The fourth season of Parks and Recreation began airing on September 22, 2011. It was released on DVD September 4, 2012.
With Ben Wyatt's encouragement, Leslie Knope decides to run for city council, and the two end their relationship. Leslie hires Andy Dwyer as her assistant. Patricia Clarkson appears as Ron Swanson's first ex-wife, Tammy 1, who uses her power as an IRS employee to audit Ron and temporarily takes complete control over his life. Tom Haverford and Jean-Ralphio Saperstein's company, Entertainment 720, quickly blows through massive amounts of promotional funding while performing little actual work; the company goes out of business and Tom returns to his old job. After struggling to move on both personally and professionally, Ben and Leslie get back together, and Ben sacrifices his job to save Leslie from losing hers. The scandal leads her political advisers to abandon Leslie's campaign, and the parks department volunteers to become her new campaign staff. Ben agrees to be Leslie's campaign manager. Leslie's ex-boyfriend Dave Sanderson reappears and unsuccessfully attempts to win Leslie back. Leslie's campaign faces myriad setbacks against her main opponent, Bobby Newport, and his famous campaign manager Jennifer Barkley. Ann Perkins and Tom begin an extremely rocky romantic relationship. April Ludgate takes on more responsibility and is eventually given Leslie's old job. In the season finale, Jennifer offers Ben a job in Washington, which he reluctantly accepts, and after the race is initially called for Newport, Leslie wins the position in a recount.
All of the regular cast members, including Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope, Aziz Ansari as Tom Haverford, Rashida Jones as Ann Perkins, Jim O'Heir as Jerry Gergich, Aubrey Plaza as April Ludgate, Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson, Retta as Donna Meagle, Adam Scott as Ben Wyatt, and Rob Lowe as Chris Traeger, returned for the fourth season.
Patricia Clarkson guest stars as Ron Swanson's first ex-wife Tammy 1. "The relationship she has with Ron is not as hedonistic, animal attraction, pure and simple, that we've seen before," co-creator Michael Schur said about Tammy 1. "They have a much different, more complicated, rich backstory that we get into. The point of casting Patricia Clarkson was to let her be Patricia Clarkson, and I think we accomplished that." Paula Pell also makes an appearance as Ron's mother Tammy Swanson, also known as Tammy 0.
Paul Rudd guest stars in multiple episodes as Leslie's opponent for city council, Bobby Newport, son of Sweetums millionaire Nick Newport, Sr.. Kathryn Hahn stars in multiple episodes as Bobby's campaign manager Jennifer Barkley.
Michael Schur said that for season four "In our pre-production time, we decided that a story for the entire season was going to be the election, so we needed to end that episode with Leslie standing on a stage and saying, 'I’m running for city council.' The whole episode became about how to make a satisfying story with that ending. That was the M.O.—by the time this episode is done, she’s standing on a podium, in a park, surrounded by her friends, saying 'I’m running for city council,' and that was where we started."
On Ben and Leslie's relationship, he said that "It’s very tricky, because as soon as Adam Scott showed up, our intention was to make Ben a love interest for Leslie. I’ve said this before, but the idea was always that it would take them a while to get together, and then it wouldn’t go smoothly because of the circumstances under which they met. But as soon as we started developing the relationship—again, this is about actors as much as it is about writing or planning—it became clear that this was it for Leslie. We created a scenario at the end of season three where she had to choose between the secret relationship and her dream. In order to pull that off, there was only one move we had: Ben had to figure out what was going on, and he needed to step up and say, 'It’s okay, we can stop dating each other until this is sorted through.' It’s a good move for the character, because it shows he knows how important it is for Leslie to do this thing she wants to do. In a more significant way, it solidifies in Leslie’s mind that he’s the right guy for her. So in one fell swoop, we were setting in stone how good of a match he is for her—how much he understands her, how much he cares about her and her dreams and her future, even though they’d only been dating for a short time."
On deciding to make Leslie's book Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America into an actual book, Schur said that "We did that time-capsule episode in that weird six-episode adjunct season we filmed after season two. At the time, it was just a funny joke that Leslie would—without anyone asking her to—write a book about the entire history of the town. Then the show was moved to midseason, and that meant we were done shooting by Christmas. And in the time between that six-episode adjunct season and the rest of the season, we were approached about the possibility of doing a Parks And Rec book. A big part of writing a book that’s associated with a TV show is that you can use the TV show to promote the book. So I was like, 'Well, we’ve already referenced this book that exists in the world. It’s very organic. We wouldn’t have to shoehorn it in, because we’ve already written this little story.' So it was a natural project, and the fact that we had a short season that year meant the writers had more time to do this extracurricular project. We set the entire staff to work, and we hired this guy named Nate DiMeo, who was the captain of it and oversaw the whole thing. It was a very ambitious, weird little project, but I’m so happy we did it. In the time between when we finished season three and we were waiting for it to air—it didn’t air until January—it was a good distraction to keep writing about Pawnee and these weird aspects of the town."
Schur describes the writing process for Parks and Recreation writers: "Well, the stories are all broken in a group, and we go over them and over them and over them, and we pitch jokes, we refine the stories, we do a lot of work—and then that whole mess of notes and outlines and stuff is given to one writer. That writer goes off and writes the first draft. And then from that point on, that writer is in charge of the episode. That writer will be on the stage the whole time, and they’ll be in charge of producing the episode and working with the director. Once they write the draft and they turn it back in, I’ll do a pass on it, and then I’ll turn it over to the room with notes, and then we’ll do the rewrite. And then the same thing will happen after the table read—we’ll do another pass and another rewrite. But it’s really about that first draft, and taking all of the work that the room has done and forging it into a fine blade of Valyrian steel. Sometimes on shows, a writing credit ends up meaning very little, because episodes are largely group-written. I like to think that means a little bit more on our show, because it doesn’t matter whether it’s a staff writer or a co-executive producer—we try to give the writer of the original draft a lot of authority, and try to keep everything we can of what they’ve done for the first draft.
At the March 2012 PaleyFest, series co-creator Michael Schur revealed that three different season endings were filmed because "we want to make sure that the one we are choosing is the right [one] and we reserve the right to change our minds and also partly just to confuse people," he said, adding that "there may be a last-minute switch".
On the filming style of the show, Michael Schur said: "The Office was incredibly rigid when it came to mockumentary rules, in part because it had to be—it was re-introducing the idea of mockumentary to American TV. And so for that reason, the show was incredibly strict about camera placement, and about what you could and couldn’t see, and what kinds of tools you could use to shoot those things. It was also shot 95 percent indoors, in the same four rooms, so things like cranes and all that sort of stuff would never come into play. But I think it loosened up the world for viewers at home, and I think viewers are a lot more used to it now. If you watch any of the shows that are either actual mockumentaries or a mockumentary in style—and there’s a bunch of them—the rules are much looser. We can get away with more, and we don’t need to teach a visual vocabulary to anybody. Everybody’s already very, very familiar with how these shows look and what they’re like. And our show is just outside more than The Office was. There’s a lot more on-location shooting, and it gets very dull to do a very, very strict mockumentary style when you’re outside and moving around the world as much as we are. So we still have certain rules that we use, but we gave up on the strict style manual a long time ago."
He went on further to explain "in our show, we realized early on that Leslie is not performing for anyone. Leslie is completely authentic through and through, she doesn’t care what people think of her, necessarily, or whether she comes off as cool, or any of the stuff Michael Scott or David Brent cared about. That means it is not as vital that we stick to that style, because it is not as vital to the theme of the show. We still love it, because it allows us to get exposition out in funny, brief ways—you know, people can just tell the cameras what is going on, which is a very excellent tool. It’s a tool that, if you don’t have it, you end up with a lot of conversations where people speak unnaturally, where they say things like, 'Bill, you’re my best friend, and we’ve known each other for 25 years'—things no one would ever say to each other. We don’t have to do any of that, because we have the device of people explaining to the cameras what’s happening that day. I still love that, and I can’t imagine doing TV without it. But when you get an arc or an episode that has a lot of forward momentum and doesn’t need any exposition like that, then you can eliminate some of the aspects of the mockumentary format without disrupting the show—you don’t have to have talking heads if you don’t want them, and you don’t have to have the characters interacting with the cameras that much if you don’t want to. So it’s maximum flexibility for us."
Parks and Recreation, like The Office, suffered a decline in ratings during the fourth season. While Parks outperformed 30 Rock, it wasn't by much. The show pulled in between 3 and 4 million viewers per episode. It was announced that the show would be renewed for a fifth season, although it will be a shorter one.
"With a cast as ostensibly close-knit and in-tune as these actors are, season four of Parks and Recreation illustrates just how far the series has come from its mediocre beginnings, and could very well take it to even greater, and funnier, places" said Mike Lechevallier from Slant Magazine while describing season 4 of Parks and Recreation.
Co-creator and executive producer Michael Schur expressed worries, but also was optimistic, about the possibility of the show being renewed for a fourth season, as did the cast members. "We've never really quite known that far ahead of time what was going to happen," said Amy Poehler. "And because of it, we've had to kind of just keep our heads down and do the show. The support we got...was so incredible and it made such a difference I think in the path of the show and I really think personally and in our lives and how we did our work. We're so indebted to when we weren't around on the air that people noticed and they cared. It made a huge difference for us. .. We've never, ever been able to fully be able to super exhale, but I think that this is the beginning of us being around for hopefully a long time."
"The Debate" was submitted for Parks and Recreation's Emmy submission package for season four. However, the show didn't receive a nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series, which caused some people to feel the show was snubbed. Others also felt Nick Offerman shouldn't have been omitted from the Emmys list. He was supposed to read the nominations but was sidelined by travel-related delays and Jimmy Kimmel filled in.
|2012||Golden Globe Award||Best Actress in a TV Series - Comedy or Musical||Amy Poehler||Nominated|
|Producers Guild of America Award||Outstanding Producer of Episodic Television - Comedy||Greg Daniels, Dan Goor, Howard Klein, Amy Poehler, Morgan Sackett, Michael Schur||Nominated|
|Web Series||April and Andy's Road Trip||Nominated|
|Writers Guild of America Award||Comedy Series||Greg Daniels, Katie Dippold, Daniel J. Goor, Norm Hiscock, Emily Kapnek, Dave King, Greg Levine, Aisha Muharrar, Chelsea Peretti, Amy Poehler, Brian Rowe, Michael Schur, Mike Scully, Emily Spivey, Alan Yang, Harris Wittels||Nominated|
|The Comedy Awards||Best Comedy Series||Parks and Recreation||Won|
|Best Comedy Actress in TV||Amy Poehler||Won|
|Critics' Choice Television Awards||Best Actress in a Comedy Series||Amy Poehler||Won|
|Best Comedy Series||Parks and Recreation||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series||Nick Offerman||Nominated|
|Best Guest Performer in a Comedy Series||Kathryn Hahn||Nominated|
|Best Guest Performer in a Comedy Series||Paul Rudd||Won|
|TCA Awards||Individual Achievement in Comedy||Amy Poehler||Nominated|
|Outstanding Achievement in Comedy||Parks and Recreation||Nominated|
|Primetime Emmy Award||Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series||Amy Poehler||Pending|
|Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series||Amy Poehler for "The Debate"||Pending|
|Michael Schur for "Win, Lose, or Draw"||Pending|
|Outstanding Special Class — Short-format Live-Action Entertainment Programs||Parks And Recreation: April And Andy's Road Trip||Pending|
|Outstanding Sound Mixing For A Comedy Or Drama Series (Half-Hour) And Animation||"End of the World"||Pending|