On Thursday’s “Parks and Recreation,” Ann and Chris left Pawnee, which means Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe left “Parks and Recreation.” It wasn’t a huge farewell. This wasn’t a Very Special, extra-long episode. It wasn’t even all that great (although it was good). What it mostly had was its share of nailed-it goodbye exchanges. Ron (Nick Offerman) bid Ann a suitably terse adieu, while Tom (Aziz Ansari) gave her the best present of all: He took her contact info out of his phone. Andy (Chris Pratt), meanwhile, ran up to her to exclaim, “You know what I just remembered? We used to date!”
Indeed, it’s hard to remember that factoid, much less how Ann first found her way into this circle of lovable grotesques. That’s partly because we all drink too much and our memories are going, and partly because the first, six-episode season wasn’t so hot. Throttle your memory a touch and you may recall she attended a town hall meeting where she requested that a massive pit behind her house be filled in after Andy fell into it and broke his legs. (I had to Wikipedia this.) Ann wanted the space to be used for good, and finally, with her hightailing it outta town, Leslie (Amy Poehler) wants the ground on “Pawnee Commons” to be broken.
As usual, standing in Leslie’s way was a middle aged white dude blockade, albeit not one of her usual enemies — say, blow dry-haired Councilman Jamm (Jon Glaser), who’s been sadly absent since he successfully got her booted from office — but a guy so unmemorable he’s not even worth looking up. Whoever He Was erects a fence around the grounds, protected by security guards, rendering it an impregnable fortress that Ann and Leslie wind up impregnating anyway by doing what they usually do and just ignoring the rules.
As a plot, it wasn’t the greatest of send-offs. But the episode subsisted on banter and loopiness, as it often does, even at this late date. The guys of the group spend most of the time tending to Chris and belatedly realizing that their gift of a gift card for a shop called Pots & Pans — albeit one that will only go towards pans, not pots — is a mite inadequate. Meanwhile, April (Aubrey Plaza) has to figure out which feeling she should go with vis-a-vis seeing Ann, her longtime nemesis, leaving. Is she ecstatic? Or secretly sad? Turns out the latter, and she has more trouble saying the words “I love you” than an emotionally remote man’s man to his longtime spouse.
The episode did go all out — at times. Leslie throws not just one of her big, ambitious parties but her most ambitious party: one with celebrations of every major holiday she will be missing with Ann, complete with a New Year’s Eve clock and a depressed kid in an Easter Bunny outfit. The ending has perhaps the biggest shock of all: As Ann and Chris drive off, they’re met with an actual crane shot, which reaches into the sky to show all of Pawnee — something we’ve never seen in one place (particularly because it’s clearly filmed in sunny Los Angeles and has thus never been covered in horrible snow or swallowed whole by the polar vortex).
So, where does this leave “Parks and Rec?” It’s six years old, it’s just lost its straight (wo)man — it’s always been easy to undervalue Jones’ subtle but valuable place among the show’s wacky cast — and its most ridiculously positive and enthusiastic member, which is saying something. Rob Lowe leaving a show isn’t a show-killer: He’s made something of a habit of ejecting himself from hit programs when he gets bored or whatever. (Not that it’s clear what he could do next: A former reckless pretty boy — Zac Efron seems to have modeled himself on the young Lowe, for whatever reason — he has shown comic chops before, but never to the height of his stint as Chris Traeger. In fact, during his tenure here, it’s been hard seeing him to do other things — except when he has a Farah Fawcett coif and look like a tiger, as in “Behind the Candelabra.” It’s mildly interesting what he may do next now that Chris Traeger is, aside from inevitable special returns, no more.)
Ann and Chris leave Leslie at a nebulous point: She’s just backtracked to the Parks and Rec office after a disastrous political stint, and she’s already been advised by Ron to try something new. But what is that? Might it be, as some have suggested, to head somewhere else entirely, thus closing a show that peaked seasons ago and is now coasting on good will (and frequent terrific jokes)? Of course, then again, “The Office” went on after its lead character left, and that worked out swimmingly, didn’t it? (It didn’t.) “Parks and Rec” is off the air for an entire month (again), so we’ll have plenty of time to wonder what the writers have cooked up.