Last night, we said goodbye to Ann Perkins (Ann Perkins!) and Chris Traeger. Two of the most beautiful rule-breaking moths in Pawnee are off to start their new life in Michigan, and I’m still in mourning. When I first read that Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe were leaving Parks and Rec midway through the season, the woman standing next to me in the elevator probably thought I was having a heart attack, because I put my hand to my heart and gasped, and I saw her take a step back. (I saw you, lady.) What is it with comedies and people LEAVING lately?
Leslie Knope without Ann Perkins just feels wrong, like waffles without whipped cream. Their relationship was conceived as the heart of the show, and while they’ve rarely taken center stage in the way Mike Schur might have imagined, Ann and Leslie still have one of the most supportive female friendships on television. They affirm each other like it’s their job (“Ann, you’re beautiful and you’re organized!”). Leslie’s an intense friend to have, and I get the impression that no one’s ever stood by her like this before. When she was on trial, she needed Ann to text her every thirty seconds to tell her everything was going to be ok, and the moment Leslie got that first text, she just lit up.
No matter what’s falling apart around them, Ann and Leslie take the time to praise each other and then get really excited about it. So much of this show is about how the people in our lives help us get where we need to go. Leslie and Ann remind each other of that all the time. They’re just thrilled to be able to face down their problems together. This is love, people.
I love how these two want to share their relationship with the world. Leslie’s compliments to Ann might be Parks and Rec‘s most enduring contribution to my vocabulary. She’s a “poetic, noble land-mermaid,” a “beautiful tropical fish,” a “beautiful, naive, sophisticated newborn baby,” a “beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox”–she’s just very beautiful.
And look how much Ann needs to hear it. I think Ann is always a little bit awed by Leslie’s love for her, and it builds up her confidence. Ann’s work is quieter than Leslie’s. She’s the nurse (“the most beautiful nurse in the world”). She cares patiently so that the people around her can shine. Leslie needs that. She needs a friend who will let her take the spotlight but also show her how to work under the radar. Ann is level enough to help Leslie organize her home but crazy enough to go on a fake date for her but not so crazy that she’d wear fingerless gloves. And she’s wonderful enough to wind up having a kid with the guy she fake dated.
It’s almost hard to remember now, but Leslie and Ann were real messes in their love lives for a while there (“Are you Nell? From the movie Nell?”). Ann’s “so you just laughed and said yes?” speed dating disaster gives me hope that I’m not alone in the world. We are all Ann Perkins, standing around in loud rooms making awkward small talk and pretending to understand people. When Leslie found Ben while Ann was still single, she continued to believe in her best friend and encourage her not to settle, leading to that old sitcom trope where a grown-ass woman spends time on herself, stepping back from the dating scene to figure out exactly what she wants from her life. Kidding, that’s the rarest TV plot line of all, and we saw it happen.
Leslie and Ann make each other better. When Leslie tells Ben that they can say screw it, but only if he wants, that’s Ann’s influence. When she takes a deep breath and jets off to Paris, it’s because Ann taught her how to value herself even above her job. And when Ann leaves her farewell party to break ground on a park, you know she got that from Leslie. It’s go big or go home when they’re together, pushing each other to “throw bureaucratic caution to the wind” and go after what they want, whether what they want is a baby or a 22-hour nap. They’ve taught each other to care for themselves. That’s why they’re going to be ok when they’re on their own.
And as for Chris, making eye contact with him is still like staring into the sun. He’s gone through some dark times and come out looking exactly the same (physically perfect/ going to live to 150), but he’s got a lot more depth now. Like Leslie with her recall vote, Chris has accepted that the world doesn’t fall apart when things don’t go according to plan. Chris’s plan never accounted for Harvest Festivals or a room full of Buddy Boxes or full-fat eggnog with his best friend, anyway.
Chris and Ann are the ones who will spend their lives together, but he and Ben are the real romance here. They showed up as a package deal, a team much more in sync than their good cop-bad cop routine ever could have suggested (“Ben, is there something we can do?”). Before Pawnee was their home, they only had each other, so every time they hang out now, it’s not just a flashback to their early days. It’s also a celebration of how far they’ve come and how special this town is. Ben and Chris have seen each other through depression, claymaytion, job changes, relationship troubles, and Joan Callamezzo interviews. They’re huge nerds and literally the best friends they could ever have asked for.
So here’s to Ann and Chris and their perfectly symmetrical baby. Leslie’s probably already booked some tickets to Michigan and added Ann Arbor Day to her calendar of friendship holidays, and with any luck, the Traeger-Perkins family will never be too busy to return home for waffles at JJ’s Diner. Until then, I’ll just be over here wallowing in my happy-sad.
What will you miss most about Ann and Chris?