Early on in “Ann and Chris,” we see a flashback to the show’s beginning, where Leslie met her future best friend at one of Pawnee’s always-terrible meetings between the government and the public over the huge ditch in her backyard. What’s so remarkable about this isn’t just the show’s acknowledgment of that rather lousy season, but that the quality of the show isn’t the only thing that has changed so dramatically since then. Especially in its later seasons, one of the main themes for Parks has been change, and in less than six seasons it’s incredible how different the show is from when it first premiered, to the point that its title has long been a misnomer as its main character (as well as a good deal of its supporting cast) has frequently been working away from the Parks Department.
One of the few things that has stayed the same about the show, though, is its emphasis on character above story or humor or anything else. People watch the show for its cast, every member of which is fantastic and easily worthy of his or her own show. It was fitting, then, that “Ann and Chris” was nearly plotless. It was for the most part one long goodbye party, but what a goodbye party it was. I’m not referring to the crazy shindig Leslie threw, either (though that was certainly an entertaining backdrop for the evening), but rather the series of heartfelt words spoken between Ann and Chris and literally every other member of the cast. What was remarkable about this wasn’t that it happened—as it’s not exactly new idea—but that none of these felt meaningless. Everyone on the show does have that connection, and it would’ve been a disappointment if even more minor characters like Larry or Donna didn’t get their moments with the departing couple.
The cast of Parks is so fun to hang around with that doing so was literally all that was needed. In fact, it was a bit of a disappointment when Leslie spent so much time worrying about breaking ground on the Pawnee Commons with Ann because the episode didn’t need that forced tension. It was fitting, certainly, that Leslie would need to go on one last, crazy attempt to get a project finished with Ann, but it was the slackest part of the episode. Far more entertaining was simply seeing everyone hang out together and have their emotional moments, punctuated by great jokes to break the somewhat solemn mood.
There couldn’t have been a finer way to see Ann and Chris leave the show. The episode was fan service all the way through, but at a time like this, that felt warranted. There’s so much story in Parks that having an episode where everyone just hangs around and talks about why they like each other feels earned…because it was. Parks has the most fully-developed cast of any comedy on television, and as a result it’s more entertaining to simply see them interact sometimes than anything else. “Ann and Chris” ends up as a reminder that all of those quirks every member of the cast has don’t keep them from being fully rounded people. Chris could have been a one-note joke, and at first he was, but the show isn’t content with that and instead it finds the humanity within everyone, regardless of how strange they may be. After all, this is a show where we’re even asked to imagine Perd Hapley’s dating life (sex life..?). It’s sad to see Ann and Chris leave because we care about them. They’re so well-written and acted that it does feel like friends are leaving, and that’s a remarkable accomplishment for Parks to have achieved.