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The bad news: Parks and Recreation is about to kick off its final season. (We know, we know. We're in denial, too.) Let's look on the bright side, though: Instead of an untimely cancellation, we get a full, 13-episode farewell to our beloved Pawnee pals, complete with a bold time jump to the year 2017.
We yanked executive producer Michael Schur away from the editing bay for a few moments ("I'm happy for the excuse to not work," he jokes) to talk about Parks and Rec's final episodes, the many brushes with cancellation the show managed to survive, and Schur's favorite Pawnee character outside the main cast. (Understandably, he had a tough time deciding.)
Shooting on Parks and Rec wrapped back in December (Schur and series star Amy Poehler co-wrote the series finale together), and he says that's when he started to realize it was really over. "The majority of the wave hit me around the time we wrapped the finale. I'm fortunate that I get to ease out a little bit, because I'll still be editing for another three or four weeks. So it's been a nice, slow fade. It's sort of spread the sadness over a longer period of time."
But this isn't the first time Schur has had to mentally prepare himself for Parks to end. "It's either the fifth or sixth time we've written a series finale, depending on how you count," he laughs, remembering all the times Parks wasn't guaranteed a renewal. "We did it at the end of Season 3. We did it at the end of Season 4. We did it midway through Season 5, and then again at the end of Season 5."
That episode midway through Season 5 was "Leslie and Ben," aka Leslie Knope's very sweet wedding to co-worker Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott), which felt like the perfect capper for the series. But then, as Schur recalls, "we got our back-nine order, so we just kept going. Then at the end of the year, we were like, 'Well, we don't know if we're coming back for Season 6, so we better do it again!'"
But last season's finale, which zoomed three years into the future to show us Leslie in command of the local National Parks Service office, actually wasn't meant to be a series finale, Schur says. NBC agreed to renew Parks for Season 7, "so suddenly we knew we had another year. And then we had this moment where we could've either blown everything up and thrown away all this stuff we've been working towards, or we could just try to figure out a way to leap forward and add something to the end of that story that made it still exciting to think about next year. And we came up with an idea of jumping into the future."
Schur calls the time jump "good for a lot of reasons," including being able to leap right past Leslie's just-revealed pregnancy with triplets; in 2017, Leslie and Ben's kids are fully out of the womb. "It seemed like a way to skip the slightly tired sitcom stories of, 'They're new parents and their sleepless nights are so crazy!' We could skip the pregnancy, the birth, all that stuff. And also just in general, the idea of Leslie taking a new job, we'd already seen that… So it was like, 'Oh, we can skip three years of that!'"
The fact that this is Parks' final season meant Schur and his staff had nothing to lose and inspired them to go all-in with the time jump, he says: "It's a move you make when you know you only have one year left. We threw all the spinning plates as high as we could in the air, and we don't have to worry about where they land, really."
Watch Poehler talk about the final season of Parks and Recreation right here:
Plus, it allowed the Parks writers' imaginations to run wild with visions of what the world might look like in 2017. That means delivery drones and transparent tablets. "But we also wanted to show that the characters are not surprised by the technology," Schur says. "Like, five years ago or so, nobody had an iPad. A tablet computer was on no one's radar. And now every single person in the world has one, and they're bored by them," he says with a laugh. "So what you end up seeing is a lot of new advances in technology, but the characters are just using them like it's the most natural thing in the world."
Besides cool gadgets, what else can we expect to see in Season 7? Closure, for one thing; as far as the core Pawnee characters go, Schur says "we wanted to put a punctuation mark on the end of every sentence." That includes a personal-life crisis for budding entrepreneur Tom (Aziz Ansari): "There's an episode at the beginning of the year where his restaurant is a success and he's being written up in magazines. But that's not the only thing that fulfills a person. He realizes there is a missing part of his life. So a big story for him this year is trying to change that." In other words: Look out, ladies of Pawnee; Tom Haverford is looking to get wifed up.
Expect to see lots of familiar faces in the final episodes, too, including former cast members Rob Lowe and Rashida Jones (we literally couldn't be more excited to see Chris Traeger and Ann Perkins again), Paul Rudd as dopey Sweetums heir Bobby Newport (Schur says Rudd flew from the Ant-Man set in Atlanta to L.A. for one day to film his scenes), and Megan Mullally as Ron's psychotic ex-wife Tammy II. "Of course, it wouldn't be a final season without one more insane appearance by Tammy II," Schur laughs.
It'll be hard enough to say goodbye to Leslie and the parks department crew… but what about the rest of Pawnee? Like Springfield on The Simpsons, Pawnee is filled with dozens of colorful supporting characters, and even Schur has trouble picking a favorite. "At one point, we tried to make a list of every character who had been on the show more than once, and it's well north of a hundred people," he says. "Which is really cool. It's part of what makes the town feel real and rich and full and three-dimensional."
OK, fine, but really, who's his favorite Pawneean? Schur mentions "a guy who shows up at public forums and just starts chants all the time" and racist old Councilman Milton, "who was elected on a platform to desegregate baseball," along with "Harris and Brett, the two idiots who work in animal control." But ultimately, he settles on genial local newscaster Perd Hapley, played by Jay Jackson. "There's an episode with Perd Hapley this year that I think contains my favorite Perd Hapley-ism ever. He's just such an odd, odd character, and everything he ever said made me laugh. So gun to my head, I would say Perd Hapley."
Get a sneak peek at the final season of Parks and Recreation right here:
The final season of Parks and Recreation premieres Tuesday at 8 p.m. on NBC.