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PaleyFest 2011: Details From NBC's Parks and Recreation Panel

Welcome to the home of the world famous Julia Roberts... lawsuit. To the Paris of Indiana. Welcome to Pawnee.

It was clear, as the cast and crew of NBC's painfully funny and wickedly sweet Parks and Recreation gathered on stage last night as part of the 2011 edition of the Paley Festival, that there's as much love for the series coming from the actors than there is coming from the audience.

"I think this is the beginning of us being around for a long time," said Amy Poehler about Parks and Recreation reaching its stride. The numbers have climbed during the long-delayed third season, which made the move to the plum post-Office timeslot in January.

Though Poehler was quick to poke fun at moderator Michael Ausiello of TVLine for issuing a backhanded compliment about the underrated first season of this winning comedy series. "It's a bit like saying that your baby used to be ugly and is now cute," said Poehler on reactions to Season One, which she termed an "amuse bouche, for all you Top Chef fans out there."

Nearly everyone praised Poehler for the professional and warm tone she sets for the entire cast and crew. (It really does all trickle down from the top, if I'm being honest.)

"Writing for this cast is like a writer's dream come true," said co-creator Mike Schur. "Each of them is a Swiss Army Knife."

One of my favorite quotes had to be from Poehler about Leslie Knope at the start of the panel, as she described Leslie as "part Girl Scout, part pioneer, and zero game."

There was one bit of newsworthy business that had to be dealt with before the evening got under way and that was the rumors swirling about Rob Lowe, who joined the cast of Parks and Rec last season as eternally optimistic Chris Traeger. Mike Schur said there is "no truth" to rumors about Rob Lowe joining the cast of Two and a Half Men and replacing Charlie Sheen. Lowe, said Schur, is under a multi-year contract. As for why Lowe wasn't there last night, Schur said he was looking at colleges with his kids back East.

(Aubrey Plaza, meanwhile, had her own choice words to Sheen, issuing a deadpan proposition to the former Two and a Half Men star that insinuated that she'd do anything for him, no matter how dirty, and that he should "find [her] on Twitter.")

So what else did the cast and crew of Parks and Rec have to say? Let's take a look and what lies ahead for the gang in Pawnee and some other interesting tidbits...

Leslie. "The second half of the season will be about how [Leslie's] profile is heightened" as a result of Harvest Festival," said Schur about the professional arc facing Ms. Knope after next week's "Harvest Festival" episode, with Leslie becoming something of a local celebrity in Pawnee.

Ben. As for Ben (Adam Scott), the nascent romance between him and Leslie will provide a bit of a throughline for the remainder of the season, as they "tap-dance" around each other. "Leslie had had many suitors but this is the first one that's interested in the same thing she is," said Poehler about Ben. As for whether Ben has a shot with Leslie, Poehler said, "Leslie is like a single mom and Pawnee is like her kid. And if you treat her kid well, you might get to have sex with her."

Ann Perkins! "Ann turns into a real slut," said Poehler about Ann's upcoming romantic arc. "She goes on a Rumspringa."

April and Andy. Andy and April are "on a rollercoaster". They like each other a lot and are just hanging onto the outside of it, said Schur.

Asked why Andy is so much more lovable now than when we first met him in Season One (when he was taking advantage of the good graces of then-girlfriend Ann after falling in the pit), Nick Offerman said, "Andy met a man named Ron Swanson, and now he has much better manners."

Tom. Tom will invent a beverage called Snake Juice this season, though I hope it tastes better than Tommy Fresh's "teriyaki hairpiece," um, odeur. ("Eventually one of Tom's inventions will hit... in Season 9," said Schur.) As for Tom's personal life, Aziz Ansari said, "I secretly want Usher to play Tom's brother."

Mayor Gunderson. We were promised that Mayor Gunderson WILL eventually be seen on the series. Poehler wants Bill Murray to play him, a casting note that had everyone in the audience cheering. ("He'd only have to work three hours," promised Poehler.)

Among the other details revealed last night:
  • Aubrey Plaza says Amy Poehler was one of her comedy heroes when she was in high school. Aw. The two worked on Saturday Night Live at the same time, when Plaza interned in the art department, though she said that Poehler never said one word to her. Amy rejoined, "I was busy!"
  • "You can make so much fun of him and he doesn't care, because he's so good looking," said Rashida Jones about her co-star Rob Lowe.
  • Aubrey mentions that because she's "so young" she didn't know who Rob Lowe was when he arrived for his first day of work last season. Poehler's reaction? "Oh, shut up, Aubrey."
  • Poehler wants to see Louis C.K. back on Parks and Recreation, especially to see him work with Adam Scott. In fact, she was the one who suggested Louis C.K. for the role, which was originally written as a handsome, buff local cop. (Amy won out in the end.)
  • Asked by an audience member for their favorite fictional characters, several actors named Omar Little from The Wire, though Schur admitted that no fictional character makes him laugh as much as Cookie Monster.
  • Retta told a story about how she didn't really have any lines in the first season until Amy started ad-libbing with her. "Where'd you get that leaf?" Leslie asked, referring to a leaf Donna had pinned up on a bulletin board behind her desk. "Outside," deadpanned Donna. (HA!)
  • In other Retta news, she said she almost passed out at the table read for "Ron & Tammy II" because she was laughing so hard. "Chris [Pratt] makes me pee all the time."
  • "I don't remember any of that," said Plaza after Schur told the story of meeting her and creating April based on that first meeting; the way that she made him feel mirrored the way that she makes Leslie feel.
  • The writers' first inkling about the possibilities of pairing April and Andy came during Season Two's "Hunting Trip" episode, in which they got left behind at the office and the two played Marco Polo and practiced spit-takes. (Funnily enough, it was the first time I twigged to the possibility that these two could be meant for each other.)

And that's a wrap! Thanks to the cast and crew of Parks and Recreation for such a lovely and funny evening and be sure to catch next week's "Harvest Festival," which I've now (as of late night's screening before the panel) seen no less than six times.

Parks and Recreation airs Thursday at 9:30 pm ET/PT on NBC.

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