Aziz Ansari says fans of Parks and Recreation can expect radical changes to the show when it returns for its fourth* season next month. "The show picks up in the year 2115," he told us Monday. "So much of the original cast is gone. We all play our great-great-great-grandchildren. It's a totally new feel for the show." Ansari is lying, of course. But for Parks and The Office devotees looking for some insight into the new seasons, Vulture tracked down respective showrunners Michael Schur and Paul Lieberstein for answers during NBC's big bash at the TV Critics Association press tour earlier this week, and had an overlapping conversation with the two of them. It's appropriate, since their shows have plenty of common DNA: Greg Daniels had a hand in creating both; they both boast a mockumentary style; and Parks' Schur was a writer on the early years of The Office. Read on to hear more on the arrival of James Spader on The Office, the future of Ben and Leslie, and the truth behind those rumors about Oprah Winfrey being in the running to play Tammy No. 1 on Parks.
So how much of James Spader will we be seeing this season?
Paul Lieberstein: He'll be in at least fifteen episodes.
And how's he changed the set so far?
I love what he's doing to the cast and our characters. He's kind of scaring them. He's bringing out a new side of them and pushing them in ways we haven't seen in eight years.
Scaring them? He's not a villain, is he? Past Office leaders have had issues, but they were ultimately harmless.
We're not bringing him in as a harsh, evil character. He's just a very different personality. He just looks at you ... and you're so thrown by the way he's looking at you.
Pam will be expecting her second child this season. How far along will she be when the season starts?
We'll be at about six months.
Will this add any stress to the Jim and Pam marriage?
It's not serious trouble. But they have to go through things; all relationships do. It's really hard with two kids. Jim's going to maybe not want to go home so early. We've been talking about him wanting to have drinks [with co-workers] on a regular basis, or attend business meetings that aren't business meetings.
Will we see another big birth episode?
Nope. Not this time.
Craig Robinson told me tonight that Daryl and Andy will be reviving their band, and that Spader's character will want to get involved.
He wants to sing in the group. They're a little scared, but they say okay. Then he wants to keep singing the same song over and over and over.
When will we find out who will be the direct replacement for Michael Scott, if anybody?
We're not playing out the cliffhanger beyond the cold open. Then we're done, and it's a new dynamic.
Any specific plots you can reveal?
There's an episode about a list. James Spader's character accidentally leaves his notebook on Erin's desk, and it's open to a page where there's a list. Everyone's name is on this list, on one side or the other. And they can't figure out which is the good side or the bad side. We'll also do a Halloween episode. We're talking about a spooky banquet. And there will be a Christmas episode.
What about Mose? Will he be back at all? Particularly after the mix-up last season, where you credited Mike Schur as the voice of Mose, but it actually wasn't Mike.
I was upset about that. I found out later it wasn't Mike. It was one of our editors. Or maybe my brother.
[At this point, Schur stops by.]
Michael Schur: Booooo! Boooo!
We were just talking about the controversy with Mose. Is this headed to SAG?
Schur: There have been grievances filed! You were trying to pull a fast one.
Lieberstein: I didn't even know about it!
Schur: Don't you run the show?
Lieberstein: I never go to the office. I work one hour a week.
Schur: One hour a week and he gets paid 2.5 million dollars. That is a good deal. You should take it easy, go to Hawaii and take some time off.
[At this point, Lieberstein leaves and we start talking to Schur about Parks.]
So tell me everything.
Well, first the earth cooled. And then the dinosaurs came, and ...
Har. About the new season of Parks.
The first moment of the premiere is the exact moment we left off from the finale. We start there in the cold open, and then it jumps to the middle of the summer. Ron Swanson has just seen a glimpse of his ex-wife, and Leslie has been told she's running for office.
Are Ben and Leslie still a couple?
At the beginning of the episode, they're still together.
And by the end?
You'll have to watch and see!
Do we get lots of resolutions to the various cliffhangers?
Not everything from the finale is resolved; that would be crazy. But we see a little of Tom's new life. We follow Leslie's decision. We get some advancement on Ron's ex-wife. We see April helping Andy move forward in his life. There's a lot of big, tectonic shifting going on.
What about Ben (Adam Scott) and Leslie? Is there any more progress on their path to couplehood?
It's a slow burn. There's a rule very much in place that Chris invented [about co-workers having relationships]. And the question is whether the character of Ben gets to a point where he wants to break that rule. We're going to take our time on that.
Any details about Tammy 1 [who will be played by Patricia Clarkson]?
She has a different backstory than Tammy 2. She is not a sex maniac; nonetheless, her sway and hold over Ron is no less intense. I can also tell you this exclusively: She and Tammy 2 know each other. There's a backstory with Tammy 2. She's also not a native of Pawnee.
Megan Mullally had told us she wanted Oprah for the role of Tammy 1. Did you consider it?
Oprah was thrown out there. But she can't be anybody other than Oprah. She's the most famous person in the world. She's probably also never seen our show.
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*This post has been corrected to show that the upcoming season is Parks's fourth, not its third.