Parks & Recreation defines its characters extremely well. Everyone has a role in the dynamic of the show, and while the nature of comedy & drama demands those roles be stretched and challenged from time to time, the show always knows what its characters are about.
The major exception to this rule is Ann Perkins. Ann started off as a plot device: She wanted the pit behind her house filled in. She volunteered to help Leslie get it done, and followed her through all the bureaucracy and crazy shenanigans that involved. Along the way she and Leslie bonded as friends, and Rashida Jones settled into the role of playing straight man to Amy Poehler’s insanity.
Once The Pit finally got filled in, it was harder to keep Ann on the show, since she had no reason to be at the office aside from occasionally meeting Leslie for lunch. So they made her a part-time public health officer, a role which has had absolutely nothing to do with anything that has happened on the show. It even seems more irrelevant now that Ann is a volunteer on Leslie’s campaign, since that gives her a much more logical reason to be hanging around.
While Ann is a presence in nearly every episode, it’s rare that we ever learn anything about her. We know she’s a nurse, even if we don’t see her at the hospital much any more; we know that one of the qualities that makes her a nurse – looking after people – is easily transferred to her relationships; we know that she’s probably never been dumped, and that she’s absolutely terrible at meeting appropriate men.
The last part forms the basis for Operation Ann, as Leslie launches a plan to find her best friend a nice fella for Valentine’s Day. This being Parks & Recreation, the plan goes horribly awry as a variety of weirdos and losers are paraded in front of Ann.
Curiously, for an episode that’s about Ann, she has very little to do. She’s vaguely apprehensive about the whole thing, sits around while evaluating her prospects, and then leaves. Most of the focus is on Leslie’s scheming and her herd of would-be paramours. Which is disappointing, since Rashida Jones can be very funny when she’s given the chance – just watch her disastrous attendance at a singles mixer in Fancy Party, or her nights out drinking in The Master Plan and The Fight. Parks & Rec has hinted at Ann’s quirks on many occasions – like the fact she occasionally showed up at Leslie’s office with an errant blood sample or prescription – so it’s too bad the show didn’t use Operation Ann to do something more interesting with the character. The Comeback Kid was actually a better Ann-episode than this Ann-titled episode, since it had her attempting to do something new – manage Leslie’s campaign – and fail spectacularly. (I still maintain that “What about a layup?” is one of the funniest lines of the season.)
It’s perhaps fitting that she’s ultimately paired up with Tom, who’s a similarly problematic character. The essence of Tom Haverford is simple: He’s a nice, smart guy who overacts and exaggerates because he wants to be seen a certain way. The result of that approach is that he frequently ends up looking like a dick, occasionally to the point where you wonder why anyone would want to be around him.
Operation Ann is Tom Haverford in a nutshell: When he’s trying to help Ann through her terrible suitors, he’s sweet and funny. But once he’s actually on a date with her, he turns on the Tom Haverford Machine and covers up everything Ann found appealing about him.
(I appreciate the slightly ambiguous ending: Ann voices her clear displeasure with Tom’s moves, but doesn’t actually leave the date. Is it possible that Tom might read the signs correctly and call off the act?)
In the B-plot, Leslie left Ben an elaborate series of clues designed to lead him to their Valentines rendezvous. In addition to being the sort of thing that makes perfect sense for Leslie – and her brief worry that Ben wouldn’t figure them all out, and by extension didn’t take their relationship as seriously as she did was a lovely touch – it also provided a number of great gags and even more Pawnee culture:
- More violent murals! (I want to learn more about Eating the Reverend)
- The Snowglobe Museum, previously mentioned in… another episode. I can’t remember. However, it must be said that “Well, it’s working now” is likely the funniest thing ever said about a snowglobe.
- Not only is there a Li’l Sebastian Memorial, but there appears to be a 24/7 candlelight vigil at it.
- Sometimes I worry that Andy is just too stupid for even the internal reality of Parks & Recreation, but then I realize I don’t care because Chris Pratt is so good. Does anyone on TV do physical comedy better? The scene with the Raccoon display should be showed alongside Chaplin movies.
Lastly, I don’t have a lot to say about Sad Chris, aside from “It was awesome.” When he’s happy, he’s happy, but when he’s sad, he’s sad.
I also dig his music selections.