Welcome to part two of our Parks and Recreation character analysis. This week we discuss the development of Ann Perkins.
Ann Perkins is a character who undergoes some immense changes throughout Parks and Recreation’s run. When we first meet her in season one, Ann is a disgruntled townsperson who wants the pit in the lot at the back of her house filled in. She’s working overtime as a nurse to support herself and her boyfriend Andy, who broke both of his legs when he fell in the pit.
Leslie goes into overdrive when presented with a new project. Reluctant at first, Ann is swept into Leslie’s wake. In her rare free time, Ann helps Leslie canvas the neighbourhood and raise funds to turn the pit into a park. The disruption to her routine and the addition of a positive influence in Leslie causes Ann to finally realise what the viewer already knows; that Andy is selfish and lazy and needs to go. She finally kicks him out when she learns that he lied to her about his legs still being broken so he wouldn’t have to get a job. Ann’s strength and self-esteem grow exponentially after she befriends Leslie, because Leslie’s main pleasures come from helping and encouraging the people she loves.
The keen observer will notice an odd trend throughout the first four seasons; Anne mimics whoever she’s dating. You don’t see it when she starts seeing Mark, but when she dates fitness freak Chris she spends a lot of time exercising and talking about vitamin supplements. She even takes on some of his personal mannerisms, such as when they go out to dinner:
Chris: “I would like a local beer. I’d like it in a bottle. I’d like the bottle to be cold.”
Ann: “I would like a glass of white wine. I would like it to be chardonnay, and I would like that with one ice cube, thanks.”
They decide to really play this up in later seasons, even going as far as putting Ann in cowgirl outfits for an entire episode when she’s dating a rodeo rider.
This tendency to ‘morph’ into one’s partner is more common than you might think, and can stem from three major relationship issues – one partner could be domineering and passively demanding that the other conform to their style and world-view, causing a loss of independence (plenty of people have gone through something like this, usually in youthful relationships). It could be because one partner has low self-esteem and are eager to please, becoming immersed in the other’s hobbies in order to keep them interested. Or it might be because they have nothing in common and one partner is trying to compensate. In Ann’s case it’s the latter, and Leslie has the good grace to call her on it.
When Ann finally does settle down it’s in a relatively unconventional way – she decides she wants to have a child and starts looking for a donor. She decides on Chris because they are still relatively good friends and he is a very healthy physical specimen, and he agrees to be an involved parent with her. They start with IVF, but wind up developing feelings for each other and Ann falls pregnant the old fashioned way. By this point, Ann is self-possessed and confident enough that she doesn’t feel she needs to change who she is to keep Chris around. When they have problems she can actually talk to him about them, something she always shied away from in the past.
In true Parks and Recreation fashion, Anne’s character transformation is not limited to romantic relationships. She grows as a friend and professionally, and this is mostly because of her increasing confidence. Of course, it’s hard not to have improved confidence when you have a friend who calls you a “beautiful tropical fish” and “the best nurse in the world.”
Ann goes to great lengths to get closer to April, possibly because April starts off despising her so much. April has always been a misanthrope, but her dislike of Ann stems from her jealousy of Ann’s dating Andy. Then, just as it looks like April and Andy are getting together, Ann kissed him.
So we begin season three, and a few episodes in the flu sweeps the town of Pawnee, and April is hospitalised. Ann is her nurse. It’s not pretty. Still, April warms up to Ann over season four, and their friendship is really expanded upon in season five. When April reveals that she wants to study veterinary medicine, Ann goes with her to a college open day in Bloomington. April decides then and there that it’s not for her, and Ann expresses her disappointment that April would pike out so easily. The viewer expects April to be convinced to give it a try, but instead we’re treated to something better: April teaching Ann how to trust her gut.
Ann: Can we please talk about what happened back there?
April: What, Ann? I just stole your phone and texted every guy in it that the baby was theirs. It’s not that big of a deal.
Ann: Listen, I know you don’t believe this, but I care about your future, and I’m just a little disappointed that you’re just not following through with this.
April: Yeah, it’s not about following through, okay? I was on the fence about whether I wanted to do it, and as soon as I got there, I just had a gut feeling that it wasn’t right for me, that’s all.
Ann: So, just like that, boom–huge life decision made?
April: That’s how I make all my life decisions. My gut is always right, okay? It was right about marrying Andy, and it was right when it told me that you would be the worst person I would ever meet in my life. And I’ve met Guy Fieri, Ann.
Ann: [Chuckles] So gross! How do you get your gut to talk to you? You don’t get your gut to talk to you.
April: You just listen when it says something.
Ann: Well, right now my gut is saying that we are going to listen to Mariah Carey the whole way home.
Later in this episode Ann goes with her gut and talks with Chris about moving somewhere else to raise their baby.
More than anything else, Parks and Recreation is about friendships, particularly between women. Ann learns and grows with the help of the entire cast, and she helps them in turn. Donna gives her plenty of practical dating advice, Ron teaches her practical skills (during a Halloween house party, no less), and of course Leslie teaches her what it means to have a true, trusting friend.