Two weeks ago, Parks and Recreation aired “Halloween Surprise,” a Halloween special as densely layered with heart as it was with laughs. In the climax, Ben (Adam Scott) proposed to Leslie (Amy Poehler) in one of the biggest moments on any comedy in the new season so far. Recently, NBC held a conference call with Poehler, Scott, and series co-creator Mike Schur to address this development, and other behind the scenes issues.
On the big proposal scene:
Amy Poehler: “When I read that scene I cried because I was so happy that I had my job at Parks and then I got to do that scene with Adam and that Mike Schur wrote it because I knew it would be great. And it’s very rare, you know, as an actor when you read a scene and you know it’s going to be great, you can just kind of see it. And so when we were shooting the scene I was really excited that we were getting to do it because I was – had really just been looking forward to doing it. And I was really happy for Leslie, so I think the mood on the – on set was a really kind of joyous one. I know even though it was kind of a sweet scene I know Adam and I were really just happy to have such a well written scene to get to do. And we care about our characters so we were kind of excited that this was happening for them.”
Adam Scott: “Yes, I feel the same way, I mean I also just kind of felt like, you know, this was a really big deal for all of us. I mean we of course are well aware that these are fictional characters that we are playing on television. But I think we also want them to be happy and want them to be all right and we all care about them. I can say, speaking for myself that I care about them, you know, quite deeply and so, you know, knowing this scene was coming, you know, it was – maybe a little nervous about it but mostly just really happy about it. And happy to be able to do it and happy for the characters and, you know, so the day we were doing it it was – it was like Amy said very kind of joyous but also there’s a real feeling that this was very special and we wanted it to be special for the fans and for he characters and we were all – it was exciting. It – I thought it was really exciting, then when we did it we, you know, it was really fun and very happy.”
On how far ahead of time they knew about the proposal:
Mike Schur: “Yes, we, I mean we knew before we started shooting anything because when we were in the writer’s room in pre-production we broke out the first, you know, half dozen or so episodes that was encompassing the time that Ben was going to be in Washington. And what we realized was we wanted Ben to do a good job in Washington and that – what that meant was that he was going to get an opportunity to keep going with that job and with Jen Barkley, with Kathryn Hahn’s character. And so then it became an issue of all right well what causes a guy whose, you know, career is kind of moving in this cool direction to come back to tiny Pawnee, Indiana. And there’s only one thing that would really do that and that’s Leslie. So we just decided to sort of shape the episode around him just deciding look, this is my priority, Leslie is my priority and that everything else is in second place. So we knew before we even started the season that we were going to have him propose and come back when he was done with his arc he was going to – it was going to end with him proposing. So I actually – yes I wrote the scene when we were in Washington.”
On keeping the big surprise under wraps:
Mike Schur: “We were extra, extra, extra careful not to – when we shot outside and you know, and there’s maybe paparazzi lurking around, we always would hide Leslie’s engagement ring. … We titled the episode ‘Halloween Surprise’ and then we built it around what you think is the surprise, which is that they – Leslie and Anne surprised Jerry, and he has a devastating fart attack. So that was meant to sort of throw people off the scent.
On Ben’s motivations for proposing:
Mike Schur: “[I]n the first four episodes we tried to build in, you know, that … Ben was having a good time and was working really hard at this job in Washington that he cared about. But also that there were things about the job that sort of annoyed him, like that the politician that he was – the politician he was working for who was kind of a robot who didn’t really care about anything. And that was contrasted when he, you know, he called Leslie at the end of that episode and she was so revved up and just wanted to just put boots on the ground and … fix this problem in her town. And you saw on his face and in his delivery that he just liked that better, you know. So we just tried … not to telegraph in the storytelling where we were going but the goal is that once it happens you think back and you think, ‘Oh yes, that makes perfect sense.’ So it’s just very meticulous, you know, writing and re-writing and story breaking and a lot of discussions with the actors about, you know, where we’re going so that they know how to play different things and how to kind of give certain clues without giving everything away. And then just, you know, asking everybody on our production staff not to leak stuff to the Internet.
Amy Poehler: “And you know, the fans of the show are always – we have such great fans. And they – I think some of them kind of found out or dug deep and they were kind of excited to know but they also I think were respectful and kind of like keep things like, you know, like letting people know about spoilers and just kind of trying to keep it adrift because I think they were as excited as we were.”
Mike Schur: “Yes, it’s funny that you say that because I kind of snooped around yesterday before the episode aired and I saw that a lot of our fans had kind of called that it was actually maybe happening tonight. And but were really kind of keeping it to themselves and speaking in code to each other. They revealed that I’m digging a little deeper than I should be but it’s really lovely and they were, you know, really cool about it and not trying to spread it around and just kind of talking to each other and not wanting to like spoil it for others. And I just kind of seconded that that we have the greatest fans of any show – I really just – we feel very, very lucky.”
On the development of Ron Swanson and his relationship with Diane:
Adam Scott: “Sure, I mean we’ve had this idea for a really long time that Ron would at some time have a real relationship with a woman who sort of fit all of his, you know, criteria. From the sort of important criteria that she’s like self-possessed and confident and strong and her personality to be superficial like that she has … [T]he idea was give him a really great relationship possibility and then complicate it with two young girls. And, you know, this has been floating around for a while and for a couple years at least and then Lucy Lawless became available and we sort of jumped on it. And, you know, he’s not a guy who’s going to change a whole lot in terms of the ways he views the world or the way that he, you know, comports himself.
“But I think he’s a man and he – it was important for us to create an episode where he realized it was just as important in the world of manliness to apologize when you’ve done something wrong as it is to be able to chop wood. So that was the design of that story and, you know, it sort of gets lost in the kind of giant story move of the proposal but I thought that the scene where he apologized to Diane last night was maybe the best acting he’s ever done on. And, you know, the plan is long-term … this is an important person in his life and that he needs to make a couple adjustments. He’s a guy who hasn’t made any adjustments in his life in probably 30 years … and he’s found a woman who is important enough to him that he needs to make a couple adjustments in terms of how he spends his time and what he cares about in order to make room in his sort of lone wolf heart for these two little girls and this woman who he cares about. So it’s going to – we’re going to follow that story for a while and it’s very exciting to have Lucy around because she’s really cool.”
Lastly, on the episode’s big comedic moment, the “fart attack”:
Mike Schur: “I’m not kidding we probably spent in terms of like man-hours or person-hours we probably spent 10 or to 12 person hours working on the farts. The sound of them, the volume, the style. And that includes, you know, a lot of time in the edit bay getting it right and then in the sound mix we changed stuff. There were three different entire sort of fart overlays that we looked at. We ended up going with version three, which is a hybrid of versions one and two. I mean it was a – it was a very intensive work session and it’s because, you know, it’s a very important moment in the life of the show. It’s – you only get to do a fart attack once and we just wanted to make sure that we got everything done right.”
Parks & Recreation airs tonight at 9:30 PM on NBC