What is Ann Perkins Syndrome? Based on the popular Parks and Recreation character played by Rashida Jones, Ann Perkins syndrome is when a character who does not organically fit into the main action of a series or plotline is forced — often by unwieldy means — into the orbit of the main characters or story arc in order to allow that popular character more screentime. This often happens when a character — who originally fit into the main storyline — exhausts his or her original character arc, and a reason has to be contrived to get the character back into the main action.
Let me explain with nine examples, beginning with Ann Perkins herself.
Ann Perkins (Parks and Recreation) — In the first season, Ann Perkins was introduced to Parks and Recreation as a Pawnee resident with a dangerous tract of land in her backyard, which Leslie Knope and the Parks department eventually designated an area to build a new park. Once that plotline was exhausted, however, the writers had to find various different excuses to keep Ann Perkins a part of the action, including making her character — a nurse — a health advisor to the Pawnee Parks Department. Although unwieldy at times, it allowed for Ann and Leslie’s friendship to blossom to that point that now she exists on the show mostly as Leslie’s best friend and as the city manager’s girlfriend (however, with her and Rob Lowe’s character having a child, the series has finally completely exhausted her character’s utility, which is why both she and Rob Lowe are being written out of the show).
Nicholas Brody (Homeland) — At the end of season two of Homeland, having been blamed for the bombing of Langley, Brody went on the lam and, except perhaps as a fugitive the CIA could track down, didn’t have much use to the show. In fact, the writers put him on the sidelines by hiding him out in a South American country, where he was left to become a drug addict. Using a very dumb contrivance, they were able to bring him back into the action by making Brody an assassin. It was initially very unwieldy, but by the end of the season, the implausible contrivance paid off in the finale, one of the best dramatic episodes of 2012.
Dewey Crowe (Justified) — A very popular character through the first three seasons of Justified (particularly the third), Dewey Crowe is seemingly disposed of in the third season after he robs several places and brutally beats up a man in an attempt to raise $20,000 for what he thought was to get his kidney back. However, he is brought back in the fifth season for reasons that, on their face, wouldn’t seem to work: He wins a $300,000 settlement from the government for the abuse he suffered at the hands of Raylan, and he uses that money to purchase the bar owned by Boyd Crowder, which not only thrust Dewey back into the main action, it brought much of his family into it, as well. The writers were smart to introduce the contrivance and quickly dismiss it, moving straight into the season’s main storyline.
Hank (Parenthood) — At the end of the fourth season, Hank (played by Ray Romano) left Berkeley, broke up with Sarah Braverman when the long distance thing didn’t work out, and had seemingly been written out of the show. However, he returned this season, not as Sarah Braverman’s boyfriend, but as a mentor to Max Braverman, an autistic child. During the course of the mentorship, Hank realizes that he also exhibits symptoms of autism. It doesn’t sound like it should work at all (and I rolled my eyes more than a few times) but Jason Katims managed very successfully to weave Hank into the Braverman family action, in unexpectedly touching and poignant ways.
CeCe (New Girl) — A classic case of Ann Perkins syndrome, CeCe is a main character on New Girl, but since she’s a supermodel and doesn’t live with any of the other main characters, once her and Schmidt’s relationship fizzled out, the show didn’t know what to do with her. So, they strangely took a supermodel and turned her into a bartender, where he could continue to be part of the main action as a co-worker of Nick’s. We’re not yet sure if it will work in the long term, but her scenes as a bartender have been very effective.
Wayne Unser (Sons of Anarchy) — Kurt Sutter handled Unser’s Ann Perkins problem in a strange way: By not really handling it at all. Once he stepped down as sheriff of Charming, which was his original purpose on the show, Sutter basically decided to move him into a trailer next to the SAMCRO clubhouse, and use him as a wild card. Whenever Sutter needs someone to witness an event, or act as a go-between of confidante, or keep a secret, it’s often Wayne Unser upon whom he relies. It doesn’t make a ton of sense (Unser should’ve been dead from terminal cancer years ago), but it works.
Chang (Community) — Since the first season, when Chang was fired as a professor at Greendale, the series has had major difficulties keeping an actor — who became popular after the Hangover movies — part of the main action, choosing to use him as a study group hanger on, a study group stalker, and –worst of all — giving him Changnesia. But this season, Dan Harmon has taken a page out of Kurt Sutter’s book and instead of injecting Chang into the main action, he uses him when convenient as a bridge, or a plot device, or a punchline, and in doing so, is beginning to remind us of the scene-stealer supporting character that Chang was in the first season.
Sheila Jackson (Shameless) — Originally, Joan Cusack’s character was brought in as a love interest to William H. Macy’s Frank, and the show did a decent job of keeping her a part of the main storylines after that was exhausted when her daughter had a relationship with Frank’s son, Lip, and there was a lot of drama (including a baby) involved in that. But with no relationship with Frank, and her daughter having left the show, the Shameless writers have clearly had difficulties incorporating Sheila into the storyline. It remains to be seen how well it will play out over the course of the season, but as of right now, Sheila — for no apparent reason whatsoever — spends all day at the Gallagher house cleaning it and offering babysitting services. I suspect, however, that it will eventually pay dividends to the story.
The Entire Damn Cast (Archer) — This is a case where the entire series suffered from Ann Perkins Syndrome. The writers had nothing left to do with the premise, so they simply changed it, transforming spies into a drug cartel, and Cheryl Tunt into an aspiring country singer. This would never work on any other show, ever, but it has worked to brilliant effect so far on Archer. However, while everything else has been completely believable, I draw the line at Ray Gillette become a music teacher to Cheryl. That’s just ridiculous.
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