Welcome to our latest character development Masterclass. In this instalment we’re focusing on everyone’s favourite unenthused intern, April Ludgate-Dwyer from Parks and Recreation.
I have a lot of love for April. Plenty of us wish we could be that apathetic in the workplace. She begins the series as an intern in the Parks and Recreation department and you kind of have to wonder how she got the job in the first place.
April is a fantastic study in solid character development, and I urge you to watch her scenes closely – it takes masterful writing and acting to create a character who stays true to themselves while growing up. April is aloof and cynical with a sense of humour as dry as sandpaper and dark as peat. She uses this humour to keep people at bay, and as an excuse not to try at anything. If you try you might fail, if you let people in you can let them down. Growing up is realising that trying is better than not going anywhere at all.
In the first two seasons, she’s in a relationship of sorts with a guy named Derek who is also dating a guy named Ben. The three of them hang out together and seem to spend most of their time ripping on other people and mainstream life in general. April seems perfectly content to coast along like this until she meets Andy, the only person who can make her smile. The two develop a close friendship based around goofing off and pulling pranks. It’s not until the season two episode, Galentines Day that April finally gets fed up with Derek and Ben covering everything they do in “fifteen layers of irony,” and breaks up with them when they insult Andy. She’s outgrown them.
April also undergoes considerable professional development. In season two she volunteers as Ron’s assistant when her internship is up. Admittedly, this is because she wishes to be close to Andy, but it leads to opening up her horizons. April is perfect for the role – Ron doesn’t want to be bothered by the public, and she doesn’t have to be nice to them to get them to go away. Her only major screw up is scheduling meetings for people on the 31st of March, thinking that March only had 30 days. This means that she and Ron have to deal with ninety-three meetings in one day. April feels so badly about it that she resigns, but when Andy successfully argues to Ron that he’ll never find another assistant like her, Ron gives April her job back.
In season three Chris asks her to be his assistant, and then to work for him when he goes back to Indianapolis. She declines his offer, but it does open her eyes to the other opportunities that are out there. At the end of season four Leslie needs to focus on the election, so April takes on a few of her duties. This includes running public forums, and while she’s not as positive as Leslie, her straight forward and blunt nature appeals to the townspeople. She later helps Ben run an election campaign in Washington, and is the only one able to whip the interns into shape. When she returns to Pawnee she fights to get lot 48 turned into a dog park, eventually convincing Leslie that it’s the right thing to do even though it had been a personal project and Leslie had her own plans for the space.
April then decides to follow her passion for animal welfare by studying veterinary medicine and asks Ann for a recommendation letter, despite her feigned dislike for Ann. Meanwhile, April becomes the head of the Animal Control department after suggesting it be absorbed into Parks and Rec. In the final season, April properly takes her career in hand – she decides she wants to work at a higher level in order to pursue her dream job. She goes to work in the American Service Foundatiuon in Washington. In the course of seven seasons she goes from apathetic intern to federal employee at an organisation she believes in.
I should also point out that April and Andy’s relationship revolves around them encouraging each other to take chances – yes, April stays at Parks and Rec for Andy, but when they get married Andy decides to join the police force so he can better provide for their future together. April encourages Andy to go after his goals and seize opportunities, even when it means him working in London for a while. He also encourages her, even though it means her working with Ben in Washington in season five. In season seven April feels guilty about wanting to move to Washington to work at the American Service foundation because it would mean Andy giving up his dream job as a kids television entertainer, but he tells her that she’s been supporting his career long enough, and that she deserves his support too. This is a fantastic example of two people growing up and maturing together in a positive way, and is rather unique to see on modern television – a relationship of equals.
You don’t undergo this kind of professional and interpersonal growth without maturing on a personal level. April fights tooth and nail against becoming “boring,” but in the end learns that being a grown-up and being interesting are not diametrically opposed. In the season three episode Jerry’s Painting, Ben moves in with her and Andy as a roommate and is disappointed to find the place in a shambles. After explaining to them that they can’t continue to eat food off of Frisbees, he sends them to Bed Bath and Beyond to buy basic home stuff.
They go a bit nuts filling their cart up with fun stuff until Andy comes to his senses and starts to put everything back, and April worries that they’re becoming boring.
It’s not until season seven, when April and Andy buy a creepy house together,that April finally learns that growing up doesn’t mean growing dull. Like every other character in this show, April’s evolution is so subtle it’s barely noticeable until you look back to where she began. When you look at her compared to Leslie, Ann and Donna, you realise how varied these characters are, without being hugely stereotypical. It’s a shame Parks and Rec had to end, but the quality of the writing and acting will ensure that it lives on in hearts, minds and re-runs for decades to come.