Earlier today, the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad news broke that Rob Lowe and Rashida Jones will be leaving Parks and Recreation midway through its upcoming season. And in the hours since the announcement, as we tried to process the news, we began to wonder many things: Once Chris and Ann are gone, who will provide Ron with nutritional information he'll promptly ignore? Will we ever see their probably-insanely-healthy baby? Who will Leslie call a beautiful tropical fish? And the biggest question of all: What will happen to the show, once two key members of its ensemble cast are gone?
It's not that Parks can't survive without Chris and Ann. They're supporting members, not the lead, and most of the show's major plotlines won't be too badly affected by their absence. Still, having them gone will undoubtedly have a huge impact on the series. Parks and Rec is an ensemble, meaning that every character is essential to creating the show's chemistry. The cast balances each other out, each personality providing a nice counter to the others. Parks needs Chris' OCD-ish neurosis and Ann's straight-man attitude (mostly — remember when she dated Tom?) as counters for Andy's sloppiness and April's pessimism. Without them, the show will feel empty and unbalanced. It's the same as if Arrested Development kicked off Buster, or Phoebe left Friends — they may not be absolutely essential to the survival of the show, but they would undoubtedly leave a gaping hole.
It's not the first time major characters have left a show, of course. Steve Carell exited The Office, Katherine Heigl left Grey's Anatomy, Charlie Sheen left Two and a Half Men (although that's not much of a loss). Yet in those cases, the actors' behind the scenes reasons for leaving made their exits somewhat expected and endurable. For Parks and Rec, though, it's different. When Lowe and Jones leave, the show won't be better off without them. It'll have to find a way to remake the chemistry that the ensemble perfected. And, in the meantime, we're still left having to process the news like so: