"Parks and Recreation" has told a season-long story about Leslie Knope's campaign for public office, so it's only fitting that the show will be paying homage to "The West Wing" in a few weeks.
The Huffington Post can exclusively reveal that in an upcoming episode of the NBC comedy, Bradley Whitford, who played Josh Lyman on "The West Wing," will play the departing Pawnee city councilman whose seat Leslie and Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd) are running for.
According to "Parks and Recreation" co-creator and executive producer Michael Schur, the name of the March episode ("Live Ammo") came from a "West Wing" episode, in which the character Ainsley Hayes wrote a position paper that got the president to quickly change his mind on an issue. She's shocked at the speed of the switch and the pace of the White House, and as Schur recalled, Sam Seaborn said to her, "Look, this is the White House, we play with live ammo around here."
The "Parks and Recreation" episode doesn't have the same story line as 'The West Wing' episode, "but we kept referring to that line and that idea that if Leslie were to win… when she's on City Council, her decisions have a much wider impact," Schur said in an interview on the set of the show. "So we actually have Bradley Whitford say to [Leslie] at a point in the episode, 'Look, this is City Council, we play with live ammo.'"
Though Schur hadn't seen the finished episode yet, he said there were several small "West Wing" homages in it, and he told the director if there was room for a "West Wing"-style walk-and-talk with Amy Poehler and Bradley Whitford, he "wouldn't complain." But don't look for a mini-"West Wing" reunion in Pawnee: Rob Lowe, who played Seaborn, did not share a scene with his "West Wing" castmate Whitford.
Schur said that viewers will learn who wins the race for that city council seat in the Season 4 finale of the show and it might surprise "Parks and Rec" fans to find out that Schur and the writers only decided who the victor would be a few weeks ago. They certainly didn't start out the season with a pre-determined winner in mind.
"Since we came up with the idea to have [Leslie] run, we’ve spent a part of every single week discussing the pros and cons of having her winning and her losing," Schur said. "And there are many to both situations. And so we’ve chosen a path that I think maximizes the pros and minimizes the cons." One important point to keep in mind is that working for the Pawnee city council is only a part-time job.
"If you’re really high up in the government, you can’t hold two jobs. But you can if you’re in Leslie’s position," said Schur, who'd spoken to a high-ranking Indiana state official for research. "So that option is open to us. I’m not saying that’s what we’re going to take, but it was good to know."
When I expressed reservations about Leslie losing -- wouldn't a loss go against the can-do, optimistic spirit of the show? -- Schur explained that the writers spent a long time thinking about how they could depict that situation without it seeming "like a sad bummer at the end of the year."
"Winning the election isn’t the only way for her to be happy in her career," he noted. "There could be other possibilities -- people offering her different things that would be better than being a city councillor. That's where losing the election might actually be a good thing or a blessing in disguise or something. Obviously, if she wins, that would be very much in keeping with the tone of the show and with a character who is so driven and passionate about what she does, and is very successful in what she does."
One big plus of having Leslie win would be that she had even more reason to interact with the many other city departments and employees we've previously seen on the show, Schur noted. But the win would change Leslie's life, and the challenge was to alter her circumstances without changing the DNA of the show too much.
As Schur put it, the writers thought a lot about how they would "make sure if she won that we didn’t feel like we were watching a new show in Season 5… There’s a certain amount of familiarity that’s necessary, and we’re doing certain things to kind of reassure people at the end of the year that it’s not all going to be different" in a potential fifth season, if Leslie wins.
In a few weeks, I'll post another piece with thoughts from Schur and other members of the cast on Leslie's run for public office, but I thought I'd offer a quick rundown of what will transpire the rest of the season. But before we get to that, I asked Schur if Tom (Aziz Ansari) and Ann (Rashida Jones) will be dating for a while.
They will be, but Schur described their relationship as comedically driven and "roller-coaster-y."
"We have two very serious, heartfelt, soulmate relationships on our show in Leslie and Ben and Andy and April, and we wanted to do one that was just a comedy relationship," Schur said. "There's no staring deep into each other’s eyes and mooning over each other."
Ann has already dated a lot of the Pawnee guys in her age range, as Schur pointed out, and Tom is "a ridiculous person, but he’s got some very good qualities. He’s funny and he’s stylish and he’s interesting. He’s ambitious and he knows a lot about music. The reality is at some point, you would try it. … Obviously, Tom is way more into Ann than Ann is into Tom at the beginning, but it’s very casual and played almost entirely for comedy through the end of the year."
Also this season:
- Adam Scott says that Ben doesn't get a new job any time soon. "Right now, [his focus] is the campaign and he's not really thinking about what job will be next. He wants [Leslie] to win, but I think he also thinks she deserves to win and Bobby Newport does not deserve to win. It's become this mission he has to accomplish -- he cannot let this happen."
Episode 15, "Dave Returns" (Feb. 16)
Leslie's old flame, former Pawnee cop Dave (Louis C.K.), returns and she and Dave end up going out to dinner with her current boyfriend, Ben. It turns out to be one of the most awkward meals in the history of dining.
As Adam Scott pointed out, Ben has an unfortunate history with police officers, who make him very nervous. And neither Ben nor Dave is socially adept. "Dave is an incredibly awkward guy," Scott noted. "What a nightmare for Leslie to have to sit between those two guys."
Scott said that after that dinner, the trio heads to a retirement party for the Pawnee chief of police, whose endorsement Leslie wants. "His retirement party is just a bar full of cops," Scott said. "So after all of the awkwardness that happens at the dinner between Ben and [Dave], then they have to go to a bar that’s full of cops in uniform and it just doesn’t go well."
Episode 16, "Jerry's Sweet Sixteen" (Feb. 23)
Leslie throws Jerry a party after she realizes everyone forgot his birthday. "As much as there's a lot of putting [Jerry] down, there's a lot of rallying to be there for him," according to Jim O'Heir, who plays Jerry. But what does the "Sixteen" refer to? He couldn't say.
Episode 17, "Campaign Shake-up" (March 1)
Kathryn Hahn starts a multi-episode arc as the campaign advisor to Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd). Comedy legend Carl Reiner also guests as a power broker in Pawnee's senior community, an important voting bloc. "He's the Godfather of the old folks," Schur said.
"We have to kind of woo [the seniors] to try to get their votes," said Scott. He was especially excited about working with Reiner, who signed his poster from the movie "The Jerk." "An original 'Jerk' poster from 1981. For me, that is huge to have that."
Episode 18, "Lucky"
Sean Hayes guest stars as Buddy Wood, a journalist who is the "Barbara Walters of Indianapolis," according to Schur. Wood selects Leslie as one of the local candidates who he profiles in an annual special.
"He's very popular, and we find out all five people that he profiled last year won their elections, in no small part because of the bump they got from him," Schur said. "So the episode is about her having this huge interview with this guy and he's just incredibly cocky. Even though he's a human interest, local news guy from Indianapolis, he acts as if he is Charlie Rose or Barbara Walters or someone of that level of importance."
The episode was written by Nick Offerman, who said it was "incredibly fun and really hard ... It's a very collaborative process, writing for any TV show, because we have a whole staff of writers. But you ultimately you have to go off and write a script on your own. Mostly it was really fun, because Mike and the writers have created such well-defined characters and we know their voices so well that it was mostly just really fun coming up with things for everyone to say. As far as writing for myself, I just really tried hard not to be too self-indulgent. When I suddenly had a page-and-a-half monologue, I was like, 'This is not going to look good.' But it was really fun writing for Ron."
Episode 19, "Live Ammo"
Bradley Whitford guest stars as the city council member whose seat Leslie is running for. "I know everyone here is a big 'West Wing' fan, so we got to work out our 'West Wing' fantasies," Scott said.
As for Whitford and Lowe not working together on the episode, Schur seemed to think it was for the best. "There's nothing worse than that moment in the show where [actors who worked together on a different show meet]. 'Don't I know you from somewhere?'"
Episode 20, "The Debate"
This episode was written and directed by Amy Poehler, and Paul Rudd is among the guest stars (Rudd will also appear in Episode 21, and they're hoping to have him in the season finale as well). Rudd was always the first choice for the character because, among other things, "he plays blank so well," as Schur put it.
"To put a good comedic spin on Leslie's situation, the guy has to kind of be a doofus," Schur noted. "If he's really sharp and competent, well, who wants to watch two sharp, competent people debate? What you want to watch is one sharp, competent person debate a total moron who's very likable, who people love and who has every advantage in the world. He's the richest person in town, he's good-looking, he's charming."
Episode 21 of the season is called "Bus Tour," and the season finale is set on Election Day, which is when fans will find out whether Leslie defeated the doofus.