You can't move anywhere in town these days without running into a Charlie Sheen reference, and the Paley Festival's "Parks and Recreation" celebration tonight at the Saban Theatre was no exception. But the contrast between a sitcom in disarray and one purring like a kitten couldn't have been more vivid.
Great humor mixed with conviviality was the overriding theme on a night when, in contrast to some Paleyfest panels of the past that have been dominated by just a couple of voices, every member of the 11-person panel contributed behind-the-scenes insights and stories about the NBC laffer.
Exec producer Michael Schur got the first Sheen joke out of the way early in clever fashion, shooting down the rumor about cast member Rob Lowe replacing the embattled actor on "Two and a Half Men" by quipping that he would instead be taking the place of Scott Caan on "Hawaii Five-0," before emphasizing that Lowe (who did miss the night's event because he was on a family tour of colleges) was quite committed to "Parks."
"It's very silly, and there's no truth to that weird rumor," Schur said. "The Internet lit a match and set itself on fire."
After that, other than Aubrey Plaza taking a moment to tell Charlie that she was "available for whatever fucked-up shit you want to get into," we were deep in Pawnee for the rest of the night.
Moderator Michael Ausiello from TV Line nicely navigated the discussion, starting with the history of the show, which emerged from NBC's desire to have "The Office" showrunner Greg Daniels and Schur deliver a second comedy for the network. Originally, it was reported that this was to be an "Office" spinoff, but that was only one of the ideas on the table. The concept for "Parks" was another, and when Amy Poehler became available and liked that one, that's the one that moved forward.
As Daniels pointed out, the development continued to be unusual.
"We didn't go through any pilot process," he said. "Our whole first season (of six episodes) was like our pilot. ... The whole first season was shot before the pilot was edited."
It was noted more than once that those first six episodes didn't exactly bowl mainstream auds or the critics over, but Poehler, who described her Leslie Knope character as someone who has "a suffragette spirit but zero game," defended those early days.
"It's like someone saying, 'Your baby used to be ugly, but now it's cute,'" she said.
In any case, things began to take off for "Parks" early in its second season, as single-named co-star Retta noted: "That's when people started tweeting." The writers became more aware of what made the characters work and what the talent was capable of.
"Every single cast member is a swiss-army knife," Schur said.
The evolution of Chris Pratt's Andy from "dickhead" to well-intentioned dimwit was a prime example.
"For whatever reason, I always get auditions to play the dickhead," Pratt deadpanned. "Maybe they looked at me and said, 'Hey, maybe he's not that much of a dickhead.' "
Among the moments that fascinated both the Saban audience and the panel was the once-improbable chemistry between Andy and Plaza's April. Their relationship began to blossom when they were left at the Parks and Recreation office while everyone else was off hunting, but Plaza recalled an early hint from season one, when April was the only one who got (i.e., could appreciate) Andy's music.
The slow reveal of romance was an aspect of the upcoming episode (scheduled to air on NBC on March 17) that was screened tonight. In addition to April and Andy, Ben (Adam Scott) and Leslie also have fans wondering where they might be headed.
Without spoiling anything, Poehler alluded to their potential, displayed in previous episodes. Poehler said Leslie was like a single mom whose child was Pawnee, and Ben was her first suitor who was evenly matched with her and interested in the same things she was.
"It's like, if you're nice to my kid, then I'll have sex with you," Poehler joked -- not that anything like that happened in the episode shown.
Of course, you can't talk about relationships on "Parks" without talking about Ron and Tammy, played by Nick Offerman and his real-life wife Megan Mullally. Offermann recalled a scene which required Mullally rubbing his breasts against him as a dream come true, in part because afterward he could go to craft services and get a sandwich.
Retta said that she tries to read as little of the scripts before production begins because the table reads are so much fun, and that for the second Ron and Tammy episode, she laughed so hard she almost passed out. (Pratt, by the way, was singled out as the star of the table reads.)
Thanks to its controversial (among its fans) midseason start, there's still a lot of "Parks" left to see this season, and Schur said he felt, with admitted bias, that each ensuing episode was better than the one before. But before the night wrapped, some unfulfilled dreams were mentioned. Poehler is hoping that Bill Murray might someday deign to play as-yet-unseen Pawnee mayor Walter Gunderson. And then there was this one from Aziz Ansari (Tom Haverford) ...
"I secretly want Usher to play my brother," Ansari said, with his entrance having him "drop down from the ceiling."
Link for top image: Galleries One Nine Eight Eight