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The Most Important Parks And Recreation Character Isn't Who You Think

Sometimes, the main thing a sitcom really needs in order to achieve greatness is a strong cast. No one understands that better than Michael Schur, and no show in Schur's oeuvre captures that understanding better than Parks and Recreation, NBC's beloved public-sector workplace comedy that ran from 2009 to 2015.

Though the show took a while to find its footing and stand apart from The Office, it finally hit its stride when it began to move away from ho-hum satirical cynicism and treat its 10-person ensemble like a big, happy, lovable family, warts and all. Parks and Recreation eventually became so adroit at realizing each character's potential and giving everyone a chance to shine that it single-handedly launched at least four incredibly successful acting careers — for Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, Aziz Ansari, and Nick Offerman. No other show could have done it.

Naturally, every fan of the show is going to have their own favorite character, whether it's Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) and her unflagging optimism, Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) and his well-meaning dorkiness, Ron Swanson (Offerman) and his stoic-with-a-heart-of-gold persona, or even a memorable recurring player like Jennifer Barkley (Kathryn Hahn) or The Douche (Nick Kroll). 

There's no settling on a "best" character when it comes to such a lovable gallery of weirdos. However there is a strong argument to be made for one specific Parks character as the most important one, and, incidentally, she may also be the show's most underrated.

Parks and Recreation wouldn't exist at all without Ann Perkins

After getting through all seven seasons and 126 episodes of the Pawnee Parks and Recreation Department's various adventures, it's quite easy to forget about where it all started. 

The six-episode first season is so different from the rest of the show, in fact, that fans sometimes disregard it altogether. But the fact remains that Parks and Recreation originally told a very defined central story that served to bring all the characters together. And that story wouldn't have gotten off the ground, so to speak, without Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones).

Parks and Recreation began as a tale of valiant efforts to fill a pit. In the first of what would become the show's signature chaotic public forums, Ann, a local nurse, took the initiative to demand that the government get rid of the abandoned construction pit next to her house, which had caused her boyfriend Andy Dwyer (Pratt) to fall in and sustain serious injuries. The pit was too big to be realistically turned into a park under Pawnee's budget constraints, but Ann's dedication and support inspired Leslie to mobilize her department and pursue the project at all costs, thus giving rise to the ensemble dynamic we'd all come to love.

In addition to determining the beginning of Parks and Recreation as a story, Ann Perkins was, in many ways, the show's heart. As a skeptical yet kind-hearted regular citizen, she provided the audience with a crucial outsider's viewpoint into the workings of small-town government, throwing the Parks Department's outlandish failures and hard-earned successes into sharp relief and acting as a relatable buffer to the other characters' over-the-top personalities — in large part thanks to the effortless everywoman charisma of Rashida Jones. And her uneasy collaboration with Leslie eventually blossomed into one of TV's most beautiful friendships, the emotional core of Parks and Recreation in every conceivable way. Though it's debatable whether the writers totally did right by Ann as the seasons went on, it's undeniable that Parks wouldn't have gotten to where it did without her.