'Parks and Recreation' Finale Postmortem: Mike Schur on How 'Friends' Influenced Leslie's Fate

The showrunner behind NBC's cult comedy talks with THR about what didn't make the cut and more.
Colleen Hayes/NBC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the series finale of NBC's Parks and Recreation.]

NBC's Parks and Recreation signed off after seven seasons Tuesday with an hourlong send-off that jumped back and forth from its 2017 setting to as far out as 2035 to reveal the futures for its respected and beloved Parks Department staff.

While the finale offered a definitive ending for nearly every character, Leslie Knope's (Amy Poehler) final political journey was left up in the air as showrunner Mike Schur opted to leave that up to viewers' imagination.

See more Saying Goodbye: TV Shows Signing Off in 2014-15

In 2015, Ben (Adam Scott) opted not to run for governor of Indiana after both he and Leslie were targeted for the office at a party that featured a Joe Biden returning for another cameo. Instead, Ben allowed the fact that Leslie wrote of wanting to hold the office in her kindergarten journal to play the deciding factor during a weekend celebration at the Parks Department where the original crew reunited. And not only was she elected but she won a second term, which was revealed when Leslie was awarded an honorary doctorate at Indiana University — where Chris (Rob Lowe) returned to work after moving back from Ann Arbor with wife Ann (Rashida Jones) and their children (who of course hit it off with Leslie and Ben's offspring). 

Ron (Nick Offerman) winds up overseeing the Pawnee National Park after turning to Leslie with a career crisis brought on after resigning from his perfectly operated construction company — which unlike Tom's restaurant chain (yes, chain) — has weathered a tumbling economy.

As for Tom (Aziz Ansari) winds up having to rebuild his fortune for the umpteenth time, this time hitting pay dirt as the best-selling author of a book about failure that includes archetypes for everyone in the Parks Department.

Donna (Rhetta) turns to the nonprofit sector after husband Joe complains of math being eliminated from his futuristic school.  

As for April (Aubrey Plaza) and Andy (Chris Pratt), the couple wind up remaining close friends Leslie and Ben — and after the former's initial dismissal — wind up becoming parents.

Garry (Jim O'Heir) winds up serving 10 terms as mayor of Pawnee and dying peacefully in his sleep after celebrating his 100th birthday with his ageless wife and family. It's at his funeral where Parks dropped its first major clue about Leslie's political future when what could be a secret service agent tells Leslie and Ben that "it's time to go."

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Schur to break down the series finale.

See more On the Set of 'Parks and Recreation'

What was behind the decision to do so many time jumps after a season spent re-establishing these characters in 2017?

It was a combo platter of things, the first was a very large-scale discussion about what we liked as a writing staff and as a cast about finales and the realization that one of the aspects that we felt was effective — especially in comedies — was that a finale should give you a sense of where the characters are going, where they're going to be down the line and what happens to them after the show ends. That gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling. [On Friends], Ross and Rachel kiss after she gets off the plane and it's up to you in a great way to imagine what their wedding was like and where they moved to and do they have [more] kids. The fact we had done the time jump from 2014 to 2017, it became, "Wait a second, we can actually show it." We've trained our audience to expect things like jumping into the future. Once we realized that, that was our way to go. We could actually take little, individual stories and give every cast member his or her own little moment in the sun. That also as a side bonus felt appropriate to the cast who are all so great and deserved their own little stories. It was a domino affect: once we came to a conclusion about what we liked about finales in the abstract, we realized the show was  uniquely positioned to be able to pull that off.

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The finale left open what Leslie's new challenge in 2035 is. Is Leslie president in 2035? Why did you decide to keep it vague?

We don't say explicitly. We were being so explicit in showing a lot of different actual things that happen to the actual people that there was room to a little ambiguity. So we manufactured that scene in such a way so that you don't know — and we're never going to say. I have my own theory about what it means but I would like to leave it up to people who are invested in those characters to make up their own minds. That guy doesn't address either of them by name; he doesn't give them an honorarium; we never say that that guy is in the secret service. He doesn't necessarily have to be in the secret service. It was deliberately left ambiguous because I thought it would be cool if people could fill in their own blanks.

Every time Leslie touched someone you see their future. It's a great metaphor to illustrate how she impacted the lives of those she loved. Was that intentional?

Yes, very much so. A big theme of show is how these people literally and figuratively touched each other's lives and impacted each other and helped each other. That's why throughout the flash-forward you see Leslie and Ben come to see Tom give a speech; and so does Gary; April goes to help Donna set up her foundation. They're all linked and in a very tangible way. That device I thought was nice. That might have been Amy's idea that we jump into the flash-forwards in a tangible way where Leslie is actually making physical contact with the people that we're about to see their lives unfold.

Read more 'Parks and Recreation' Boss on the Show's Lasting Legacy

When — and how — did you determine what the final endings would be for Ron, Tom, Donna well as April and Andy?

We approached it like a normal episode, which is we thought of a million ideas and we chose the one we thought was best. Ron's ending actually, from the moment we came up with the idea that Leslie would establish a new national park in Pawnee — which was before we'd broken any episodes for the final season — it popped into my mind that that is how Ron ends. I didn't know about the device for the finale and we hadn't planned it out. I felt very strongly in that moment that the end of Ron's story would be that he would be the superintendent of that park and that he would get into a canoe float down a river away on a lake. That ended up lining up perfectly with the story we broke — that his kids were growing up and going to college he felt like he didn't want to be inside. He's an outdoorsman and it all made perfect sense. It all unfolded very naturally for him. Some of them we came to very early and some of them was the result of usual amount of endless debate in the writers' room about what the right path is.

Why was it important to show Donna turning to a nonprofit but Tom would continue to find success as an entrepreneur?

Donna is a woman of mystery and has a lot of crazy adventures. My favorite Donna moment from the entire series was when Ben, Tom and Andy were trying to convince Dennis Feinstein (played by Jason Mantzoukas) of something in cigar bar and got into a fight and Andy insulted him and he kicked them out. They got up and walked away and Tom looked up and went, "Donna?!" And you saw Donna sitting in the cigar bar with four random guys and she just went, "Gentleman." You get these tiny glimpses into this crazy life that she leads. It was hard to come up with the appropriate flash-forward for her. I liked the idea that for her, it's about her world expanding. She says in that moment, "I've worked at a NASCAR pit crew; I started the door knocker earrings trend." She's had all these crazy adventures and for her, she's met this guy who not only loves her but loves her specifically for the kind of person she is and for the adventurous spirit she has. He's supportive and good to her and I liked the idea that she thought of this thing as a new adventure. It's something she's never done before that she wants to try and do it with her mate, which is a nice idea. That was fun to break and Tom's was fun if only because it was fun to see him colossally fail one more time. There's a nice twist in it, which is that it wasn't through his own incompetence. It was a smart decision with a lot of research behind it and the reality is, sometimes life just gives you lemons. So for him, the end of his story being that he took all of his failures and turned it into his greatest success seemed like an appropriate way to end that character's run.

In your mind, do Leslie and Ann's kids actually fall in love and wind up together?

I don't know! Those kids are pretty young (laughs). Not many marry the person that they are friends with when they're 10. What was important to me was to see all those kids playing together because the more important idea is that there's another generation of humans that were raised by the people we've known and loved on the show for a long time. The more important thing to me is that they turn out out to be the good, open-hearted and optimistic people that their parents were.

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So sequel series in 10 years?

(Laughing.) Yeah! A couple people have asked me if that is the intention of the flash-forward and the reunion and it never occurred to me that that would suggest that. But I'm game! In 2024, maybe we'll get a conference call going and see if we can arrange it.

It'll be like the forever gestating Wet Hot American Summer sequel that's now actually happening.

That's right! There is a template for it: Arrested Development and Wet Hot, maybe it will happen.

Was there a story you wanted to tell in the final season that never made it in?

There really wasn't. We split the season into two halve: the first half was the Gryzzl arc and the second half was a long, slow goodbye for each of the characters. I can safely say that we told every big story we wanted to tell over the seven seasons. There were individual episodes we thought would be funny that we never got around to and/or we couldn't break or they didn't really work or we didn't have time for them. But we left it all on the field and for that, I'm extremely grateful that we had both the time and the ability to do that.

You've always been good about releasing deleted with scenes that didn't make the final cut. What was cut?

There's a producers cut that will be available I think Wednesday. There's about 10 minutes of extra stuff in it. There's a couple nice scenes between and among the main cast but there's also individual flash-forwards for Shauna Malwae-Tweep (Alison Becker) and Jeremy Jamm (Jon Glaser), which are super funny and really great and were miserably tough to cut. But with only 43 minutes in the series finale, we had to give as much time as we possibly could to the cast who has been in 125 episodes. It was painful to cut them but they'll live on and you'll see them on the producers cut and on the DVD and things like that.

What did you think of the Parks and Recreation series finale? Is Leslie your president? Sound off in the comments section below.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit

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