“Parks and Recreation” likes its cliffhanger finales. This season, it packed in potentially life-turning twists for just about every one of its characters, including, of course, Amy Poehler’s sunny parks department deputy director, Leslie Knope, who apparently will be running for office when the NBC comedy returns for a fourth season.
For Leslie, a woman who proudly displays framed photographs of political heroes Madeline Albright, Condoleezza Rice, Janet Reno and Nancy Pelosi in her office, this is a dream come true. But it might come at the cost of her burgeoning romance with nice guy co-worker Ben (Adam Scott).
“It sets up some juicy stuff, doesn’t it?” Poehler says during a recent interview in West Hollywood. “But if Leslie follows it, what will she lose in the process? Like most people, there’s always a struggle between the personal and the professional and how to balance all those things. She’s going to have to figure out what she cares about.”
Poehler is talking about Leslie, but she could just as well be referring to herself and what she calls the “last crazy couple of years.” Poehler, a self-described “East Coast girl,” lives in New York and works in Los Angeles. So does her husband, comic actor Will Arnett, with whom she has two young sons, 2-year-old Archibald, and 10-month-old Abel.
“Believe me, initially there was … ‘Maybe Leslie lives in New Jersey?’” Poehler, 39, says. “And there were fewer moving parts back then.”
She’s not complaining, mind you, describing “Parks,” which she also produces, as the kind of job where “if I could have laid in bed and thought of a job, this would be it.” And her enthusiasm for the show, which found its voice in its second season and became, arguably, television’s best comedy in its third, remains unflagging.
“I remember Amy being three months pregnant at the end of 19 weeks of shooting,” says Nick Offerman, who plays Ron Hoffman, Leslie’s epically mustachioed boss. “And it’s 11:30 at night and everyone’s starting to feel it and Amy will improvise an extemporaneous rap about the crew and go around punching people. She’s the head cheerleader and the quarterback of the team at the same time.”
And, you might say, Leslie-like in that way, particularly since Poehler describes her ideal work day as “any time I get to do a scene in the conference room where I stand at the head of the table and try to rally the troops. I get to say funny lines with the best cast in television saying different funny lines back at me.”
Poehler is quick to add, though, that she’s nowhere near as focused or energetic as her television counterpart. That may be, though if Leslie was raising two little ones, producing, occasionally writing and starring in a network TV comedy and turning up on other people’s shows in beautifully choreographed cameos (like the inspired “Jersey Shore” spoof Poehler did with pal Tina Fey on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon”), then she might be a little scattered too.
For all her contributions to “Parks,” the greatest might be rooting the series in a sweetness that’s sometimes nice and optimistic and other times gently shows how myopic small-town politics can be. The show’s sentimentality rarely feels forced because its primary characters are all decent people on a journey that actually changes them over time. It doesn’t take a “very special episode” for a character to grow, and once they learn a lesson, it usually sticks. There’s a forward motion that isn’t reset when the next episode begins.
“It embraces everything about the small town,” Poehler says, often citing “The Andy Griffith Show” as an influence. “It’s not a show about TV. And it’s not a show about people being mean to each other to get ahead. So, yeah, it seems kind of nice. I think we try to be funny before we try to be nice. But what I do like is the characters are allowed to have real moments, tender moments. Having done so many years of sketch comedy, it’s nice to be able to play smaller moments and have them breathe.”
But, having logged that many years at Chicago’s Second City and on “Saturday Night Live,” Poehler can’t resist a broad moment when asked about future “Parks” plotlines.
“We’re actually going to shoot Season 4 in Hawaii,” she jokes. “And we’re all going to solve crimes and there’s going to be a lot of forensic evidence we have to deal with. We’re going to call it ‘Parks: Recreational Activity! Hawaii.’ Or ‘PRA: Hawaii’ for those into the whole crime-show letter thing.”