After the success of the US version of The Office, the creative minds behind the mockumentary sitcom conjured up Parks and Recreation, which cashes in on the craze for situational black comedy. It follows the character of Leslie Knope, a mid-level bureaucrat working in the Parks and Recreation department in the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana, who aims to improve her home town and become the first female president. Critics panned the first season of the show for being too similar to The Office, but the final episode of the first season gained more than 4.25 million viewers and the big bosses were finally sold on making another series. We caught up with funnywoman Amy Poehler (formerly of Saturday Night Live), who plays Leslie, to get the inside track on the new season.
How does it feel to be almost back on the air?
I’m so excited. I can’t wait. Even though I’ve seen the shows that are coming up many, many times, I kind of forget everything. So it’s like I’m just excited to watch what we actually did. It’s all a blur. I was six months pregnant when we shot these, so there will be a few times that I’ll be standing behind the potted plant.
Much of your humour, especially on SNL, revolves around politics. You’re pretty political yourself – does this influence your performances?
What’s fun about playing Leslie is getting to a very local level. Everybody’s macro ideas of how they feel about taxes and so on fade when you’re actually doing the day-to-day work. Both conservatives and liberals watch Parks and Recreation, and they each think the show is for them, which is really cool. SNL was totally different. It was exciting because everyone was paying attention. Political humour works when people know what you’re talking about.
You wrote the telethon episode in this season, in which we see Leslie go a little insane. Do you prefer her this way?
I don’t really have a preference. It’s super-fun to be able to play crazy, due to sugar intake or sleep deprivation or cold medicine – to be able to go off the rails and play crazy town. I just wrote an episode for the end of the season and it’s a somewhat serious one where, without giving too much away, Leslie gets into a big fight with someone she works with and it’s pretty intense. So that was fun to write and work on, to try to keep it somewhat grounded and real. In the first half of the season, these new guys, Ben and Chris, come into town and make us all band together. Leslie gets really excited when she has to rally the troops – there’s a lot of that in the beginning of the season, which is really, really fun. Then, as we watch the season progress, we see what it might be like if Leslie was to succeed at something.
There’s a real generosity from you in the show…
The cast is so good and the talent is so deep that it would be crazy to have these people on our show and to then just have them hand me a piece of paper while I tap dance. Believe me, I’ve tried! Oh… the stories I’ve pitched! Every story, I’m like, ‘What if everyone is asleep and Leslie has a big night on the town? No? What if everybody gets knocked out with carbon monoxide poisoning and then Leslie saves someone from a speeding train?’ Yeah, everyone’s so funny that you want to service them. The writers do such a good job of it, but I do really enjoy ensemble work. I feel comfortable with it and I think it makes the show better, so I like playing off other people. It’s like a dream team.
Will Leslie and Ben finally get together next season?
We just saw them have a moment, so it’s just going to be about figuring out how to make that work even though it’s forbidden love. The best kind.
I think a lot of viewers are afraid the writers will break April and Andy up...
Yes. I don’t know – they’re very impetuous, April and Andy. They don’t think a lot before they act, so who knows.
What else would you like to see happen next season?
We have a couple of things brewing, but really we’re just excited to be back. Just so happy to be doing more shows. It’s a super-fun job.
Besides your own show, what are you watching on TV?
I’m watching [reality talent show] The Voice. Yeah. I’m surprising myself and watching that. That and Ice Road Truckers. No, I’m totally kidding.
Parks and Recreation season two airs every Wednesday at 7pm on OSN.