Parks and Recreation returns tonight (NBC, 9:30/8:30c) and some major changes are afoot. Namely, our leading lady is now reeling from both her long distance relationship with a Washington-bound Ben and the realization that her small town politics are… small town compared to her man’s D.C. dealings.
Elsewhere in the department, Andy is on a mission to become a cop, Tom has matured (and maybe ditched Ann?) and Chris is embarking on a top-secret “little journey.”
Here, Parks showrunner Mike Schur elaborates on what he and his trusty team of writers have mapped out for our beloved Pawnee denizens in the comedy’s fifth season.
TVLINE | Where does Season 5 pick up?
A little time has passed, enough to get Ben to Washington and starting his new job on this congressional campaign. He’s taken April with him as his intern, so when we pick up, Leslie and Andy are going to visit them. The first few episodes actually play out over several months, beginning in roughly mid-June and then we’ll catch up in real time around the actual national elections.
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TVLINE | How long will the D.C. footage be sprinkled throughout the season?
Ninety percent of what we shot there is stuff for the premiere. But we also just ran around the city and followed Chris Pratt around for awhile — which is always a good idea. [Laughs] He just ran around Washington and did insane things, and we caught them all on video. We thought that we could sprinkle them in throughout the first few episodes or just put them on the DVD.
TVLINE | If you’re telling the story timed to the real election, will Ben be back in Pawnee around November?
The storyline of the first six episodes is that he runs this campaign and does a good job, so he gets the opportunity to do more work for Jen Barkley, Kathryn Hahn’s character. And he and Leslie, together, have to make this decision. They do pretty well; the long distance thing provides a challenge for them, but they hang in there. Around the time of the election, there’s a decision that happens and he has to decide what his next move is.
TVLINE | So, we’ll definitely see Kathryn Hahn back on the show?
It’s so crazy how busy she is! [Laughs] You watch every show on TV and every movie, and there she is. We do have plans to shoot an episode with her; one of the D.C. storylines involves her.
TVLINE | You say Ben and Leslie handle a long distance romance fairly well. What then, if anything, will cause strain on their relationship?
The story of the first chunk of episodes is that it’s not just the distance. Leslie is feeling very happy and self-confident because she won her election, and when she sees what Ben’s life is like — he’s working for a legitimate U.S. Congressman — and the world he’s traveling in, it’s pretty far above the world that she’s traveling in. Although she’s really happy for him and proud of him, it’s kind of a bummer for her; it’s a reality check. That’s the reason we got three U.S. Senators to be in the premiere. We have a lot of fun scenes with them where she slowly realizes that while she’s trying to clean up the crappy river that runs through her town, Ben is casually chatting with Barbara Boxer about the Kennedy Center. So, it’s a gut check for her in terms of her own life and accomplishments and goals.
TVLINE | Talk a little about Tom’s journey this year.
There’s actually a really nice story for him. I don’t want to give too much of it away, but the idea going into this year is that we really wanted to show that Tom is growing up a little and that he’s learned from his past mistakes. He’s going to have the same insane, entrepreneurial spirit that he’s always had. But he’s a little smarter now and when he has an idea that he likes, he’s a bit better about putting things together.
TVLINE | Will Tom and Ann actually move in together?
That is dealt with in the premiere. You get the full story about what happened later that night when she drunkenly agreed to move in with him. Their story in the premiere sort of wraps up that whole storyline.
TVLINE | It wraps up their entire romantic entanglement?
For the most part, yes.
TVLINE | What’s on the horizon for April and Andy?
They’re a bit of a parallel story to Leslie and Ben because they are also dating long distance. Leslie leans on Andy a bit because she’s having a hard time and she’s [wondering] how he’s so OK with it… We’ve been doing a slow grind with April since the beginning of the series, where she’s slowly but surely becoming not a kid and learning responsibility. We never want to do anything with her that feels forced or false, and we never want her to give up what makes her special… But the experience of being in Washington and working with Ben does have some benefits for her. She doesn’t necessarily change her behavior, but she can see doing it down the line. [Laughs]
TVLINE | How does Chris fit into the story now that the election is over and Ben’s out of town?
City Manager, which is his position, is chosen by the city council, so part of the fun of this for Leslie is that when she’s on city council, she’s Chris’ boss, and when she’s in the Parks Department, Chris is her boss. So, there’s a funny oscillation; they have to juggle their relationship a little bit. We’ve also come up with a storyline for Chris that I don’t want to spoil because there’s just a one-sentence explanation for it. [Laughs] But in one of the first episodes, Chris is helping Andy train to become a police officer, which is part of Andy’s arc this season — Andy has to run two miles in 25 minutes, which he thinks is a typo. [Laughs] Something happens when Chris is training Andy that sends him on a little journey. It’s something he doesn’t understand that’s been explained to him by Tom and Andy.
TVLINE | Let’s end on some fun Jerry and Donna scoop.
If you follow Retta on Twitter, there will be a nice storyline that you will appreciate. I think it’s in the fifth episode. And in the same episode, there’s a big Jerry story. We set up in the pilot that Jerry was closing in on retirement, and at the end of this year he’ll be eligible for that. So, that’s a tiny thing that we’re going to trace through the course of the season.