Michael Schur Answers Your Lingering Parks and Recreation Questions

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Parks and Recreation co-creator Michael Schur. Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Hello, Vulture Readers,

My apologies for the delay in responding to these thoughtful questions about the end of Parks and Rec. The answers were intended to go up much earlier, but the last week has been a little nuts, and a lot sad, and I couldn't answer them until today.

Thank you for watching the show, and caring about the show, for the last six years. It's a rare thing, and the entire staff and crew were extremely aware of how lucky we were to have passionate fans who were invested in the work we were doing.

Best,
Mike

Editor's note: The first two questions for Parks and Recreation co-creator Michael Schur are from the Vulture editors. The rest were submitted by readers.

In 2011, Vulture credited Parks for pioneering a comedy of super-niceness. In ten years, how would you feel if that is how it were remembered? Is it a fair legacy?
Writers don’t get to choose the legacy of their work (if indeed the work even has a legacy). If we did, everyone would choose “greatest literary achievement in human history” and everything would lose all meaning. So I won’t comment on what would or wouldn’t be fair, but were that how Parks is remembered, I’d be thrilled. It was a nice place to work, filled with nice people, and the respect the characters showed for each other and the care they took with each other’s lives was very much woven into the DNA of the show.

Parks has also offered, in small doses, a sort of Daily Show–esque running critique of the media, and to a lesser extent, internet culture. Is this something you feel strongly about, or was it just funny? And, if the former: Would you like to explore this on a bigger level in future shows?
It’s both — I care about it, and it’s also funny. Media and internet culture, or tech culture, control America in this century, so they felt like the right sorts of things to be discussing on a show about public service and community. Also, newscasters are funny weirdos, and messianic tech companies are simultaneously hilarious and terrifying.

Your work seems to be strongly influenced by progressive politics. How do you find the right balance between humor and addressing serious political issues?
I might modify that to: I’m influenced by political ideas, and by the political climate in this country and others. My personal political views are not one thing or the other. I am part progressive, part social libertarian, part Roosevelt Republican, part other things. The balance we searched for on the show was by having characters voice different attitudes, ranging from libertarianism to progressivism to apathy. I felt like as long as we did that, respectfully, we would be doing our job. That’s why, when we went to Washington, we had Orrin Hatch and John McCain in addition to Barbara Boxer, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Cory Booker. We also reached out to Rand Paul, because we had a very funny scene where Leslie found some kinship between him and Ron Swanson. He initially agreed, but backed out at the last second for some confusing reason. But we were committed to showing all points of view on the show.

The only times we got very comment-y was when we showed political behavior that is patently ridiculous or harmful, like Milton’s racism, or Jamm’s sexism, or Dexhart’s philandering.

Between three-year time jumps with one season left, skipping through a whole triplet pregnancy, having weddings and proposals out of nowhere, resolving conflicts much faster than expected, embracing optimism instead of mocking it, not having serious love triangles, and not drawing out will-they-won't-they nonsense to kill time, Parks has broken a lot of the unwritten rules of TV. Were you guys consciously aiming to be that different from the rest, or was it just a series of happy accidents?
Honestly, we just wrote what we thought was funny, in a tone we liked, at a speed that befitted the story. Because we were on the bubble so often, we didn’t have to worry, really, about “rules.” We lived like there was no tomorrow. It was fun!

How did the actual ending of the series parallel with what you envisioned for the characters' journeys when the show was just beginning and hitting its stride? Were there any character developments that pleasantly surprised you, or did you always envision these characters achieving as much as they did?
It’s hard to remember what I, or anyone, envisioned, a long time ago. Once you show a character taking a certain path, it sort of feels inevitable, like it was always going to be that way. Certainly achievement and drive and upward mobility was always something Leslie focused on, and she kind of pushed other people to focus on it, too. I do find it interesting to reflect on the arcs that I thought were very successful, as well as those that might have been slightly less so. The nice thing about having great writers and welcoming a lot of opinions is that you never have to worry that a decision, big or small, didn’t get thoroughly examined, or that we didn’t do our due diligence. And ultimately, I wouldn’t change a thing about the show.

I've been rewatching the whole series and love how many seeds are planted early on in the show. Donna talks about hating her brother, then he crashes her wedding! Tom talks about wanting to open Tom's Bistro, then does! Ben loves calzones and that comes back for the pie-baking contest! How often is a seed planted and the room thought, Oh, we have to come back to that later, and how often was it the other way around where an opportunity just presented itself to mine something from earlier in the series?
Greg Daniels likes to say that the ends of TV shows often seem like magic tricks, because you take something that was mentioned five years ago and weave a whole story line around it, and the audience thinks: How did they know, so long ago, that this would become important?! The reality is that after a hundred episodes, you have so many moments and dreams and jokes to pull from, it just makes sense to bring some of those things back and build around them. Tom’s Bistro stuck with me because I always loved that Tom’s reason for wanting to open a restaurant with that name was: “The word ‘bistro’ is classy as shit.” So a couple years later, that idea is just sitting there, waiting to be called off the bench.

That’s true of plotlines, but also of individual jokes, and even characters. Orin started because of a throwaway joke in a season-three episode, and we loved the idea of Orin, so we made him real. That’s the real joy of working on a show for a long time.

What is your favorite catchphrase/running gag from throughout the whole program? 
Hard to beat “Treat Yo’ Self.” Though my favorite running joke was people (usually Ben) almost taking a job at the accounting firm and then backing out at the last second. It’s one of the weirdest recurring jokes I can imagine ever existing on television.

Who was the guest star that you really wanted for the show, but weren't able to make work?
Teddy Roosevelt. His agent always claimed he was “unavailable.”

Does the basketball in the title credits go in or not? I must know.
You never will, friend. I’m sorry. It’s an epistemological nightmare.

Okay, you can go to pretty much any town in Indiana and most people there will have a million reasons why Pawnee is based on their town – but really, it's Lafayette, right?
Actually, no. I swore I would never reveal this, but now that the show is over: The actual model for Pawnee is Kuala Lumpur.

What do you think Mose would think of Ron Swanson, and vice versa?
Mose didn’t talk much and did honest work with his hands, so Ron would probably like him. Mose would be scared of Ron, because Mose is scared of everything.

Is Gary/Gerry/Larry the most tragic character in television history?
Married to Christie Brinkley, three beautiful daughters and many beautiful grandchildren and great-grandchildren, impressively endowed, steady job his whole life, and then mayor of his beloved hometown for 30-plus years before dying peacefully in his sleep on his 100th birthday? Seems okay to me. 

If Leslie Knope were a tree, what kind of tree would she be?
Whichever one grows the fastest, gives off the most shade, and has the strongest roots.

Any truth to the rumor that Gritt and Eckstein may eventually leave the law firm of Fwar, Dips, Winshares, Gritt, Babip, Pecota, Vorp & Eckstein to become partners at Hustle, Hart, and Grinder?
I know they had some high-level discussions, but they never went anywhere. Apparently Hustle, Hart, and Grinder looked impressive in a meeting, but their bookkeeping was a mess and they were just bleeding money.

If Leslie Knope and Game of Thrones' Khaleesi had to fight each other in a Hunger Games–style scenario, who would win?
Would never happen. They would immediately team up and take over the world, together.