Title Ann and Chris
Two-Sentence Summary As Ann and Chris prepare to leave Pawnee, their friends try to find the perfect way say goodbye. For Ben, that means getting Chris a gift that’s as thoughtful as his goodbye gifts to all his friends, and for Leslie, that means trying to finally break ground on Pawnee Commons and make good on a pinky promise she made Ann at the very beginning of their friendship.
Favorite Line “Oh Ann Perkins, you perfect sunflower. You totally changed me, you know?” (Leslie)
My Thoughts This season of Parks and Recreation has been about big changes: Leslie got recalled, Ben became city manager, Ron got married, Tom took on a new role as business liaison, Andy spent time working in Europe, and even Pawnee itself underwent a huge change by merging with Eagleton. And then there were Chris and Ann—starting a family, getting engaged (and un-engaged), and deciding to move to Michigan.
Many of those big changes didn’t amount to much in terms of emotional impact for the audience, which is strange considering Parks and Rec’s ability to shoot for the heart unlike any other show on television. But I should have known better than to doubt this show—even after a weak episode like “Farmers Market.” When Parks and Rec swings for the fences in terms of emotional impact, the result is never a strikeout. In fact, it’s usually a homerun. And in some cases, like “Ann and Chris,” it’s a walk-off grand slam.
(Sorry about all the baseball references. Sometimes I just really like extended sports metaphors.)
“Ann and Chris” was—like the best episodes of Parks and Rec—an episode about love. But what made it so unique was that it focused on the kind of love that the media ignores way too often: the life-altering, soul-bonding love between friends. There is a special kind of joy in finding a best friend, and there is a special kind of grief in losing one (even if you do plan to call each other whenever you have thoughts on Jennifer Aniston’s future). For as much focus as the media places on romantic relationships, it shouldn’t be forgotten that our first soul mates in life are often our best friends. Before we find “the one,” our best friends are the people who help us to change for the better, to see the best in ourselves and to harness it, to balance our desires for personal happiness with our desire to make someone else happy, and to never settle for less than what we deserve.
Parks and Rec has never forgotten that. Even though Leslie and Ann (and even Ben and Chris) didn’t share a lot of screen time this season, it all culminated in this beautiful little love letter to power of friendship. When it really mattered, Parks and Rec delivered, and, as a fan, that’s all I can ask for.
The episode’s plot was really just a way to get all of the important characters (both regular and recurring) to say goodbye to Ann and Chris. Like “Leslie and Ben” did so successfully last season, “Ann and Chris” let the characters drive the plot rather than vice versa. The result was an episode that featured emotional highpoint after emotional highpoint, until I was left sobbing on my couch long after the final credits rolled.
There wasn’t a lot of plot-related respite from the emotional content of the episode, but not all of that emotion was the sad kind. In fact, “Ann and Chris” has plenty of really funny moments. Andy thinking that “Plates” was a name (complete with his or her own buddy box); April giving Ann a bag of bras, knives, and loose onions as a going away gift; Ron’s goodbye causing both Ann and Jerry to break down; Tom wishing the guys were Donna (Don’t we all wish everyone was Donna?); and Chris dancing all made me laugh through my tears. There were also some surprisingly victorious moments—from Leslie and Ann finally breaking ground on the park they’d dreamed of for so long to Ann putting Kathryn Pinewood (symbol of all Leslie-haters) in a headlock. In an episode that I knew would make me cry, it was nice to have plenty of moments to laugh and cheer, too.
Parks and Rec is a show about an entire group of friends, and I loved that this episode seemed to not only acknowledge that; it celebrated it. This episode could have easily spent most of its time focusing on Ben, Leslie, Ann, and Chris, and it would have been perfectly satisfying. Instead, it gave each member of this little family their own moment to say goodbye in a way that felt true to their character and their relationship with Ann and Chris. I loved the way Ann’s romances with both Andy and Tom were brought up in wonderfully in-character ways, and Chris getting felt up by Donna was the perfect way for her to say goodbye. I’ll also admit to getting a little misty-eyed when Donna and Ann shared their little fist bump (if only because I loved Donna giving Ann dating advice back in the day) and getting more than a little misty-eyed when Chris told April he was proud of her. Even Orin, Pistol Pete, and Perd showed up to say goodbye. As Leslie so fervently believes, “No one achieves anything alone.” Parks and Rec has shown us that this is true for planning Harvest Festivals, winning elections, celebrating marriages, and now, finding the perfect way to say goodbye. Life is a series of group efforts. The trick is just finding the right group.
Leslie’s party for Ann was so wonderfully over-the-top, so perfectly Leslie, that it could have easily become the centerpiece of the episode. However, this was an episode where the big gestures mattered far less than the smaller moments—for both the audience and the characters.
Chris’s buddy boxes were so emotionally powerful because they were celebrations of the small details Chris will always carry with him when he thinks of his friends, and they’re all details associated with the things these men are passionate about: Ron’s love for meat, Andy’s love for music, Ben’s love of numbers, Jerry’s love of love, and Tom’s love for being a businessman. If we ever needed proof that Chris is male version of Leslie, this was it. It reminded me of the phenomenal bachelor parties storyline in “Two Parties” in the way it so adamantly argued that it isn’t weird for men to form deep, loving friendships with other men. In fact, it’s important. For a show that’s often celebrated for the way it depicts female friendship, Parks and Rec is also successful at shining a light on a variety of friendships among men.
The friendships on Parks and Rec are a lot like the love stories—they beautifully reflect the characters who are a part of them, and no two are alike. Perhaps the most unique friendship on the show was the one that built grudgingly yet so entertainingly between Ann and April. I’m not sure any moment could top their “Time After Time” duet, but their goodbye comes very close. Ann’s sincere happiness for April and Andy—without expecting any reply in kind—was enough to get April to admit what we’ve all known for a while now: She loves Ann. From the mumbling of the phrase to Ann giving her the gift of not having to say it out loud and April hugging her, this was the moment when the tears really started for me. It felt so earned, and its tone was exactly right.
When all is said and done, though, “Ann and Chris” is a story of two friendships and two romances—and the way those relationships have impacted each other. Although Leslie’s friendship with Ann is probably the show’s second most enduring relationship (behind Ben and Leslie’s relationship), I think Ben’s friendship with Chris is almost just as important. As Chris so beautifully stated when he summed up Ben’s gift to him, Ben is both a thoughtful and resourceful person, and I think he got a lot of that thoughtfulness from being around Chris for all those years. When Chris told Ben that he was literally the best friend he would ever have, I believed him. For once, Chris’s use of “literally” wasn’t hyperbolic, and thinking about that continues to make me want to cry in a corner.
But nothing makes me want to cry in a corner like thinking about Leslie and Ann. These two pains in the ass (and proud of it!) are the gold standard for female friendships on television, and every moment between them in “Ann and Chris” was perfection. I loved that Ann reminded Leslie that nothing can stand in her way when she wants something (in this case, to break ground on Pawnee Commons). That’s what these two women have always been for one another—the voice that reminds them to fight for what they believe in and the person who stands beside them as they fight. They don’t always agree—that’s what makes them both fun to watch and relatable—but they always love each other. And, as the flashback that opened the episode reminded us, they’ve loved each other even longer than they’ve loved the men in their lives.
Leslie said it best as she and Ann sat where Pawnee Commons will one day stand: Ann has changed her. The beautiful thing is we got to see that change. We got to see Ann’s friendship soften Leslie, we got to see Ann help Leslie take a leap of faith to find the love of her life, and we got to see Ann help Leslie work on her steamroller tendencies to become a better person. And we also got to see Leslie change Ann, too, especially to find out who she really is independent of the men in her life. We weren’t just told that these women meant a lot to each other; we were shown it with a frequency so rare that it was like a beautiful tropical fish I just wanted to marvel at most of the time.
Leslie and Ann have a real friendship. They talk about work and love, but they also talk about Jennifer Aniston. They make each other sandwiches and mix CDs, and they try to be strong for each other even when they have every reason to fall apart. That’s what got to me the most about their last scene together. Both Amy Poehler and Rashida Jones did such a good job of trying not to cry—because that’s what really happens when you say goodbye to your best friend. You don’t openly weep; you try to put on a brave face. And that’s what makes the moment when that brave face disappears all the more powerful. When Poehler’s voice broke as Leslie told Ann she loved her, I reached Toy Story 3 levels of sobbing, and it was all because that was the moment when reality hit me. Lelsie was losing Ann, and Poehler was losing Jones. You could feel the affection between all the actors in those final scenes (Poehler’s final hug with Rob Lowe especially felt like a farewell between both the actors and characters), but the sad smile on Poehler’s face as she looked at Jones was such a defining moment for this show. Yes, it was horribly sad, but it was horribly sad because this friendship mattered. And that in and of itself made what could have been an oppressively sad moment a bittersweet one instead. Yes, Ann was driving away into a new future where Leslie will only be an occasional visitor, but theirs is a love story that we believe distance will never undo. And for that kind of love story to be a platonic one between two women is extraordinary.
The episode ended as it should have, with Ann and Chris driving away as Leslie found solace in Ben’s arms (and Ron’s offer of breakfast food). Neither of these women (and neither of these men) will be alone. Yes, there will be sadness, but Leslie and Ann don’t need each other the way they once did. And that’s okay. Their friendship taught them how to love and be loved by the kind of people they ended up with.
It’s no coincidence that both Leslie and Ann ended up with each other’s male counterparts. These women found romantic soul mates who are in many ways mirror images of their platonic soul mates. That’s why Ann can leave knowing Leslie will be okay, and Leslie can let Ann go, knowing she’s in good hands.
I like to think that “Wildflowers” by Tom Petty, the song that ended the episode, was the first song on Leslie’s CD for Ann. And so I want to end with some of those lyrics, which I think perfectly sum up what Ann and Leslie want for each other and what their friendship gave them—the courage to find a place in the world where they feel loved, where they feel free to be the best version of themselves.
Run away, find you a lover
Go away somewhere all bright and new
I have seen no other
Who compares with you
You belong among the wildflowers
You belong in a boat out at sea
You belong with your love on your arm
You belong somewhere you feel free…