For a few seasons now, Parks and Recreation has struggled to find stories for Rashida Jones' Ann Perkins. Being Leslie's best friend is fine and has provided many wonderful and heartfelt moments (as well as plenty of laughs), but the series is always going to focus on Leslie's life at the Parks Department and the ongoing storylines surrounding the wacky employees of City Hall. Ann has never really fit into that part of Leslie's life, despite the show's many attempts to shoehorn her in. Remember when she took a part-time job there? Parks was dedicated to making room for Ann to be more than just Leslie's best friend as the lives of both characters progressed, but it obviously hasn't been easy for the writers to find real engaging storylines for her.
That's not to say it was wrong of them to try, but there comes a point in time when a show simply needs to ask itself what's not working, and then find a way to correct those issues. Now that Parks and Recreation is in the middle of Season 6, that time has come. The show has undergone a bit of a necessary reboot this season. Tom and April—who used to be silly caricatures—have blossomed into actual, productive members of society. Ben and Leslie are married, and Leslie has been recalled from office. The show is maturing as it gets older, and Ben has started to fill many of the roles that used to be reserved for Ann. He gives Leslie pep talks, he tells her when she's being crazy. Ben is Leslie's life partner, and Ann, while she's still very important to Leslie, just doesn't fit the way she used to. And on the flip side of that, Ann needed the chance to grow beyond being Leslie's best friend. By cutting Ann loose—along with Rob Lowe's Chris Traeger—the series is trimming the fat, and I dare say I think it's for the best for everyone involved.
Chirs, for what it's worth, was only ever supposed to be a guest-starring role for Lowe. It wasn't planned for the character to remain in Pawnee as long as he did, but Chris injected some absurd oddball humor into the series, and Lowe was promoted to series regular in Season 3. (Adam Scott's Ben Wyatt was in the same boat, but his relationship with Leslie and his role as the straight man to the wacky employees of the Parks Department have made him an essential cog in the machine that is Parks and Rec.) Much like with Ann, though, the series struggled with how to use Chris once it decided to keep him around. Most of the time, he was a one-note character, used mostly for quick laughs. While the writers did (to their credit) attempt to develop Chris beyond his constantly positive attitude and health- and fitness-obsessed personality, he mostly remained an oddball supporting player, and since the series already had more than enough of those, has become less important as time went by.
None of this, however, should take away from the fact that "Ann and Chris" was an emotionally satisfying episode, something Parks and Rec has come to excel at in its later seasons. In a way, the show has become the Friday Night Lights of the comedy world; it's just as likely to make you cry with its heartwarming sweetness as it is to make you laugh at its jokes, and this week's farewell to Ann and Chris as they packed up and left for Ann Arbor was a perfect example of that.
Leslie, naturally, wanted to throw the biggest going away party imaginable for her best friend (and I like that it was acknowledged that the party was mostly for Ann and not Chris). And of course, Leslie wouldn't be Leslie if she didn't have something bigger and better than the party up her sleeve, and her desire to break ground on Pawnee Commons, which was the basis and foundation of her friendship with Ann, was 100 percent Leslie Knope. In the end it didn't matter that the ceremonial bits weren't there, because it was enough for Ann to know that even though she and Chris are moving to Michigan and starting a family together, Leslie will still be there for her, scrapbooking and generally just being Leslie.
It was also wonderful to see April admit that she's stopped hating Ann over the years, and that she's even come to love Ann. That development was as much about Ann as was about April's growth as an individual, and while I'd never want to see her lose what makes her April, the moment was very sweet.
As for Chris's farewell, it was equally perfect in the way Chris thoughtfully selected going-away "buddy box" gifts for each of his friends to remind them of their time together, and they all pooled some cash to buy Chris a gift card for three pans. In true Chris fashion, he took it in stride, but Ben wasn't satisfied, so Ron made Chris his own buddy box, to hold mementos for the little buddy who's still on the way (or to hold Twizzlers, if you're Andy). It was a thoughtful present that I'm sure Chris will put to good use, even though I'm kind of partial to Andy's idea myself. Because Ben is so integrated into Leslie's life and storylines now, it's sometimes easy to forget that he and Chris are best friends and have been together for awhile. When Chris told Ben during that final farewell that Ben was literally the best friend he's ever had, it was probably the show's best use of that running gag, and I'll truthfully be a bit sad to see it go. Just as I'll be sad to no longer hear Leslie come up with new and ridiculous ways to describe how beautiful Ann is.
Parks and Recreation will definitely be different without the constant presence of Ann and Chris, but because of the nature of the series—and to be honest, because of Leslie's slightly unhinged nature—it would probably be silly to assume this is the last we'll ever see of them. Well, I make no promises about Rob Lowe now that NBC has picked up his sitcom pilot The Pro, but there's always hope. He did, after all, return for the end of The West Wing, so we probably shouldn't count him out. Rashida Jones also has new projects on the horizon, but Ann's close relationship with Leslie makes her the more likely of the two to reappear down the road.
In the end, "Ann and Chris" was a funny, sweet, and emotional episode that was saddled with a pretty difficult task, on that it was ultimately successful in accomplishing. Even knowing that Parks and Recreation needed to deal with the Ann-and-Chris situation (I wouldn't really even call it a problem, because they were still fun characters), and supporting the decision for their characters to leave Pawnee, it was still difficult to see them go. It's a natural part of life and growing up, and it's something we've probably all experienced at one time or another, but it's never easy to watch best friends move on with their lives, even when you want the best for them. I suspect the feelings conjured up by this swan song for Ann and Chris are probably the same feelings, albeit on a slightly smaller scale, that we're all going to experience once Parks and Recreation eventually signs off for good (which thankfully won't be too soon, as the show has unofficially been renewed for Season 7). Over the past five-and-a-half seasons, I've come to look at Leslie and the rest of Pawnee's ridiculous residents as real people who I would love to call my friends, and it's going to be very sad when, just like Ann and Chris, we all have to say goodbye and move on.
– "Goodbye, Ann. I have enjoyed parts of our time together."
– "Salt water will warp the wood, so keep your tears in your eyes where they belong."
– "Can I still call you when I have thoughts on Jennifer Aniston's future?" (Swap "Stiles Stilinski" for "Jennifer Aniston" in that quote, and Leslie Knope is my spirit animal.)
– "There has never been a sadness that can't be cured by breakfast food." Truth.
– Chris: "Donna, are you grabbing my butt?" Donna: "Can you blame me?"
– I really just needed everyone to see this last photo again.
What'd you think of "Ann and Chris"? Will you miss having either character as a regular fixture in Pawnee? What do you think is next for the show?
AIRED ON 2/17/2015
Season 7 : Episode 11