One of the worst cop-outs for a television show is to commemorate a big event with a clip show. It’s almost always a bit of misdirection, playing on fans’ love for the good old days to get them to tune in next week. But when it came time to say goodbye to Rashida Jones’ Ann Perkins and Rob Lowe’s Chris Traeger, Parks and Recreation used one flashback from the show’s first episode and rolled on from there, referencing back to some of those characters’ best moments and providing closure with a simple, satisfying storyline.
Five and a half seasons after Leslie and Ann met at a community meeting about a dangerous lot known as the Pit, Ann is leaving Pawnee, Indiana with her once-and-current boyfriend Chris, who also happens to be the once-surrogate (and now-committed father) of her unborn child. They’re moving to Ann Arbor to be closer to Ann’s family, and Chris has a job lined up at the University of Michigan. They love their friends but have bigger visions than a tiny town with a severe raccoon problem.
Leslie grudgingly relents and lets Ann go, but not before staging one more huge, obsessively over-produced party with a surprise grand gesture for her best friend: A groundbreaking ceremony at the Pit. To get the job done, they have to deal with some gruff municipal workers and a few local celebrities, like local TV anchor Perd Hapley and a former high school basketball star, but the storyline mostly serves as background to the rest of the characters saying their goodbyes to Ann and Chris.
Chris, of course, comes up with much more thoughtful farewell presents than any of the other guys, with a few of them serving as throwbacks to earlier episodes: Ron gets a bronzed burger in memory of their beef vs. turkey cook-off, Andy gets a poster from Mouse Rat’s gig at the Li’l Sebastian memorial, Larry/Gary/Jerry gets a photo of him officiating Ben and Leslie’s wedding, and Tom gets a bottle of his horrible banned liquor, Snake Juice. The fellas then struggle to figure out how to match Chris’ gifts, and end up getting him a wooden “buddy box” so they can create more memories going forward. Looks like the writers found a heartwarming way of keeping the door open for Chris and Ann to show up now and again before the show ends.
Ann, meanwhile, also takes a few trips down memory lane. Donna reminisces about their somewhat competitive time in the dating pool together, Tom musters up some false bravado to talk about their tumultuous relationship, and Andy, as a nod to what was a huge storyline back in the earlier seasons, says, “Ann! Know what I just remembered? We used to date!” Then, of course, there’s only one big plot line to resolve: April finally admitting that she actually loves Ann, though she can’t bring herself to do anything more than mumble the words.
With the Pit ceremony completed, Ann and Leslie acknowledge that, like in real life, people grow and move on, marriage and children change things, and they’ll have to put more effort into making the relationships last, like having phone dates during the State of the Union or whenever they’re concerned about Jennifer Aniston. After the tearful goodbyes, the episode ends with the rest of the gang heading to J.J.’s Diner to drown their sorrows, because as Ron says, “There’s never been a sadness that can’t be cured by breakfast food.”
Sure, it’s sad to see Ann and Chris go, but the characters had reached a point where there wasn’t much left for them to do except have a baby, and storylines like those are rarely ever original enough to keep fans interested for long. Jones and Lowe get to move on to starring roles in new sitcoms – Jones will play a cop on Steve Carell’s TBS show Tribeca, and Lowe will play a former tennis star on NBC’s The Pro. With Parks and Rec renewed for another, most likely final season, the writers will have a lot of room to play with the characters. They’ve been down the baby road now, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see them try that with Leslie and Ben, though it could be more satisfying to see Leslie try for a much bigger office, like she pondered in the 100th episode. If anything, the subtraction of two characters better mean one change: Much more Donna.