With in town, we have a lot of opportunities to see the local stars around Studio City. Last Wednesday, I got to go into the studios to visit the set of Parks and Recreation. NBC invited the Television Critics Association for a re-creation of their upcoming Harvest Festival episode and a tour of the Pawnee, IN, town hall.
In a hay pen, the miniature horse Little Sebastian posed for photos. Inside, caterers made waffles just like at the Pawnee fairgrounds. In the halls, you can see details in the murals that never make it onto TV. One episode dealt with the racist “Spirit of Pawnee” photo, and you will hear it described, but you’ll never see the artistic rendering of a stake burning of a magician and his rabbit, unless you’re there in person on the set.
Amy Poehler plays Leslie Knope, an idealistic local politician whose sincerity makes her struggles with government even funnier. A successful comedian from Upright Citizens Brigade to Saturday Night Live, Poehler reflects on the legacy of the studio in which she now works.
“Mary Tyler Moore," Poehler said. “When Megan Mullaly comes and does our show, she has Will & Grace flashbacks. Good flashbacks.”
Aubrey Plaza plays the office intern April. She commented on the studio’s work ethic. “I think it’s got a really good vibe, this lot,” Plaza said. “It’s kind of mellow, hard working.”
Then the cast of comedians got to riffing jokes about the historic lot. Aziz Ansari, who plays the ambitious part time entrepreneur Tom, got good mileage out of CBS Radford’s pedigree.
“I just try to look around and see if I can find any old Malcolm in the Middle props,” Ansari said. “Then I steal them and sell them on eBay. So far, no, I haven’t found anything.”
We always like to know where the stars hang out when they’re not working, so Plaza had some fun with that question. “We go to that ,” Plaza said. “That is awesome. There’s two and they’re across the street from each other on Ventura. The one on our side of the street is better. It's bigger and cleaner. We buy cough medicine and baseballs.”
Nick Offerman, who plays Parks and Recreation's department head Ron Swanson, got a bit more emotional about Studio City. He is married to Megan Mullaly, so he’s been visiting our neighborhood since she was on Will & Grace.
“Gosh, I love Studio City,” Offerman said. “I’ve loved it for years because my wife shot Will & Grace, here so it was always my dream to someday get a show on this lot. When I did I was very moved. Back in those days, we spent a lot of time at . Nowadays, I love , I love the and I love . I get a lot of stuff there for my woodworking, which is right over on that street that runs from Ventura to Radford, Ventura Place. I love Studio City.”
Food and shopping can get most of the Parks and Recreation cast out of the office. Rashida Jones, who plays politically active citizen Ann Perkins, dropped a few names of her local hot spots.
“I love and I like the and I like the bookstore on Ventura and Laurel Canyon,” Jones said. “, the one with the marquee.”
Ansari prefers to order in. “I like , that Loteria in Studio City,” Ansari said. “I go to Artisan every now and then. Those are the ones off the top of my head. They order lunch and then bring it to us.”
Offerman actually spends his down time outside. “Sometimes, it depends on the schedule,” Offerman said. “On the rare occasion that you have the first scene and the last scene, I keep a bicycle on the lot. Then I’ll ride my bike. I have a couple friends that live in the neighborhood so I’ll go meet them for coffee. I love the . I’ll go meet over there and then take a three hour nap and get back to work.”
If you see Offerman riding around town, he would welcome your feedback. He thinks people may be afraid to approach him.
“It depends,” Offerman said. “I’d say people generally keep their distance. I think I must have an intimidating demeanor or something. I am thrilled when people like the show. I learned from my wife early on that if it wasn’t for the people that want your autograph or want to approach you, you wouldn’t have this cool job on a TV show. So I always really appreciate it when people [come over.]”
Parks and Recreation is in its third season on NBC. The show’s creators still can’t shake the pressure of the comedy classics that used their space before. “It's a little intimidating,” co-creator Michael Shur said. “When Greg [Daniels] and I were touring the set for the first time, and you're driving on a golf cart, and it's like, ‘Oh, that's where Seinfeld was shot. I mean, it's really fun and nice and good, and I'm happy that that's the case because it feels like we're part of a tradition and everything. But it's also, like, you can't help but think, ‘Oh, you have to be as good as Seinfeld now’ and that's impossible. So we really like being here. It's a great location. The lot's been really good to us.”
When the show returns, Leslie’s plans will build up to the Harvest Festival, an event she hopes will save her department. The actual Harvest Festival was not constructed in the Studio City lot. They went on location for that.
“That's a real,” Shur said. “It's at Pierce College. We never would have been able to build that. It's a massive, sweeping, giant, tractor‑and‑corn maze festival. So we actually shot that episode out of sequence because, if we had shot it in sequence, the week that we would have been shooting was the week that it was like 148 degrees here, and the actors would be dead now. They'd all be dead.”
That’s the episode where Little Sebastian appears. The miniature horse is a town icon, but newcomer Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) doesn’t get all the fanfare. “That's a nice way to underline like how Ben is still new to the town and doesn't still quite get it,” Poehler said. “Everybody loves his horse, and Ben does not understand it. It really shows that he really didn't grow up in Pawnee, and it's just like a private joke that everybody gets but him.”
Season 3 finds Leslie in a desperate state. As happens in real life, local government cuts departments and her Parks and Recreation department is on the fence.
“I think that the show is evolving in that Leslie's realizing her big dream of building a park is so much harder than she thought it was,” Poehler said. “So we start season three kind of in triage mode with everyone trying to save their jobs. It's a little less idealistic, I think, when we come back in season three.”
Parks and Recreation returns Thursday on NBC.