Lots and lots of stories have been written about how much “Parks and Recreation” improved from its first to its second season, and about how lead character Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) had become smarter and less naive.
Poehler agrees that the show really found its footing in Season 2, but she’s not really buying the idea that Leslie needed to get more intelligent.
“Certainly the first couple episodes of a show, it’s finding its way,” Poehler told Zap2it when we visited the show’s set in December. “There were some things that were changed and tweaked a little bit, but I think that’s the process of any show. I’ve always thought that Leslie was a fun character to play, because optimistic doesn’t mean stupid.
“I think it’s rare these days in television to find a character that tries to put on a game face and still believes one person can make a difference and all that stuff that sounds like a cliche. … And then I think people started liking the characters, started getting to know them, and the cast is so funny that people just started to care what they were going to do.”
We talked with Poehler about what Leslie is up to in Season 3, where she stands with her various relationships, and shooting an entire season before any of it airs. Some highlights of the conversation:
Zap2it: When the show picks up, the parks department has been out of work for three months. What do you think Leslie has been doing?
Amy Poehler: She hasn’t taken another job. In my mind, she set up an office in her house, and she’s been just putting on a suit and going to work in her house. Even though, if you’re a fan of the show you know that Leslie’s house is the house of a hoarder. She’s been biding her time. She’s happy to be back, as am I.
Has it been strange filming the entire season before any of it airs?
It’s a trip. It’s been fun to be able to go back and fiddle with stuff and reshoot stuff — to have the luxury of time. I think we’re just really excited that people are going to get to see it, and they’re going to get to see it in the timeslot we’ve always wanted [at 9:30 p.m. ET Thursdays, after “The Office”]. But it was like shooting in a vacuum a little bit. I have a [five]-month-old kid, and I was six months pregnant when we started shooting Season 3. So a lot has happened since then.
Was the shooting schedule itself strange for you? [The show shot six episodes in the spring before Poehler went on maternity leave, took the summer off and resumed production in the fall.]
It wasn’t that odd — it was just like a regular hiatus. And it was good because when we started the show, we did like 35 episodes in 13 months. So the time [off] was nice to have, and I know the writers have been working so hard, so they needed it. What’s funny is, we’ve been doing some panels and stuff, and people are like, “You’ve got these new guys, Rob Lowe and Adam Scott.” And we’re like, “We’ve been working together for 10 months.” So I’m just psyched for people to see their stuff, because it’s awesome.
Is Leslie’s ambition the same as what it was when the show started?
We were talking about the finale. … We’re talking about what — I won’t give it away, but I think Leslie is going to have to make a big decision about something [by the end of the season]. That’s such a boring tease [laughs]. But what I like about the show is that she’s always trying to figure out how to balance her life — her relationship, her friendships — with her work. But she’s very ambitious personally; she has big plans. I think there’s a lot of comedy in trying to figure out what that will mean for her. It’s fun. At the beginning of the season it’s about, “Let’s stop the bleeding.” And by the end of the season, without giving too much away, it starts to get big and about what’s next.
How do you see Leslie and Ron’s relationship now?
I love it so much. Isn’t Ron [Nick Offerman] so funny? He’s one of the greatest characters. … [The relationship] is one of mutual respect. Leslie does all the things Ron doesn’t want to do and maybe can’t do. He loves working with her, but they have very, very different ideas — of people, of government, of the future. I don’t know — it’s all things at once. … Sometimes Leslie acts like she’s his daughter, sometimes she acts like she’s his wife, sometimes she acts like his co-worker. Sometimes there’s like a weird, newsroom sexual chemistry between Leslie and Ron, and other times they’re like the Lockhorns.
Wow — I didn’t expect a Lockhorns reference when I came here today.
[Laughs] That’s probably dating me. And you. “You kids should really check out The Lockhorns …”
What about Leslie and Ben [Adam Scott]? Where do they go this season?
Ben comes in as like a bad-news bear. What’s been super-fun, besides the fact of working with Adam, who’s a dream and so funny, is that there’s someone in her world now who cares about work as much as she does. … Ben comes in as this guy who’s pretty serious, but he also understands her vocabulary.
It seems like he’s making these very small indications that he’s into Leslie. Will she catch on?
What starts to happen is that Ben starts becoming invested in Pawnee, and Pawnee is Leslie’s baby. So when you’re a single mom and someone likes your kid, you find them attractive. … What I really like about the writing is they meter things out so slowly and so realistically that you get to play things in this sense of real time. So Chris [Lowe] and Ben have to make a decision, because they’re just traveling salesmen in a way — they have to decide how they stay in Pawnee, if they want to stay. … That’s fun to watch, how these guys fit into this town, or do they think it’s crazy.
Maybe both, yeah.