In the spring of 2009, a new kind of romance was born on NBC when overeager bureaucrat Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) met sweet nurse Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) on the Parks and Recreation series premiere. Over the last six seasons, their journey has spawned catchphrases, beautiful compliments and a new faith in female friendships on television. However, that will all soon come to an end when Jones and co-star Rob Lowe leave the comedy early next year.
"Amy and Rashida, like Leslie and Ann, are dealing with it in real time," Jones tells TVGuide.com. "Amy has been saying to people, 'She thinks she's leaving, but I'm going to lock her in my trailer.' I'm a little bit in denial about it, too."
Over the summer, news broke that Jones and Lowe — the latter who joined the series in Season 2 as upbeat state auditor-turned-City Manager Chris Traeger — would be leaving the show much to the shock and surprise of fans. But both Lowe and Jones insist it was the right time to say goodbye to their characters. "[Parks co-creator] Mike Schur and I have been friends since college and all we've wanted to do ever was work together," Jones says. "But he's my friend first and he really supports me and what I want for my life. My focus was changing and I think he saw that and wanted to be a good friend to me."
As a producer, Jones already has several projects in development and Lowe is attached to star in the NBC comedy pilot The Pro. "Rashida, Mike and I were all feeling a weird mix of sadness, but also that feeling where you know in a relationship that it's the right thing to do even though it's scary and you'll be letting go of stuff that you know is really, really great and important," Lowe adds. "[We also knew] that the moment has arrived in terms of our growth as actors and the storylines that Mike wants to do. It was complicated, but also felt right."
Fortunately, Schur and the Parks writers gave fans ample time to adjust to Ann and Chris' forthcoming exit. The idea of the duo leaving Pawnee to raise their impending baby together was introduced within the first few episodes of the season. "We wanted to drop it in early and do it properly to give them a big send-off," Schur says. "It's not happening all at once, which I think is good. It has a nice feeling of a jigsaw puzzle being put together instead of, 'Oh my god, it's happening! Goodbye!' which we felt would be unfitting for the friendship between Leslie and Ann."
The additional time has given the actors a chance for a victory lap of sorts as the writers explore how Leslie will handle losing her best friend — hint: Not well! "Amy Poehler, like Leslie Knope, is in complete denial," Poehler says. "No one will ever replace Ann. The relationship between Leslie and Ann is one of the prouder things about the show. Unfortunately, there's often a lack of real female friendships represented on television that make any sense. Sometimes women are friends on a show and you're like, 'How the f--- are they friends? They hate each other and have nothing in common and they're awful to each other.' Leslie and Ann are true friends in a way that you can understand. I'm very proud of that friendship and the way it's grown over the years and how it's frankly one of the many beating hearts on our show."
But, as viewers discovered a few episodes back, Leslie won't be the only one affected by Ann and Chris' departure. Before coming to Pawnee, Ben (Adam Scott) and Chris were a dynamic duo who traveled to cities all over Indiana trying to manage local government budgets. "Rob and I started the show at the same time, so it's going to be really sad when he goes," Scott says. Lowe echoes Scott's sentiments. "We did cut our teeth together on the show, so I'm really happy that he's getting to carry the torch onward into future seasons," Lowe adds.
Where Ann and Leslie had an undying friendship, Chris brought a peppy attitude and unwavering positivity to the NBC comedy, even spawning his own catchphrase by his constant use of the word "literally." "I love it so much that I actually have a catchphrase after being in the business for almost four decades," Lowe says. "When I say that word in my own life, people look at me like, 'A ha!' Maybe after a year of not seeing Chris on the TV screens, I can say literally again."
Before he (at least temporarily) retires his signature catchphrase, Lowe is excited that Schur has given him a chance to interact with everyone on the series one last time. "I have an episode where Ron [Nick Offerman] and I learn how to make a crib at his woodworking ship," Lowe teases. "In the 100th episode, we did a storyline whether we want to know the sex of the baby. It's very warm and emotional. Chris is able to do a big favor for Leslie. There is a Councilman Jamm [Jon Glaser], Leslie Knope, Chris Traeger karaoke Grease scene that is one of my favorite things that we've done. It was very exciting. I could've shot that scene all day."
Unfortunately, there is one character Lowe won't go get to share scenes with before he heads out of town: Chris' therapist, Dr. Richard Nygard, who effectively brought Chris out of his deep depression and whose identity was never revealed. "I am disappointed that we never got to see Dr. Richard Nygard," Lowe says. "That is the one thing that I asked Mike, 'I would love to meet the man responsible for saving Chris' sanity!' I had two ideas. One was Leonard Nimoy. The other was that Dr. Richard Nygard is actually Chris Traeger. I thought that was very down the wormhole. The chair would turn around and it would be Chris as Dr. Richard Nygard. It actually makes sense in a very bizarre way." Who better to help Chris than Chris himself?
There's still hope that someday that secret will be revealed since Poehler, Schur, Jones and Lowe are pretty positive that we haven't really seen the last of Ann and Chris. "Oh, definitely," Jones says. "Ann is not going to be far and Rashida is not going to be far. Ann loves Leslie too much and Rashida loves Parks too much and Amy too much." Adds Lowe: "Chris is not dead. He's just living in Ann Arbor."
But Jones and Lowe are very aware that the end is near, as they prepare to say goodbye — their final episode is currently filming. "I know that Rashida and I were both really hoping that the farewell would be done with heart and humor," Lowe says. "That's the Hallmark of the show and that's really what has transpired." Although both Leslie and Ben will find it hard to let their friends go, Schur promises that Ann and Chris' goodbye will be a celebration, including some "Leslie Knope-style festivities."
As for how Ann and Chris will exit the series, Lowe jokingly questions whether they'll sadly drive off into the sunset. "With that Sia song from Six Feet Under?" Jones asks. "Then we flash-forward to the rest of our lives and then it's just dying." Here's hoping that last part doesn't come true!
Parks and Recreation returns Thursday at 8/7c on NBC. Will you miss Ann and Chris?