“Parks and Recreation” Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman's characters Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson are clearly the mom and dad of the fictitious Pawnee Parks and Rec Department, but they also represent bipartisan politics from showrunner Michael Schur's point of view.
In Schur's America, represented in one small-town Indiana government department Thursday nights on NBC, Swanson is intended to be the gruff Republican and Knope the naive Democrat, the show creator explained at Tuesday's PaleyFest panel. The purpose of their functional, respectful professional relationship and personal friendship — despite being at different ends morally and ethically — is one that Schur wishes to see happen between the aisles in Congress.
Until that comes to fruition, he's penning a critically-acclaimed (yet not very highly rated) show about small-potatoes politicians from different backgrounds who ultimately arrive at the same conclusions. It also delivers big laughs.
Poehler, Offerman, Aubrey Plaza (April Ludgate), Chris Pratt (Andy Dwyer), Jim O'Heir (Jerry/Larry Gergich), Retta (Donna Meagle), Adam Scott (Ben Wyatt), Ben Schwartz (Jean-Ralphio) and Billy Eichner (Craig) delivered hearty guffaws in person at the Los Angeles Dolby Theater fan event tonight.
After Schur explained his intentions for the series’ lead characters, Poehler added her own poignant, succinct summation of her character: “What's cool about her is that nothing's cool about her.”
Another “cool” factor is the casting of the ensemble comedy — clearly one of the NBC sitcom's strong points. Schur and his impressive writing staff use real-life characteristics of each player they have.
For example, Offerman is a skilled woodworker in real life, so his character is also an impressive craftsman. And when Schur told the deadpan specialist that he would have a secret alter ego, Duke Silver, who plays jazz sax, Offerman simply said: ”Perfect, I play the saxophone,” the showrunner recalled during PaleyFest's group interview portion, moderated by comedian and show guest star Patton Oswalt.
At that point O'Heir humorously chimed in: “When they said I have a huge penis, I said perfect …” Timing is clearly another strength.
On casting the latest regular character in what seems to be a forever-expanding Pawnee talent pool, Schur told the packed house that Eichner was a simple choice.
After watching Eichner's show “Billy on the Street,” Schur recalled: “I picked up the phone and just called Hollywood and said ‘Where's Billy Eichner? Find Billy Eichner!”
They did, and now he is a growing part in the most dysfunctional-yet-functional government on TV, this side of “House of Cards.”
“Parks and Recreation” airs Thursdays on NBC at 8:30 p.m.
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