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.