Parks and Recreation: What to Expect After Rashida Jones’s Departure

Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins
In the words of Leslie Knope, “We need to remember what’s important in life: friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work. Doesn’t matter, but work is third.”

Thursday, January 30th will mark Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe’s last episode as regular cast members on NBC’s Parks and Recreation. In a recent interview with Jimmy Fallon, Jones described her last day of filming as “one of the most emotional days of [her] life…total Parks and Wreck.” While Lowe’s character, Chris Traeger, will also be greatly missed, his departure will not affect the dynamic of the show nearly as much as that of Jones’s character, Ann Perkins. What is it about Ann’s friendship with Leslie Knope that makes it such a valuable part of the show, and what can we expect after Ann’s departure?

Some critics have argued that Ann Perkins is not a well-developed character and that her departure will have little effect on the show as a whole. While I could write another full article detailing the ways in which Ann is a well-developed character, I want to focus on her friendship with Leslie. The town of Pawnee is, after all, “first in friendship, fourth in obesity,” but in a show built around friendship, perhaps the most important of all is that of Leslie and Ann. In the pilot episode of Parks, Ann attends a town hall meeting, led by Leslie, in order to voice her concerns about the dangerous pit behind her house. It was the beginning of the platonic love story of the series: Leslie goes from being “that parks lady,” as Ann refers to her in the first episode, to Ann’s “best friend in the world.”

Leslie is inarguably one of the most enthusiastic and selfless characters on television, but this is most evident through her friendship with Ann. She is a constant support to Ann, from providing anecdote after horrible anecdote of her own dating history to comfort Ann after being dumped by Chris, to celebrating every possible friendship anniversary (including “Calendar Day,” the first time she gave Ann a calendar), to finding an exceptional number of ways to describe Ann’s beauty. Though Leslie always means well, her level of caring can be overwhelming at times. As Valentine’s Day approaches in the episode “Operation Ann,” Leslie vows, “Ann, you beautiful spinster, I will find you love.” Focused on her desire to make Ann happy, she continually tries to set Ann up with various men at a Valentine’s Day party. Though Ann is disenchanted by the barrage of men with whom she is incompatible, before leaving the party, she acknowledges to Leslie, “What’s lucky is that I have a best friend who spent her Valentine’s Day trying to find me a date.” Ann also mentions her frustration at trying to be as good a friend as Leslie in “Article Two,” an episode from season five. With Breakfast Day, yet another anniversary Leslie celebrates, approaching, Ann feels guilty that she can never give Leslie gifts that are nearly as thoughtful as the ones Leslie gives her. Ben Wyatt, who, as Leslie’s husband, shares Ann’s guilt, joins forces with Ann in this episode. Inevitably they both realize how lucky they are to have someone in their lives who cares so deeply for them.

Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins
Leslie and Ann get ready to fill the pit behind Ann’s house.

While Leslie’s non-stop energy is unparalleled, Ann shows her love in different ways, whether through cooperating with one of Leslie’s schemes or texting Leslie every thirty seconds to let her know everything will be okay. Ann frequently fills the role of “straight man” in the early seasons of the show, which often requires her to be the voice of reason in some of Leslie’s wackier ideas. While it’s true that Ben fills a similar role upon his arrival, he approaches situations with a degree of cynicism that Ann does not possess. Unlike the depiction of far too many female friendships on television, Leslie and Ann’s relationship is both well-developed and focused on their support of each other in all aspects of their lives. Though she is rational, Ann is optimistic: she encourages Leslie in her relationship with Ben, she is Leslie’s constant cheerleader, and she tries to be as good a friend to Leslie as Leslie is to her, which, in one touching instance, leads Ann to volunteer to be Leslie’s city council campaign manager after Leslie’s original staff decides they can no longer support her. When Leslie worries about the possibility of having a disastrous first date, Ann provides exposure therapy by taking her out on a worst-case scenario practice date, eventually giving Leslie the confidence that she can handle anything.

Leslie and Ann’s friendship appeared to be heading for even greater development in season five with Ann’s motherhood arc. Though the idea seemed to appear out of the blue, Ann’s decision to pursue single motherhood was both an empowering choice for her character and an idea that Leslie came to support. It would have been refreshing to see Ann take this step with the support of her best friend, but things take a turn for the traditional after Ann asks Chris to be the sperm donor. Because neither is totally comfortable with the in-vitro fertilization process, they opt to conceive the baby naturally, since they are still attracted to each other. The relationship that results seems forced, given that Chris broke off their first relationship and that after working with Chris post-break up, Ann came to the realization that she and Chris are wrong for each other. Their relationship appears to be based on having a baby together, but because their lack of a relationship was not a factor in Ann asking Chris to be the sperm donor, the romance is out of place.

So what will Parks look like when one half of the Leslie and Ann friendship is gone? Unfortunately, Parks is giving us a premature answer to that question. Disappointingly, in recent episodes, the writers seem to be distancing Ann from everyone but Chris, as well as from her own characterization. This is most evident in the recent episode, “New Beginnings,” in which Ann has no scenes without Chris. The only other member of the parks department she has any interaction with is Jerry, a character with whom she does not have a significant relationship. In the scene, Jerry asks when she and Chris are getting married, leading Chris to propose to her in the middle of the courtyard. In the background, Jerry is choking on his lunch, and both Ann and Chris completely ignore him. Not only does the scene lack humor: it is entirely out of character for Ann, a nurse, who would not stand idly by while someone was choking. A similar scene in season five involves other characters laughing at Jerry, not realizing he is having a heart attack, but in that instance Ann jumps in and takes control of the situation, a reaction in line with both her occupation and characterization.

The writers seem to be preparing the audience for the void caused by the loss of Leslie and Ann’s friendship. Ann and Leslie have not had a scene together since “Recall Vote,” meaning that the five episodes prior to Ann’s departure include no interaction between the two. In the most recent episode, “Farmers Market,” although Ann does spend some time away from Chris, she still has no scenes with Leslie. This is particularly telling, because Ann’s main arc in the episode is complaining to April, Donna, Tom, Ron, and Jerry about Chris’s overbearing attentiveness. This is something she would normally share with Leslie, as she did countless times during past relationships. Perhaps the writers want to distance Ann from Leslie so that her departure will be less noticeable: it’s difficult to miss a dynamic that hasn’t been present in the show for an extended period of time. Notably, Chris’s role in “Farmers Market” could just as easily been written for Leslie, for whom it would be completely normal to fawn over Ann and try to solve all of her problems. This seems to be yet another instance of the writers elevating the romance of Ann and Chris over the friendship of Ann and Leslie; although romance is an important element of the show, in the past it didn’t overshadow friendship to the extent that it does in recent episodes.

Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins
Ann, you beautiful tropical fish.

I haven’t given up hope on the show, though—based on promos, this week’s episode looks to be a tearjerker, and it seems likely that Ann and Leslie will get a proper goodbye. It’s disappointing that so much of Jones and Lowe’s last episodes on the show were wasted in what feels like a forced romance, but hopefully their departure will leave room for the writers to pick up much of the character development that seems to have fallen by the wayside in season six. Without the often painful plotline of Ann and Chris’s relationship, we can hope for more screen time for some of the minor characters, and perhaps even a bump to main cast for Retta, who plays Donna Meagle. Though April is not a replacement for Ann, it would be nice to see more of her friendship with Leslie. Although Parks won’t be quite the same without Ann and Chris, series co-creator Michael Schur assured fans in a statement that “as important as Ann is to Leslie (and vice-versa), she’ll certainly never be far from Pawnee.” As Ann and Chris spread their wings and fly like two characters in a Mouse Rat song, there is no doubt that we’ll miss them in the saddest fashion.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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25 Comments

  1. I’d have to say that your analysis is pretty spot on. The relationship between Ann and Chris seems forced in my opinion and only exists so the writers could easily frame the departure of the two characters. The idea of Ann wanting a baby came from nowhere and was quickly made into a relationship with Chris that if the actors not been leaving the show I do not believe would have happened.

  2. Anne is clearly acting out of character by wanting a child with Chris. Not only is their relationship non-romantic, but they are incompatible when it comes to working together and reaching decisions. However,the awkwardness of both characters producing a child together meshes well with Jones’s departure and takes the audience’s mind of off Leslie and the heartbreak they will both endure when forced to say their goodbye’s. I do believe the writers could have chosen a different route to take with Chris and Ann; perhaps providing them with jobs elsewhere then pawnee? Maybe even rekindling the long lost romance they once had? The baby that Ann is planning is just so out of character and surprising that I did not believe it nor do I still believe it. However, it was a well planned ending and one that will surely bring excitement to the fans once other characters become developed throughout the show. Season 6 should be a good one.

  3. I would welcome more Donna on the show with open arms!

  4. Why not bring Mark Brendanawicz back? At least that would stay consistent with the intentions of the writers of this show.

  5. I don’t think Ann’s decision to become a single mother was uncharacteristic, especially since most of the previous season was a lot of character development for her. In fact, I thought it was really empowering. One moment that comes to mind as well was when she had those boxes of things that reminded her of previous significant others. While I do like how Chris and Ann are both going to be involved in their child’s life, OP is right re: how their rekindled relationship came about. It seems really fake to me. Plus, Ann deserves better.

    Anyway, Thursday is going to be so heartbreaking. First, Abed without Troy and now Leslie without Ann? I can feel the tears already.

  6. Anne never got the chance to develop on her own, the most memorable bits about her are the changes she was responsible for in other characters. Ann has touched almost every character and made them change for the better, and while it will be sad to see her go, it seems that her work may be done. The characters are all in different places and Anne was a huge contributor to the development of the other characters, but now that they are all grown up she seems to be less important to the story.

  7. My only hope for the cast in context of Rob Lowe and Rashida Jones leaving is that Retta’s Donna Meagle is promoted to main cast. It seems like the writers have been prepping her for to take a larger role since they’ve had two episodes (off the top of my head) focusing on Donna this season: 1) The “Boss Bitch/Bitch Boss” episode 2) The episode where April declares Donna to be a poodle, offending Donna, leading to her trying to learn more about Donna. Comparing these episodes to appearances of Donna in the early seasons will show how much more of presence Donna has now. If anyone else gets promoted to main cast, I’d like it to be Kristen Bell.

    As for Rashida Jones’s Ann Perkins, I found your analysis spot on.

  8. Robert Humphrey

    NBC is giving me a one-two punch. Last week with Troy’s departure on Community and this week with Chris and (especially) Ann’s departure on Parks and Rec. I teared up at the Community episode with the Troy/Abed interaction, and I fully expect to tear up this week with the Leslie/Ann interaction. The thing that is keeping me going is that I know the cast of both shows are fully capable of continuing the show with great performances. Not to mention, I’d fully support more screen/storyline time for Donna.

  9. The unfortunate part on all of this is I fell as if the show is running out of story plots. After Leslie was voted out of city council the show has been scrapping for a good story that they can run with. Although I’m sad that Ann and Chris are leaving the show, I hope that the writers of the show sit down and try to figure out where the show is going next season. Amy finally won her Golden Globe so the show should only be going up from here.

  10. Joey Mckinney
    0

    I can do without Rob Lowe. The show was great before he joined anyway, plus his character is a bit one-note. I’ll really miss Rashida Jones, though, and the relationship between Leslie and Ann.

  11. Lauren Gabourel

    I’m really going to miss the dynamic between Leslie and Anne. I feel like Anne really helped ground Leslie’s outrageous behavior sometimes. I guess they could try to introduce a new character to replace Anne, but not sure it would feel natural. And to the idea of more Donna, while I LOVE Donna, her and Leslie are not best friend material.

    • I don’t think they’d try to replace Ann by introducing a new character or giving Leslie a new best friend, but I didn’t mean to imply that Donna would make a good best friend for Leslie! It just seems likely that she’ll be given more screen time and become a better developed character since two cast members are leaving.

  12. Kathryn Talbot

    I love the attention you pay to Leslie and Ann’s friendship. I think that such solid gal pal relationships are so rare in film and television. Shows like Girls say they are about sisterhood, but its all conflict all the time. This was a fantastic article!

  13. Ann is crucial because she helps define Leslie. She brings out the humanity in Leslie. You can see in Leslie’s character development that she wasn’t the most likable person before meeting Ann. However, Leslie becomes the leader she always wanted to be because of Ann’s influence. I think her departure of the show will not only be lamented but noticeable in Leslie’s development from here on out.

  14. Frankie Victoria

    Leslie was definitely not as likeable in the first season as she is today and it’s because of Ann. I do think that her storyline in Pawnee is kind of over because of that… but I’ll miss Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe in the show! Everyone in the show is really funny so the type of humor they bring (Ann being really realistic and questioning of the craziness around her and Chris being really positive and happy even when he has nothing positive to say) will be sorely missed.

  15. Max Lin

    Just having watched the departure episode, “Ann and Chris,” I really am going to miss these two characters. However, it was such a great send-off (that flashback to the first episode!) that the pain of them leaving hasn’t hit me yet. I also loved the callback to Ann and Andy being together and his “Have fun in Mexico!” perfectly summed up their relationship!

  16. I wasn’t watching the most recent episode with an eye to this particular article, but it seems like a few folks have had their minds cast back to it upon watching Ann and Chris leave. I just wanted to say that I’m so happy your hunch was wrong. One of the strongest, maybe even the strongest point about this show and why I continue to watch it is the unbreakable friendship between Ann and Leslie. I was so upset when I heard Jones was going to be leaving because to me that cut a facet of the show that I thought always made it really special. Fortunately, rather than downplay Ann and Leslie’s screen time for a smooth fade out, they spent more alone together so the departure cut even deeper. The makers of the show paid excellent homage to Ann and Leslie’s friendship while continuing to highlight the most entertaining aspects of all the characters, and that’s what makes getting worked up about a show like Parks and Rec so much fun.

  17. I completely agree; Anne has served as Leslie’s backbone in almost every episode, and through the many scrapbooks, other gifts, and events Leslie has provided for her best friend, we know Leslie would always have Anne’s back in return. However, Chris Traeger will surely be missed too. His optimism and overall lovable and hysterical character has given the show something steady, someone who continually lights the room with every entrance. There is no doubt that the fans will miss the dynamic duo of Chris and Anne, two characters who have remained loyal to the other characters on the show and who have been enjoyable to watch for many seasons. Yet, there is also no doubt that Parks and Rec with continue to be the show we have known and loved. I personally look forward to what the writers and actors have in store; they are bound to surprise us every step of the way.

  18. Mae Mccoy
    0

    Not to knock Rashida Jones or suggest that she’s untalented, but she does seem to play the just blandest characters doesn’t she.

  19. Jessica Eve Kennedy

    I really will miss the friendship between Leslie and Ann as the foundation of the show. Female friendship is so rarely celebrated on TV, and it delighted me for as long as it lasted. Although, I was so frustrated with the way Ann was written out and basically everything towards the end of S5 onwards.

    Fab article!

  20. I think the latest episode when Ann does leave, she is more treasured than when she was on the show. I always saw her as one of the more normal characters, and thus a bit less interesting than the crazy ones. Although she was an important character I will definitely miss Ann (and Leslie’s hilarious names for her) but this will give the writers a chance to focus on how Leslie copes with a loss and how she can make it even though her main support system since Season 1 is gone. Perhaps this departure will give Ben the chance to be Leslie’s main support system.

  21. I will really miss Ann and Leslie’s friendship but I think the last few episodes proved the show can survive without Ann. She had a beautiful goodbye and I’m happy they spent a few episodes believably building up the romance with her and Chris, because when they first got back together I wasn’t really feeling it. I will miss beautiful, tropical fish Ann Perkins.

  22. I was always left with the feeling that, especially in the earlier episodes, Anne’s role as the straight character to Leslie’s craziness was a way for the audience to connect to Leslie and the show’s style of humor in general. Now that we are familiar with the style, I wonder if this parting will effect our relation to the characters in future epsiodes.

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