Parks and Recreation: Season 6, Episode 11
Chris and Ann
Television goodbyes tend to be a mixed bag. The worst often come from an acrimonious split (You’re fired!) or when an actor just wants to move on to other things (I quit!). The last few weeks at NBC has been packed with goodbyes. Parks and Recreation’s lead in Community has given a farewell to Chevy Chase, who likely had some strange combo of fired/quit and Donald Glover who has moved on to more musically inspired pastures. In this week’s Parks, “Ann and Chris,” we say goodbye to two characters that have become solid parts of the P&R family despite often dwelling on the fringe of the show.
First lets talk about Rob Lowe’s Chris Traeger. Chris has always had one of the most fun makeups of any of the show’s characters. He’s EXTREMELY optimistic and literally bursting with joy at every corner. Though we discovered in years past that his drive to be a real-life superhuman stems from a childhood of illness. When he was introduced along with Adam Scott’s Ben Wyatt years ago, he seemed like a cartoon character. He was the big bad boss who hid his true feelings behind a smile. What we found later was that he was that guy with the smile, even when there was bad news. His hope was real and that made him such a charming addition to the show.
For his goodbye, the men of the Park’s Department offer up some pretty lame gifts that pale in comparison to his super thoughtful presents that range from a bronzed hamburger to a framed MouseRat poster to a bottle of (now illegal) Snake Juice. Writers Michael Schur and Aisha Muharrar know that this episode needed to be a walk down memory lane, and in that regard it absolutely worked. Ultimately the guys (and by guys I mean Ben) decide to get Chris a Ron Swanson-built wooden box with their initials in it for new memories that he’ll make with Ann in Michigan. It was a sweet moment, encapsulating the brotherhood the show has taken seasons to build between all of these characters (including the ladies who didn’t really make much of an appearance in Chris’ farewell story).
But while we may be missing Lowe’s hilarious earnestness, the main event was the departure of Rashida Jones as Ann, Leslie’s best friend in the universe. I don’t know how many times I’ve written a recap where I go through the week’s different stories and either forgot Ann’s plotline or relegated it to one sentence in the Notes section. She’s often been a floaty character that has had trouble fitting into the rhythm of the show. I’ve often had to defend Jones’ performance on the show, and I feel like she was placed in a tough spot since her character is probably the closest to a real-world normal human being of the group. Jones is a talented comedic actress when she actually has something to do. Often on Parks, she was just a foil for the other characters, whether it was brightening Leslie’s obsession with her or April’s hatred, she felt like a free agent, going around helping others shine a bit brighter. A thankless job, but she did it as well as she could.
For her goodbye, Ann gets a huge blowout thrown by Leslie. It includes all of the holidays the two could possibly miss now that Ann is moving away. The big surprise at the end is going to be the groundbreaking of Pawnee Commons, the space that Leslie promised in the pilot years ago. Only problem is Frank Sobotka (Chris Bauer) won’t let Leslie do the groundbreaking on this particular night. After confiding in Ann about the surprise and how its turned into a disaster, the two look to have one more Knope-tastic adventure in local government so they can break ground and fulfill the promise from years earlier. In a plot that was eerily similar to that of Community which aired directly before, Ann, Leslie and April go up the line to get everyone what they want so that they can get the gate opened for a groundbreaking. Of course Leslie gets it done, though there isn’t the big ceremony she hoped for. Instead there are just the two chairs on the lot.
Those two chairs on the lot made this episode, it encapsulated the charm of Parks and Recreation. They wait for no man to break ground on Pawnee Commons. They are best friends and it felt really real. So much so I don’t know what Leslie’s going do without Ann. In fact the sadness I felt watching Ann leave would likely be unparalleled for any other character, including Ben, due to the relationship with Leslie, the beating heart that drives this show. I didn’t really think I’d be so moved by the departure of Ann and Chris, but it ended up feeling like a dry run for when Parks actually does end. It’ll be really, really hard. The goodbyes felt heartfelt. April told Ann she loved her for chrissake. How could you not shed a tear? I’m confident Parks will continue to crank out good to great episodes for the foreseeable future. For the time being, while this new stage in the show hurts, all we can do is go stuff our faces with waffles. There’s never been a problem breakfast food didn’t solve.