An Oral History Of 'Parks & Rec's "Galentine's Day" Episode From Amy Poehler, Retta, & More

by Rachel Simon
Amy Poehler, Pamela Reed, Nick Offerman, Rashida Jones, Retta and Aubrey Plaza in the Parks & Rec "G...
Caroline Wurtzel/Bustle

Regardless of whether you like to spend Valentine's Day on a romantic date or hanging at home solo, chances are that you spend the day before, Feb. 13, surrounded by friends. After all, while Galentine's Day — the annual celebration of the bonds between women — isn't an official U.S. holiday, it's so ingrained in our culture that it might as well be. Every year around that time, businesses ranging from ASOS to Target feature Galentine's Day sales, specials, and friendship-themed products, as countless women take to social media to profess their love for their BFFs. Yet while Galentine's Day may be practically a part of the vernacular at this point, it's easy to forget how it all began: not with some brand's promotional campaign, but in a Season 2 Parks and Recreation episode all about — what else? — Leslie Knope's love for her best female friends.

In the 2010 episode of the NBC sitcom, fittingly titled "Galentine's Day," Leslie (Amy Poehler) throws her annual party meant to honor the ladies in her life on the day before Valentine's. It's a sweet scene, but a seemingly throwaway one in a show full of similarly adorable moments — except that in the years since the episode, Galentine's Day has taken on a life of its own. In honor of the 10th anniversary of the Parks & Rec series premiere on April 9, the cast and crew of "Galentine's Day" tell Bustle how the now-iconic episode came to be — including those Leslie Knope-designed mosaic portraits.

So Who Came Up With "Galentine's Day," Anyway?

According to the episode's creators, no one actually knows who created the idea for the holiday in the first place. Regardless, everyone was on-board with a day celebrating female friendship.

Mike Schur (co-creator and writer): I don’t know who came up with the original idea, or who was the first person to say it out loud, so I just credit the entire writing staff.

Amy Poehler ("Leslie Knope"): I feel like it was not me — I feel like I read it in the script. I have no memory of it... but [credit] is really not the point of it... I remember it being an early storyline about all of us women hanging out together, which wasn’t always the case on the show. So I just have fond memories of us getting to spend so much time together, which is great.

Retta ("Donna Meagle"): I didn’t realize until after the fact, when people were like, "Oh my god, Parks & Rec created my favorite two holidays, 'Treat Yourself' and 'Galentine's Day.'" I just assumed that it was something that was already known.

Schur: I don’t exactly know what happened... [but] we wanted to have Leslie invent a day that was purely to celebrate her female friendships that wasn’t a negation of Valentine's Day. She didn’t want to throw out the original thing to create this new thing, she wanted it to be added in... just as there’s already a day reserved for romantic relationships, she wanted to form a day for just female friendships.

Leslie Knope, Expert Party Planner

In the episode's first scene, Leslie throws her "Galentine's Day" breakfast party, during which she provides her female friends and mother with — naturally — ridiculously over-the-top personalized gifts.

Schur: If you had to boil down who Leslie is to one event or one day, Galentine's Day would work pretty well. Part of the fun of the character was our backstory of her, that she slept like, four hours a night max. And with the entire power of a TV production team behind her, we just asserted that she somehow had time to do things like make mosaic tiles of her friends out of crushed cans of their favorite soda. We were able to really have her go over the top in terms of celebrating the women in her life.

Ken Kwapis (director): I just love listening to Leslie describe not only what Galentine's Day means, but also I love her describing the gifts that she made for everyone... 'a bouquet of hand-crocheted flower pens, and a mosaic portrait of each of you, made from the crushed bottles of your favorite diet soda.' It’s really good.

Schur: One of the things that she gives her friends is an embroidered pillow on which is the New York Times front page headline from the day they were born, and we went back and forth, roughly trying to triangulate when her mom would’ve been born, and the headline on the Times was, "Joseph Stalin Dies." We really enjoyed having Gay Perello, who was our props master, make a pillow with a newspaper headline that says "Joseph Stalin Dies," and to get Leslie to be like, "I know, it’s not the best headline, but that’s just what happened!"

Pamela Reed ("Marlene Griggs-Knope"): We were all laughing at what was inside the [gift] bags. But here’s the deal — [Leslie] never condescends. If you watch that episode and all you do is laugh at the mosaic of the self-portrait, then you’ve missed the whole point... she took the time to make all those things, she cares about the people she’s around.

Kwapis: I have often quoted Leslie when she’s talking about how Galentine's Day is "Lilith Fair minus the angst." It’s such a wonderful scene.

Matchmaking Gone Wrong

Throughout the episode, Leslie tries to reunite her mom with Frank (John Larroquette), her long lost love from the '60s — but to Leslie's disappointment, Marlene isn't interested, and Frank is, well, a bit of a mess.

Kwapis: I sort of relate to Leslie in being such an unabashed romantic, that she’s convinced that if she can get her mother, Marlene, and Frank Beckerson together again, then they’ll obviously get married... in a way, it’s a story about your romantic illusions, and in the case of Leslie, she sort of loses her illusion about love.

Reed: It’s not a matter of just having a guy, it’s that no matter how old you are, substance matters. And I love that, that’s got some balls attached to it.

The Beginning Of Andy & April

At this point in the season, Andy (Chris Pratt) is single after a breakup with Ann (Rashida Jones), while April (Aubrey Plaza) is dating two men (her boyfriend and her boyfriend's boyfriend). Yet as she watches Andy perform at the Senior Center Valentine's Dance with his band Mouse Rat, there's undeniable chemistry, foreshadowing their years-long relationship to come.

Schur: Ken did a shot in that episode where he put the camera in between Ann and April looking back up at Andy, who was on stage singing, and he was looking back at them, and it was a little bit ambiguous about who he’s looking at. In our heads, he was looking at April, and Ann felt weird about it.... that was the beginning of it.

Kwapis: It was great to work with all the different couples in this story. And also, to be honest, it was fun to get to do an episode with a lot of music in it. You get Mouse Rat at least three or four numbers... it was fun to just be on the set, getting to listen to The Great American Songbook as sung by Chris Pratt.

Leslie & Ron's First Ever Heart-To-Heart

One of the episode's sweetest moments comes when Leslie confides in Ron (Nick Offerman) that she's unhappy with her boyfriend, Justin (Justin Theroux), and he provides her with some wise advice: that Justin is a "tourist," who "vacations in people's lives" before moving on.

Poehler: Kirston Leigh Mann, our awesome costume designer, put Leslie in a pinkish red dress and I remember from then on, we used that color a lot and colors like it when Leslie was talking about love.

Schur: I remember that was a little bit of an origin story for us, as a show, because Leslie and Ron hadn’t had a lot of those conversations at that point, and that sort of became a template for the show down the road.

Nick Offerman, ("Ron Swanson"): Ron’s line to Leslie about Justin being a tourist — “vacationing in other people’s lives” — was the sort of deliciously sagacious writing that I came to be handed again and again. Sometimes Leslie would do this for Ron, and sometimes vice versa, but one of us would have the clarity to see the root of the other’s dilemma and cut to the quick with some well-penned advice.

Poehler: It was very reminiscent of a Mary Tyler Moore Show moment, where the gruff boss has a tender heart and is looking out for his burgeoning friend... it was a moment where we saw Ron really observe Leslie, even though it seems like he was never paying attention.

Kwapis: It was a scene where I felt my job as a director was to plant the camera and get out of the way, and let two wonderful actors just find the scene together. I don’t think I gave any notes. The two of them were so in the pocket already... I have fond memories of the whole episode, but I’m particularly happy with that very quiet scene between Ron and Leslie, which I found really powerful.

Offerman: It was one of the first times we realized that there was a great potential for a down to earth human friendship based on respect between Leslie and Ron.


Gaining Traction With Viewers

"Galentine's Day" was the 16th episode of Season 2, airing on Feb 11, 2010. At the time, the show was still relatively under-the-radar but steadily gaining viewers each week.

Schur: Right at the beginning of the second season, we felt things really click. The writing staff figured out how to write all the characters.... so by the time we were doing "Galentine's Day"... we were cruising pretty well. The only question was whether we were gonna get to keep making [the show], because it was never a ratings juggernaut... as far as we knew, it was possible we were gonna get cancelled at the end of the year, and this would’ve been a little footnote of, "Oh, that was a funny episode of that show that didn’t work."

Poehler: We were laughing about this the other day, that we were coming to do this celebratory Paley Fest "10 Years Later" thing, and we weren’t even a hit when we were on! For a couple seasons, we didn’t know if we were going to come back again. So definitely, especially in those first couple of seasons, we were kinda in our own world and certainly not feeling the pressures of success.

Retta: We had no idea what was going on, we were still in that clueless stage.... But I’ve never been on a This is Us, I’ve never been on a Grey’s Anatomy — I don’t know what good ratings are for me. So I never thought about ratings, I never even thought, "Oh, is this a good show? Am I putting out good product?" I was so green and just so excited to have some place to go every day, that that’s what made me happy.

Galentine's Day, IRL

Galentine's Day continued to be celebrated on Parks & Rec throughout the series, and in the nine years since the episode's premiere, the holiday has become a cultural mainstay — even if many celebrants don't realize that the show is to thank.

Schur: I think [the first time I saw Galentine's Day celebrated in real life] was like, a sign in front of a coffee house or something that somebody put on Twitter, that was like, "Oh look! Somebody did Galentine's Day on a chalk sign!" And somehow from that moment until now... it’s really exploded.

Kwapis: I wasn’t aware of any Galentine's Day buzz when it first aired, but I certainly remember the following year, getting emails from a couple of my nieces who said that they were getting together with friends to celebrate Galentine's Day. Now, I wonder if there are actually more people, more women, who celebrate Galentine's Day than Valentine's Day... it seems like the popularity only seems to grow in each passing year.

Offerman: I was eating at a favorite charismatic cafe in Los Feliz, and they had Galentine’s Day bakery treats listed up on the menu board — it was so exciting, as I had been eating there for years, so I felt like my sisters “got their picture in the paper"!

Poehler: I love that people have embraced it... And I have so many people talk to me about it, or friends text me when they’re getting together on Feb 13. I myself celebrate it every year, and it’s really, really cool. You just never know what’s gonna have a lasting effect, and it’s really cool that it did... [And] even though the term Galentine's Day has amazingly caught on and become this big thing, the [episode's] message is also really just about self-love, taking care of yourself and being your own friend. And just making sure that someone who’s in your life is a resource for you and doesn’t drain you.

Jama Williamson ("Wendy Haverford"): I remember working on a set a couple years later and someone used the term Galentine's Day, and I had assumed they were talking to me because of the Parks and Rec reference, but they didn’t even watch the show —they didn’t know I was on the show! And it was confusing to realize, "Oh my gosh, it’s just entered our vernacular."

That said, not everyone is thrilled that so many brands have incorporated Galentine's Day into their marketing and products.

Schur: I guess I’m happy about it at some level, but I wish it wasn’t being used to hawk products, and was being used in its proper way, which is to have people just celebrate with their female friends... I’m not complaining, it’s just an odd thing that it’s taking off all these years later.

Offerman: Legally, those products should be getting permission, or cutting us in when they profit from intellectual property like Galentine’s Day. However, in the age of the internet, information ownership has flown out the window. I think it’s wrong. Some little operation out of Pittsburgh selling t-shirts can turn a nice little profit, enough to pay their rent, but not enough to make it worthwhile for us to go after them legally. This loophole is being egregiously exploited all over the world, and I don’t know what to do about it except take it... I fear that people have forgotten the source, which is criminal indeed.

Williamson: When they kind of take ahold of something that’s so pure and so sweet and was conceived out of a creative germ of an idea and now they’re attaching marketing things to it, it sort of loses its luster a little bit, when you feel like it’s about other companies making money off of it.

Poehler: It’s a combination of that it’s very cool that it’s in the culture and it’s also a little bit like, "Who owns this?"... But as a whole, I don’t mind when the congregation of women is celebrated, and I think female friendship — even when it’s commodified, which isn’t always the best representation of it, but even when it is — it’s such an exalted aspect of my life... female friendship can really power the world. It certainly powers my life. Anything that can celebrate it is pretty cool.

The Episode's Massive Legacy

Regardless, they're all incredibly proud of the episode's long-lasting reach.

Retta: It just reinforces that it’s a great show that keeps growing, because I keep meeting younger and younger fans and I’m like, "you’re 11?!" So I’m fascinated by it, I love it, I appreciate it, and I’m grateful that people enjoyed what we did and continue to enjoy it.

Kwapis: I played a small role in something that turned out quite wonderful... I would hope that having directed the "Galentine's Day" episode, that I might be considered an honorary gal.

Poehler: Ken is welcome at any [Galentine's Day] gathering that I’m a part of, for sure.