The comparisons between "The Office" and "Parks and Recreation" were inevitable with the same creative team, same mockumentary style of storytelling and both half hour comedies set in zany workplaces. However, series star Amy Poehler was more inspired than daunted by the comparison and told our Jim Halterman during a recent press call that she and co-star Aziz Ansari "are both huge fans of 'The Office' so any time that we're mentioned in the same sentence as them it's a compliment. But I think people will see this season what this show is and how it's different and certainly in its own way." Ansari, demonstrating keen comic timing, added, "I hope this season we get compared to that show 'NCIS' with LL Cool J and Chris O'Donnell."
Poehler, for one, is excited about the chance to dive into her character in season two. "I do think that we're lucky... we just had a seasonette, kind of a little season, and so we're still in the second season getting into the groove. And so I feel really excited about this next season because I think we're all kind of figuring out who we are and where we're supposed to be. But, you know, it's a constant evolution and learning process."
Like Steve Carell's Michael Scott on "The Office," Poehler knows one thing for sure about her character, Leslie Knope. "I think that Leslie has good intentions but no game," she explained. "And so she's not dumb she's just isn't suave. So I have to straddle the line between figuring out what she kind of knows about a situation [and] how she doesn't have many skills as how to play it."
Playing the non-self aware Leslie with seemingly little effort is not as easy at all, according to the actress. "I am trying so hard. The thing is if you ever see someone run a marathon that hasn't trained very well. That's what I'm doing. I'm telling you, if it looks effortless I'll tell you behind the scenes it's like - I'm like in a strongman contest pulling a car. That's how hard it is for me."
As for how he approaches playing Tom, the sarcastic, underachieving government official, Ansari took the comedic route to answer. "I watched the movie 'There Will be Blood' with Daniel Day Lewis's commentary on it... and I just listened to what he said and that's the same technique I applied for my acting."
Poehler and Ansari made sure to mention that Ansari's character would be fleshed out a bit more in the new episodes. "You're going to see a couple times this season that Tom - he shows he's a real softy... Leslie thinks that Tom is her Batman but in many ways he always kind of gives her the skinny on what's really happening in real life."
Ansari agreed but wanted to reassure fans of his character by promising while "there's some of Tom being a little sensitive here and there... he's still a douche bag most of the time." He then added, "You find out a little bit more about his relationship with his wife and there's some fun stuff playing with that. And in the third episode he gets to judge a beauty pageant, which for him, of course, is going to be a blast. And there's a lot of fun stuff. I think like we were saying earlier with the second season I think you get to learn a lot more about all the characters because we only had six episodes [so] there's only so much you can delve into with all these guys. But in the second season I think we get to go a little bit deeper and figure out who these people are."
After seven years on "Saturday Night Live," how does Poehler, who could win an Outstanding Supporting Actress Emmy this weekend for her "SNL" work, feel about moving from the sketch show to a sitcom? "It's been awesome to be able to just settle in and play someone and really kind of figure out where they're coming from and how they would act and behave. The great thing and the exciting thing about 'SNL' is how versatile you get to be in that show. But the characters can be very transient and the experience can be very temporary; it starts anew every week. And so it's been nice to settle in and play someone who I could believe would actually maybe exist in the world."
Ansari also talked about his stand-up roots that have served him well. "I was doing standup in New York," he said, "and I started performing with a couple of guys that did stuff at the theater and he founded the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater... it was a huge learning experience of course. Yes, it was really fun. I guess the thing about sketch is you know you can do anything [and] you can play any kind of attitude and your character can change any second. And that's kind of the reason I was excited to do this show because it'd be kind of cool to do something a little bit more grounded and kind of really get into one character and figure that out really well."
While the show mines a lot of laughs from Leslie's semi-hidden feelings for co-worker Mark (Paul Schneider), Poehler is glad her character will be soon seeking out new love interests. "Certainly this season she's trying to get over an unrequited love and turn her face towards a better and perspective future," Poehler said. "And Louis C.K. comes in for a couple episodes as a police officer who is interested in Leslie. But I don't know. I think I would like - I'd certainly like her find [love]. And who knows maybe she will."
Dream casting for a new Leslie romantic interest? Ansari chimed in that Poehler had once mentioned actor Wesley Snipes in the role. "Yes," Poehler confessed, tongue in cheek, "either Wesley Snipes or Jimmy Carter as himself."
With her character of Leslie Knope always hungry to advance beyond her mid-level position at an Indiana Parks and Recreation department, what does Poehler think Leslie if she climbed to the highest office in the United States? "Oh she would probably create a central park in every city. So she would probably reclaim back urban areas and developed areas and make like giant central parks in every city or every state in the United States. I think that would be the first thing she would do. She'd make it really green. That and she probably like had like mandatory dance parties in public schools."
Ansari expressed that in a bigger political arena Tom "would probably do pretty well. He seems like a guy that's pretty ambitious and sleazy and knows how to work [and] wiggle his way around. So I would say he'd probably be okay; he seems like a pretty determined, focused dude but he's also a douche bag."
One thing is certain � Poehler is committed to "Parks and Recreation" for the long haul. "In this economy it's nice to be working. And we know the second season isn't a guarantee. But I hope - I mean I've signed on for like 100 seasons. So we'll see if that, I mean, we've got like what 98 to go."
Season two of "Parks and Recreation" begins tonight at 8:30/7:30c on NBC.