In the age of reboots and revivals, not even flashing forward 50 years to provide definitive closure for every character can keep the question of a comeback at bay. That’s how it felt in the Dolby Theater Thursday evening when the cast and creator of “Parks and Recreation” gathered to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of their premiere, and the sold-out audience waited with bated breath for news of more new episodes.
What would it take to bring back “Parks and Rec”?
“I think in the world we live in now nothing is ever gone,” Michael Schur told Patton Oswalt, the panel moderator and former guest star on “Parks and Rec.” “I think everyone on this stage — and like six other people — would have to feel like there’s a story that needed to be told. What I felt personally, the show had an argument to make and the argument was about teamwork, friendship, positivity, being an optimist […] and believing people can do good and the power of public service, and that with good people around you […] good things are possible. […] I don’t feel like we left anything on the table, really. I feel like the show made its argument.”
Schur pointed to the flash-forward finale, in which the narrative moves years ahead again and again to give an ending to each main character, as another reason not to resurrect the series.
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“Maybe this was a preventative measure, but we jumped into the year 2074 — we saw Jerry die peacefully in his sleep holding the hand of his wife, Christie Brinkley,” Schur said.
Still, even with a perfect ending for Jim O’Brien’s lovable bungler and many other characters, Schur left the door ever so slightly open to a return.
“It felt like the most important thing I would ever do,” he said. “So I would never, ever, ever say never — the chance, should it arise, would be incredible — […] but as tempting as it is, I don’t want to make more episodes just to do it.”
In addition to the right story, Schur said he’d need every single cast member and key creative collaborator to be on board. “I would say we would do it if literally every person says yes. If one person says no, we shouldn’t do it,” he said.
That included everyone in attendance: Aubrey Plaza, Chris Pratt, Aziz Ansari, Rashida Jones, Amy Poehler, Nick Offerman, Adam Scott, Retta, Rob Lowe, Schur, and O’Heir rounded out the PaleyFest panel, which started with an introduction from everyone’s favorite Pawnee news anchor Perd Hapley (OK, it was actor Jay Jackson reprising his role) and ran well over 90 minutes of tear-filled conversation.
Oswalt, who said watching “Parks and Rec” was like getting a “free, perfect, 22-minute Tom McCarthy film” every week, kicked things off by asking each actor to explain how closely their real selves are tied to their characters.
“I think we all got a lot of freedom to play around a lot and expand on who we were playing,” Poehler said. “But we also brought a lot of ourselves to the characters. We had to keep things quite real, doing documentary style, […] but whoever was wearing the suit filled it out.”
Schur pointed out much of Ron Swanson came from a writers’ staff visit to Offerman’s real-life woodshop. Afterward, they all “felt very weak and frail,” but started integrating the actor’s woodworking skills into the part. The creator also said Chris Traeger’s signature catchphrase — “literally!” — came straight from his first conversation with Rob Lowe.
“He had just been part of a group of people who had bought into the Miramar library, and I said, ‘How does that happen?’” Schur remembered. “And Rob said, ‘I will tell you the story — I was literally on a yacht…’ Before that sentence, Chris Traeger didn’t exist.”
“I’ve been doing this a long time, and it took until this show for me to get a catchphrase,” Lowe said.
When Pratt and Plaza tried to discuss their characters origins, Ansari interrupted — “You guys are just like your characters,” he said, laughing. “This is like watching a tape from the show.”
Pratt later recalled one of many moments when “Parks and Recreation” predicted the future. In addition to calling the Chicago Cubs’ 2016 World Series victory, apparently Pratt foreshadowed his own casting in “Jurassic World.” While he was making a video for the show’s behind-the-scenes bonus features, Pratt recorded himself getting a fake phone call from Steven Spielberg where he said, “[I’m] shooting a video for ‘Parks,’ so I’ll have to get back to you about ‘Jurassic Park 4.'”
Oswalt also pointed out the similarities between Billy McFarland’s Fyre Festival business — highlighted in dueling Netflix and Hulu documentaries earlier this year — and Tom Haverford and Jean Ralphio’s luxury entertainment brand, “Entertainment 720.”
“Tom and Jean Ralphio were definitely involved in the Fyre Fest,” Ansari said. “[Fyre Fest] is literally Entertainment 720.”
“Tom and Jean Ralphio could’ve gotten Ja Rule, too,” Schur added, alluding to the rapper who collaborated with the festival.
“And the other day I was reading about the college admissions scam, and [thought], ‘That’s some Eagleton shit!” Ansari said.
Still, for all the fun the show had and laughs it created, Schur pointed to its earnestness as the reason why “Parks and Recreation” has endured.
“Greg [Daniels, who co-created ‘Parks and Rec’] would carve out a section of every episode of ‘The Office’ where there weren’t going to be jokes,” he said. “And it’s hard to do because it’s gooey and [you’re worried] what people are going to think. But that’s why people still watch that show.”
Schur said they implemented a similar mentality with “Parks and Recreation” and often offered sincere moments between Leslie Knope (Poehler) and Ann Perkins (Jones). Schur said he originally pitched the series as one about female friendship, and that held true through Jones’ departure in Season 6.
“The saddest I ever got on the set was when Chris and Ann were leaving,” Schur said, remembering how they decided to approach their final scene. “Let’s not overwrite this. Let’s let these two women have this moment. That was the saddest I ever got.”
“Parks and Recreation” ran for seven seasons from 2009 through 2015 on NBC. It’s now available to stream on Netflix, Hulu, and select other platforms. PaleyFest 2019 runs from March 15 – 24. Tickets are on sale now, and events can be streamed online, as well.