Well, it couldn’t all be good news. After weeks of squee-inducing Parks and Recreation casting announcements (Henry Winkler as Jean-Ralphio’s dad! Sam Elliot as Eagleton’s answer to Ron Swanson! Kristen Bell as Leslie’s Eagelton doppelganger!), BuzzFeed broke a bummer: Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe will both leave the show midway through the season. Parks and Rec fans across the Internet are literally crying their eyes out. But should they?
To be clear: any loss to what ?uestlove rightly dubbed “the Wu-Tang of Comedy” is going to be keenly felt. This is one of the tightest, sharpest, friskiest comic ensembles on television, and even the tiniest tremble could upset the entire apple cart. That said, if you had to lose anyone from it — y’know, if some television terrorist had a gun to your head or a suitcase nuke, and in order to stop him, you absolutely had to pluck out a couple of members of that cast to save lives (it could happen) — wouldn’t these be the two you’d select?
First of all, when it comes to Lowe, we knew we were on borrowed time to begin with. He was brought on as a short-term guest star, and this is a man best known for three things: sex tape, Snow White Oscars, and leaving television shows. He departed The West Wing early in its fourth season; he left Brothers and Sisters at the end of its fourth year. Since he joined Parks at the end of Season 2 and is leaving midway through Season 6, that makes just shy of four years there, too. Four years: it’s your Lowe expiration date!
It’s not that Lowe won’t be missed — his cheerful enthusiasm (“Ann Perkins!”), insane dedication to physical health, and “literally” conversational tic has generated plenty of laughs for the show. But the character also doesn’t have much of anywhere left to go. The idea of tearing down his seemingly unshakable self-confidence following the breakup with Millicent Gergich was a masterstroke, turning the character completely inside out — and thus keeping it fresh. But short that kind of total reinvention, Chris Traeger could easily become a one-note “type,” and one of the reasons Parks and Rec is network television’s best comedy is that it refuses to do that to its characters.
Jones is trickier. When Parks and Recreation premiered, she was a vital link to its spiritual predecessor, The Office (having been a semi-regular on that show). And in the first couple of seasons, Ann Perkins served a clear purpose: she was the straight woman, the sensible counterbalance to the quirky personalities of Leslie, Ron, Andy, and the rest. Though Parks wasn’t, as originally reported, a direct spin-off of The Office, the similarities (initially, at least) weren’t solely in the mock-doc style; Ann was the Jim Halpert of Parks, the audience’s surrogate and voice of sanity to Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope, who was originally conceived and played as much more of a Michael Scott figure.
But as time passed and the show stretched its legs, the characterizations deepened. And as Leslie Knope became more established, she no longer needed a straight woman to ground her wackiness; the broadly comic characters (Tom and Andy and April and even Ron, a little tiny bit) have, over the course of five seasons, developed the dimensions and depth that make them relatable and human. And in the meantime, Rashida Jones — an endlessly talented comic actor and writer, as evidenced by her wonderful Celeste and Jesse Forever — has had exceedingly less of interest to do.
This all feels very deliberate, with Jones and Lowe’s simultaneous exit coming at what now seems a carefully choreographed conclusion to their ongoing pregnancy/romantic rekindling arc. “We’ve been working on their storyline (on and off) for four seasons now,” executive producer Mike Schur wrote in a statement on their exit, “and heading into this year, with the two of them contemplating parenthood, it felt like a natural time to move them into the next phase.” He’s right, and if there’s one thing Parks has earned our trust on, it’s knowing when it’s time to send a superfluous character off into the sunset. Don’t believe me? Two words: Mark Brandanawicz.