Parks and Recreation lasted seven seasons and wrapped itself up on its own terms. Few shows get to be so lucky. Ending in early 2015, the series now maintains a dedicated following and is one of those Netflix shows you can easily binge through…as long as you power through the first season or forget about it completely.
That first episode, airing on April 9, 2009, introduced us to a lot of the core characters who were maybe rough around the edges, but still acted true to what they would blossom to be when the show hit its stride. Leslie Knope was the overly-optimistic workaholic. Ann Perkins was equal parts delighted and annoyed by the strange world around her. Tom Haverford showed himself as a self-important douche with no passion for government work. Ron Swanson was a man’s man who hated the government despite being part of it. We even got introduced to idiot manchild Andy Dwyer and emotional void April Ludgate.
But there’s one moment in there that really sticks out on a rewatch. Halfway through the episode, when needing help, Leslie builds up a major character introduction. She gets all hyped up and off we meet…this guy.
Paul Schneider as Mark Brendanawicz. Ladies and gentlemen, the Pete Best of Parks and Recreation. The Tom Bombadil of Pawnee, Indiana. The King Wart of NBC sitcoms.
Mark’s existence has always fascinated me. While the show lasted until 2015, Mark’s last appearance was May 20, 2010 at the end of the show’s second season. That’s right, we’re at the ten year anniversary of the last time anyone has seen Mark Brendanawicz. But more than that, it’s the last time anyone’s MENTIONED Mark Brendanawicz as he didn’t just leave the show, but he ceased to exist. It’s crazy.
In this first episode, Mark is introduced as Leslie’s foil. Not only in the sense that he’s a straight man playing off her manic behavior, but because he’s long burned out from the world of politics while Leslie is still completely hyped about her job. Then there’s how they perceive their brief fling from years earlier. Leslie still excitedly holds a candle for Mark while Mark barely remembers they ever slept together. His sudden recollection, minor as it is, is probably the only actual humorous moment with Mark in that pilot.
It’s also Mark who sets things right in this first episode. He’s very forward that Leslie’s plan to turn a giant pit into a park is a fool’s errand. He’s too cynical to humor her, yet he’s still quietly taken in by her drive and secretly gets Ron to push things forward by calling in a major favor from their past. On its own, this episode reveals Mark’s role as a redemptive character, lightened by Leslie’s hope with potential for a will-they/won’t-they romance.
Parks and Recreation season 1 lasted a mere six episodes and they were a very dry and rough six episodes. The season lacked energy, it lacked the show’s trademark optimism, and the players hadn’t figured themselves out just yet. Granted, they were starting to get there. Ron opened up a couple times about how much he hated his ex-wife Tammy. Aubrey Plaza did an improvised line that made her realize that her character April would probably be into Andy.
During this time, Mark was defined as being a slowly reforming playboy. He was starting to move away from going from woman to woman and it confused and frightened him. By the end of the season, he had struck out with Ann and drunkenly hit on Leslie, only to be rebuffed due to his inebriated state and ended the finale by falling down the giant pit. Having him hit literal rock bottom was a perfect place for his story as the first season came to an end.
The second season was 24 episodes long and boy oh boy is it hard to remember much of anything Mark was up to. In fact, one of the only episodes where he stands out is the fourth episode “Practice Date,” where he and his coworkers had a contest over who could dig up the most dirt on the others. Thanks to Mark, Jerry inadvertently found out he was adopted, which was how the showrunners realized that Jerry’s character was the “world’s undeserved punching bag” archetype. Mark also showed knowledge of Ron Swanson’s dual identity as jazz musician Duke Silver, which became a recurring plot point throughout the series.
Mark spent the second season in a relationship with Ann and even ended “Practice Date” by opening up about his promiscuous past to show how much she meant to him. While he was happy for a time, the relationship with Ann was a major part in what killed Mark’s spot on the show.
One of the aspects of the relationship was Andy Dwyer’s jealousy throughout much of the season. In the first season, Andy was an unlikeable garbage bag of a human being. He wasn’t even supposed to stay on the show after that, but the crew loved having him around enough that they made him part of the main cast and therefore fixed the character to make him more redeemable. Andy transformed into a total sweetheart, which helped make Chris Pratt’s career take off, but also didn’t make him enough of an antagonist to make us care for Mark.
The second season in general was when the show started to find its footing, giving us such early gems as “Hunting Trip” and “94 Meetings.” Despite the show’s momentum, it was apparent that putting the two “straight man” characters in a relationship was an anchor. Mark and Ann became the season’s drum solo and only existed for the sake of making Leslie conflicted about her feelings. Things got delightfully awkward when Mark was set to propose to Ann during a telethon, not realizing that she was planning to break up with him. Once that was resolved, it was all but over for Brendanawicz.
“The Master Plan” and “Freddy Spaghetti” were Mark’s final two appearances on the show and by rewatching them with Mark in mind – as I did for this article – the writing was etched in the wall. Mark was nothing but an afterthought. In fact, “The Master Plan” is notable for introducing Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott), Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe), and to a lesser extent Lucy Santo Domingo (Natalie Morales) to the show. Three characters who would go on to be spouses to three of the main characters over the years.
Ben especially stole the show during his brief run in the second season. His geeky personality had yet to be introduced, so other than being a reluctant antagonist to Leslie (being brought in to cut government spending), he was the new straight man. And he was great at it, bluntly calling out the weirdness of Pawnee, Indiana and Leslie especially. Keep in mind, this is with minimal shots of Ben staring at the camera, confused.
Interestingly enough, Ben and Mark never interacted, but in these two episodes, Ben was easily beating Mark at his own game. His romantic ties to Leslie would hit later, but he was the man standing in Leslie’s way, not due to being a bad person, but because of his realist beliefs. Ben’s moment at the end of the season finale, where he stepped in to make sure Leslie’s unauthorized children’s concert happened for the sake of the town’s morale, felt much like a more bombastic take on Mark secretly helping Leslie in the show’s pilot.
Mark had what seemed like a combined four minutes of screentime in those two episodes. He appeared in a mere two scenes in each one and never in any major group moments. One scene had him come across Andy at a bar, where it was apparent that while Andy no longer held any ill will towards Mark and was becoming a better person, Mark was stuck with no prospects and a history that wasn’t all that endearing. It almost read like Mark was noticing how Pawnee was leaving him behind.
With the show’s plot involving a government shutdown in “Freddy Spaghetti,” Mark decided that the entire situation, along with Ann’s rejection, was a sign that it was time for him to move on. Leslie was angry at first, dubbing him “Mark Brendanaquits,” but the two later shared a nice goodbye moment on the plot of land that used to be the pit. As a farewell present, he gave Leslie some blueprints for a layout of what her dream park could possibly look like. Mark was inspired by Leslie and it bounced back and inspired Leslie to continue fighting for what she believed in.
As for Ann, she drunkenly stumbled into the first step towards a relationship with Chris Traeger, which was already a million times more entertaining than what she had with Mark due to Chris’ otherworldly optimism and dedication to his personal health. Plus, and this is big, the two had amazing chemistry. Ann never had a goodbye scene with Mark (even though she presumably did talk to him to at least ask if he was the guy she made out with at the bar) and we were probably better off that way.
After 30 episodes, that was it for Mark. At first, the door appeared to be open. Series co-creator Michael Schur was quick to point out that it was an amicable split and that Mark’s role allowed him to return down the line, even if he was just going to be a guest appearance here and there. He would probably show up once or twice in the third season! Parks and Recreation was all about recurring characters popping up, so such a thing made all the sense in the world.
Instead, that really was it for Mark. He never returned. When the show was on its last legs in 2014, Schneider publicly admitted in an interview with Screen Crush that he was never asked to come back and by that point, he really didn’t want to. They changed up his character and later gave him so little to do that it just wasn’t his show anymore.
“That experience was very strange for me. You know, I signed up for a specific character that was changed in mid-season. And it became a character with a lot less to do. And, all of a sudden, I was kind of confused and kind of having a lot less to do.”
So with little there to chew on, it seems as though Schneider saw more opportunities in acting in film and went for it.
As for the showrunners, while it was never said why they never tried to reintroduce Mark, it’s telling enough when you notice the whole show transform around him. Parks and Recreation evolved, but Mark’s character had a hard time evolving with it. He was an ill-fit and felt obsolete. I once convinced a friend to binge the series and once she was done, after I mentioned something about Mark, she realized that she had completely forgotten about him.
Actors leave shows all the time. Characters come and go. That’s showbusiness. It was the complete absence of Mark’s existence from the remaining seasons that is highly unusual. Not only did Mark never return, but nobody ever referenced him again. You don’t even need Schneider to show up to be remembered. You can just have Leslie give a meaningful look at those park blueprints or something on the level of Sam straightening a framed photo of Geronimo during the final episode of Cheers as a reference to Coach Ernie Pantusso.
Outside of the parade of returning appearances that was the final season, the most notable moment for a potential Mark return was season 5’s “Halloween Surprise.” In it, Ann appeared at a swap meet with what she called her “boyfriend boxes,” each one labeled with a different ex-boyfriend’s name and each one featuring items she acquired during said relationships. Despite having boxes for Andy, Tom, and Chris, there was nothing for the man she spent much of season 2 dating. Mark didn’t even get a background gag.
It’s hard to give a definitive answer why. An unsaid bitterness? I’m not bold enough to speculate further on that. It’s possible that Mark was so representative of the early, less-than-stellar days of Parks and Recreation that any nod to him would be a reminder of uglier times and anything more wouldn’t be worth the hassle. Schneider found a more fulfilling direction in his career, the show went on strongly to its conclusion, and Mark Brendanawicz ended up as a corrected curiosity who didn’t need to find his way home.
In the end, with all the fans running through the show like obsessed forensics, only two remnants of Mark remained. One, a laptop cover he bought for Ann remained a prop through the rest of her time on the show. Two, a painting he created for the parks department had appeared hanging in Ron’s office as late as season 6.
The painting, from the season 2 episode “The Camel,” was created to help replace a defaced mural. While Mark’s painting was fine, the gag was that it was incredibly bland, and few actually cared for it.
Man, if that isn’t a perfect legacy for Mark Brendanawicz, I don’t know what is.