but figure out a way to stay in Pawnee (set up much earlier in the season by Ron's discovery of the third floor and his subsequent refurbishing of it). Then we had a conversation about the show's future with NBC, and got a very strong indication that we would be back for season seven, so we turned our minds toward doing something that would inject another season's worth of story into the finale. That either meant rebreaking the main action, in certain ways, to make it more forward-thinking, or doing something at the end that would shake everything up, and since we liked the stories we'd broken we went with the latter.
What percentage of the decision was made just to avoid showing Leslie and Ben dealing with baby triplets? And given the spotty track record of sitcom characters having kids, why did you decide to triple down on the experience? And was the triplet decision made before or after you knew you'd be skipping over colic and night feedings?
Mike Schur: The decision was made simply because we felt like Leslie is an overachiever, and it seemed funny and over achiever-y to have her and Ben create an insta-family. Triplets was one step beyond the traditional sitcom plot of "too much to handle," and seemed a little more fun and crazy-making, and when we researched it we found that the odds are about 1 in 8000 (the title of that episode) which didn't seem so nuts as to be implausible. But once we committed to that, we began imagining ways to avoid repeating what we had already seen with Ann -- pads and foot pain and sleepless nights and so forth. The jump forward allows us to avoid a lot of things that (I would imagine) fans were fearing about getting Leslie pregnant, in terms of the stories we tell going forward. That was a big reason I liked it.
Prior to the time jump, the rest of the finale feels very much like a conclusion to the series. Leslie takes this new job, Tom's restaurant is a big success, Ron is now comfortable enough in his own skin to appear in public as Duke Silver, Ben meets Kay Hanley, everybody sings the Lil Sebastian song one more time, etc. Is the idea that you had taken this iteration of the show and these characters as far as you could, and the only real way to keep things going is radical change?
Mike Schur: I don't think it's the only way. The cast is so good, and the world keeps expanding and moving forward, so I have no doubt that the creative team would've executed another batch of good stories and interesting dilemmas if we had stayed in real time. But this seemed more exciting and challenging. Plus, we have already seen a lot of what the finale up to that point would've suggested -- Leslie figuring out a new job, someone pregnant, etc. -- and now we get to see some new stuff.
How much have you figured out about the new set-up, both in terms of what kinds of stories you can tell now that most (all?) of the characters are working for National Parks, and what's happened to everybody in the last three years? Or did you just decide to put this out there, take a few weeks off and figure it out over the summer?
Mike Schur: We never make these moves unless we have at least discussed the basics, and have come up with a few plausible plans of attack for what is happening when we come back. That doesn't mean we know everything, or even most of it, but we at least discussed paths we can wander down with all of the characters. Amy and I had breakfast a week ago and I laid out the scenarios the room has discussed -- who is working where, how everyone is doing, and so on -- and we began what will now be a three month-long trial balloon process where we figure out which balloon flies highest. They're all working at a balloon factory, is what I'm getting at.
The conventional wisdom has been that season 7 will probably be your last. Is that what you're assuming? Do you feel like this new direction gives you multiple years of material, or is it simply something fun to do for a bonus year?
Mike Schur: The likelihood of season seven being our final one gave us an extra boost of confidence that we could make a big move like this. That was part of what we discussed with NBC a couple months ago.
Other shows have done time jumps before (“BSG,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Lost”), or done major revamps (“Laverne & Shirley” goes to California, Roseanne wins the lottery, “HIMYM” spends a year on a wedding weekend) very late in their runs. What do you see as the advantages and potential pitfalls of doing this? How different do you feel the show will actually be?
Mike Schur: The “BSG” move was my personal inspiration, right down to the way we shot it, which is the “Parks and Rec” version of Gaius Baltar putting his head down on his desk and picking it up one year later. I found that creatively thrilling, as a fan, so that was our template. For a while we discussed the Laverne and Shirley version, where everyone moves to Chicago, but as we discussed it, it didn't make sense that anyone would move with them (which is why part two of the finale is Leslie excitedly asking for takers and getting none). The advantages are obvious -- it's a jolt of creative energy, and if you don't jolt your show with a bolt of electricity every so often it can get stale. The pitfalls are that it's a risk to shake up a world that fans have been invested in, in a certain way, for a long time. But we felt like it wasn't so massive so as to violate the contract we've made with our viewers, as long we're still telling stories with the same characters. Except that next season four of them are Cylons.