The cast of “Parks and Recreation” reunited on Thursday night for a PaleyFest panel in celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the show’s premiere, and it was a celebration worthy of Lil’ Sebastian himself (just don’t tell that to Ben Wyatt, who still doesn’t get the hype).
Creator Mike Schur and series stars Amy Poehler, Rashida Jones, Nick Offerman, Adam Scott, Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, Aziz Ansari, Rob Lowe, Retta and Jim O’Heir gathered on stage at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood to reminisce with host and “Parks and Rec” superfan Patton Oswalt about the sitcom’s celebrated seven-season run, share some behind-the-scenes stories from the fictional public servants of Pawnee, Indiana, and dish on whether or not a reunion or revival could ever grace our screens.
Here’s 10 things we learned in celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the show’s premiere, which officially lands on April 9:
1. Art imitated life for many of the show’s beloved characters.
Schur said that, for many of the “Parks” cast, the Venn diagram between character and actor “isn’t a complete circle, but they’re pretty close.” He recalled meeting with Lowe before the veteran actor joined the show in season 3 and hearing him use the word “literally” frequently in his high-energy mannerisms, noting “Chris Traeger didn’t exist before that.”
And, while Ron Swanson was originally based on a female libertarian who worked for the government in Burbank, California, Offerman did send his castmates a very Swanson-inspired wrap gift: canoe paddles carved from the wooden doors that the actor and craftsman swiped from set, with the seal of Pawnee on them.
2. Lowe may have been thrilled to earn his own catchphrase after decades in Hollywood, but it hasn’t been as fun for everyone.
“Try walking into Target and seeing ‘Treat Yo’ Self’ everywhere!” laughed Retta, who was wearing a pink dress embroidered with her character, Donna Meagle’s, inspiring slogan. “It’s obnoxious.”
The whole cast did show their love, however, for other moments from the show that have become part of the public vernacular, like “Galentine’s Day” and the “Swanson Pyramid of Greatness.”
3. The show was originally pitched as a story about the friendship between Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins.
“That’s why the pilot is about them meeting,” Schur explained of Poehler and Jones’ characters, who form a lasting, supportive bond over the course of the series, despite being vastly different people with occasionally conflicting views. The actresses teared up talking about their on-screen attachment, which mirrored their real-life friendship so closely, in fact, that after Jones described her character as just “OK,” Poehler threatened, “If I ever hear you talk that way about Ann again…”
The heartfelt moments in the comedy, Schur also noted, were inspired by co-creator Greg Daniels’ experience producing the American adaptation of “The Office”, where he forced himself to structure in emotional scenes with no jokes, even at the risk of seeming mushy or uncool. “That’s why people still watch those shows,” Schur explained to the crowd.
4. The cast isn’t too psyched to have essentially predicted some details of today’s political climate.
Of the show’s sometimes unfortunately predictive plot lines, one of which saw Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd) — an unqualified, silver spoon-fed fool elevated by nepotism and birthright — nearly beat out Leslie, an eminently qualified woman with a heart for public service, in an election for city council, the cast mostly groaned at the similarities to the 2016 presidential election.
“If only we had Bobby Newport at the helm,” Poehler mused, while Offerman noted that the only positive outcome of the show’s seemingly psychic powers was the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series.
Poehler — who shared a touching anecdote about recently spotting a Leslie Knope sign at a protest by Los Angeles-area teachers — also noted that she often thinks of her character as “the Spider-Man of public service” these days. “We’re looking up to the sky, saying, ‘Where are you?’” she laughed. “We need her now.”
5. Some of the series’ most iconic lines came from “fun runs,” extra takes built into the end of the shooting schedule where the cast was allowed to improvise.
Chris Traeger’s “Stop. Pooping.” and Andy’s brilliant “network connectivity problems” were just a few moments that the cast members recalled from the hilariously improvised takes, which Schur joked sometimes made him “furious” when the improvs were funnier than the scripted lines.
They also noted that one of the most gif-able eps of “Parks and Rec”, season 3’s “The Fight”, was written and directed by Poehler, which led to the cast trying their best to crack her up as their characters got progressively more drunk on “Snake Juice.”
6. Chris Pratt predicted his Hollywood success…
Years before he was a Guardian of the Galaxy, Pratt was asked to film behind-the-scenes content for NBC from the set of “Parks and Rec”. “Which is to say, everyone else was asked and said no,” he joked. However, one of the clips proved extremely prescient, as the actor improvised an on-camera bit where he received a text from “Steven Spielberg.”
“I’ll have to get back to you about ‘Jurassic Park 4’,” Pratt mock-texts Spielberg back in the clip, which was recorded a few years before he would land the lead in Jurassic World — the fourth film in the “Jurassic Park” franchise.
7. …but Aubrey Plaza called April and Andy’s budding relationship.
Pratt compared the pair’s unlikely romance to “a cat and a dog,” recalling a season 2 episode, “Hunting Trip,” in which Andy and April are left to guard the office while the rest of the department heads to the woods for some good old fashioned bonding. The episode turned into something of a preliminary chemistry test for the pair, who ended up married the very next season, though Plaza says she saw it coming even before that.
“It was my idea,” the actress dryly told the PaleyFest crowd. But she had evidence to back it up, recalling that she decided to play April as secretly into Andy all the way back in season 1, when the usually-apathetic intern expressed interest in his band, Mouse Rat.
8. Poehler and Scott shipped Ben and Leslie just as much as fans did.
The pair recalled their excitement and real-life butterflies on the day they shot Ben and Leslie’s proposal, one of the most heartfelt moments in the entire series. “We were nervous,” Poehler joked. “We stayed away from each other on set.”
“I remember [during] the hiatus before that season, talking about how we wanted them to get married,” Scott recalled, while Poehler remembered calling him after she spoke to Schur to excitedly announce, “Ben and Leslie are getting engaged!”
Schur noted that the moment was also one where the show’s creative team opted to “ditch the documentary style” in favour of showing the scene in a more emotional way. We still need just a second…
9. Aziz Ansari was just as shocked as you were to see the Entertainment 720 parallels in the Fyre Festival documentaries.
Of the now-notorious failed island musical festival and ensuing social media phenomenon, Ansari laughed about how his character, Tom Haverford, and business partner Jean-Ralphio (Ben Schwartz) would have definitely been involved in the Fyre Fest hype in some way. “They could have gotten Ja Rule!” Schur exclaimed of the big-dreaming pair.
Additionally, Ansari noted of the recent college admissions scandal, “That’s some Eagleton s**t.”
10. A reunion or revival movie is possible, but seems unlikely for now.
Schur took the reins for this highly anticipated question, admitting that “nothing is ever gone” in today’s reboot-heavy culture, however, he noted that “we would all have to feel like there was a story that needed to be told” in order to make such a reunion happen for real.
“The show was about the power of public service and doing good with a team. I don’t think we left anything on the table,” he added, explaining that he would need unanimous support from each member of the cast and main creative team to even consider it. So, it sounds like a no for now, but there’s always a chance!