A 'Parks and Recreation' Mystery: Whatever Happened to Mark Brendanawicz?

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·Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
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Paul Schneider as Mark Brendanawicz, Aziz Ansari as Tom Haverford, Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope, Rashida Jones as Ann Perkins, and Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson
Paul Schneider as Mark Brendanawicz, Aziz Ansari as Tom Haverford, Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope, Rashida Jones as Ann Perkins, and Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson

One of the great joys of this farewell season of Parks and Recreation has been the opportunity to glimpse, however briefly, into the near future of some of the beloved Pawnee residents who aren't in Leslie Knope's immediate circle. So far, the show has provided 2017 status updates on Perd Hapley, Joan Callamezzo, Bobby Newport, and the tattooed, goateed Pawn Shop Guy (Parks and Rec's answer to Comic Book Guy). But one citizen has remained off the radar: Mark Brendanawicz. Name not ring a bell? That's understandable: After all, ex-city planner Mark hasn't been glimpsed around Pawnee since the end of Season 2 when his off-screen counterpart, Paul Schneider, parted ways with the series, making room for new additions Adam Scott and Rob Lowe to join the cast on a permanent basis.

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Characters come and go from long-running shows all the time, of course, but what makes Mark's continued absence so pronounced is the fact that Parks and Rec has always made a point of revisiting supporting characters and storylines from both the recent — and distant — past. This season alone, the writers have called back perfumist Dennis Feinstein (last seen in Season 4), Ben's love of calzones, and even the former Sullivan Street Pit (now the Pawnee Commons) where Leslie's career began. But there hasn't been a single reference, not even as a sight gag or offhand comment, to Brendanawicz and what he might be up to since leaving city government. Considering his prominence early on in the show's run — he was Leslie's unrequited love interest in Season 1, and then dated Ann for a big chunk of Season 2 — it does feel like a small, but notable part of Pawnee history has been airbrushed out of the town charter. He's like the Pete Best of the Parks and Rec universe: The guy who was there at the beginning, but left before things got really good.

Paul Schneider as Mark Brendanawicz
Paul Schneider as Mark Brendanawicz

When Schneider's departure was initially announced back in 2010, co-creator and executive producer Mike Schur insisted that they planned to treat Mark like any other Pawnee local and bring him back on occasion. As he explained in a Los Angeles Times interview, the character was modeled after a city planner who followed Mark's trajectory into the private sector, yet still worked with local government on certain projects. "When we first cast Paul, we told him that the idea would be Mark would leave and then ideally he would come back in a different capacity working for a different company," Schur said, adding that Schneider also had a burgeoning film career he wanted to pursue. "We thought it was a good way to illustrate both the positive and negative aspects of working for a government. We very much want him back and he has told us he very much wants to come back in the future. It really is one of those mutually beneficial situations. And we're hoping we can have him back in Season 3."

But Season 3 came and went without a Brendanawicz sighting, followed by Season 4, 5, 6, and now 7. In that time, neither Schur nor Schneider had much to say publicly about the character's future (or lack thereof), but their silence spoke volumes. The actor finally offered a belated explanation in a 2014 ScreenCrush interview, describing his time on Parks and Rec as "strange": "I signed up for a specific character that was changed in midseason. And it became a character with a lot less to do. And, all of a sudden, I was kind of confused and kind of having a lot less to do… I was very happy for the experience to be involved and those guys really figured out what it is they're doing… But I've never been contacted about [returning] nor have I any interest in going back."

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Those sentiments make sense, particularly if you rewatch the show's problematic first season. From the pilot, it's clear that Schneider is the odd man out in an ensemble that's taking some time to gel anyway. It didn't help that the character is poorly conceived and ultimately proved incapable of evolving along with the series. Mark is introduced as a cynical playboy who, like the rest of the Parks department in Season 1, views Leslie with a mixture of hostility and disdain. (Her starry-eyed attraction to him and obsession with their drunken one night stand is a poor creative choice as well.) The show underwent a much-discussed overhaul in between the first and second seasons that made Pawnee a kinder, gentler place and Leslie a cooler, more competent civil servant who her co-workers genuinely admire… while still gently ridiculing on occasion.

To fit in with this new mandate, Mark promptly renounces his lothario ways and goes all-in on his relationship with Ann, who breaks up with him instead. But the transformation never feels natural, and Schneider's chemistry with the rest of the cast is slightly off, especially after Scott and Lowe turn up in guest star spots at the end of Season 2 and fit in right away. It's telling that even though that season finale is ostensibly his farewell episode, Mark is barely in it, stopping by only to announce his departure and then share a final moment with Leslie at the still-unbuilt Pawnee Commons. "See ya around," he says, as he exits the frame and the show for what turns out to be forever. And perhaps that's best for all concerned. While it would have been interesting to know what Mark is doing in 2017 — designing stores for Shia LaBeouf's wildly successful line of wedding dresses perhaps? — he's a remnant of Pawnee's past that's no longer a vital part of its present and future.

The Parks and Recreation series finale airs Tuesday, Feb. 24 at 10 p.m. on NBC.