Sometimes it felt like Sarasota, Fla., was a nice getaway for Hollywood stars.
Aubrey Plaza, most famous so far for “Parks and Recreation,” visited Ringling College of Art and Design. She didn’t disappoint for giving me plenty to write about.
She rode around in a golf cart, blowing a whistle, and telling people she was the new pope.
She talked to college students about working in the movie and TV biz.
And she talked to me about a piece of “Parks and Recreation” trivia that I had to write about. I graduated from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. Part of the show is based on Muncie, in a roundabout way, and the map in the opening credits of Pawnee, Ind., is Muncie upside down. She either wasn’t aware, didn’t care or was being kind.
Reality and fantasy collide all the time in TV, but there’s something about when a hit show takes place in a town you’re familiar with that sets it apart.
That’s the case with NBC’s Parks and Recreation, which takes place in fictional Pawnee, Indiana, which is beside the also fictional Eagleton. But they reference real towns in the Hoosier state, and Pawnee is sort-of based on a real city in East Central Indiana: Muncie.
Thankfully Aubrey Plaza, who plays April Ludgate on the show was in Sarasota on Saturday to satisfy my curiosity.
Long ago during the first season, viewers astutely noticed that the map of Pawnee during the opening of the show is a map of Muncie flipped outside down. And the characters frequently make reference to goings-on in Muncie, too. The only reason I care is because I went to college in Muncie.
So, would it not be out of the ordinary for the show to film in Muncie, given that it did a great Indianapolis show (that city is real). And in another episode, the gang went to Washington, D.C. and met Vice President Joe Biden.
How about it, Aubrey?
“Wait. It’s a real place? Muncie?” Plaza said.
“Yeah,” this reporter said, stunned in his chair.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know that,” Plaza said. “How about Bloomington?”
That’s real, too. Indiana University is located in Bloomington, and Ball State University in Muncie, where David Letterman attended.
Just like the map of Pawnee, my world was turned upside down.
You really can’t fault actors not being familiar with Midwestern geography of mid-sized cities. The writers write, and you act.
Writer Greg Levine actually researches this stuff. He told Wired.com that he checks in on small-town politics in both Muncie and Bloomington to figure out how Pawnee should operate.
One of the funniest exchanges in the show involved making fun of Muncie, too.
Tom Haverford, played by Aziz Ansari, rips Jerry Gergich (Jim O’Heir) for his vacation spot.
Tom: You went on vacation and you chose Muncie, Indiana?
Jerry: My wife and I have a timeshare.
Tom: In Muncie?
Leslie: Tom, Muncie is a lovely city.
But the Sherm’s Ice Cream in Muncie during the “Two Parties” episode where the guys went to Indy? Doesn’t exist, nor did that appear to be Muncie.
Just to double check to make sure I’m being fair, I asked her in the green room if she was kidding. Nope.
Her boyfriend and screenwriter Jeff Baena knew—even told me to Google Hudsucker Proxy to check if the movie was set in Muncie, too. Yup.
Also, a part of Close Encounters of the Third Kind took place there, and there was a reality show, probably my favorite ever, called Armed & Famous that shot there. It featured the likes of Wee Man, Erik Estrada, La Toya Jackson and others being Muncie cops and fighting crime. I wish it would return, but Aubrey would have to be less famous to be on the show.
Knowing that Muncie is indeed real, Plaza gave a “hopefully” in response to the real question—if Parks and Rec would shoot there.
You know what? I’ll accept that answer. For real.