News of Rob Lowe and Rashida Jones' planned midseason departure from “Parks and Recreation” marks, as Lowe's hyperbole-prone Chris Traeger character might put it, literally the biggest blow yet to an often-underappreciated gem of a show.
Then again, the endlessly enthusiastic Chris would embrace the prospect of plunging into the unknown, even if the prescription for TV success doesn’t include his penchant for megavitamins and constant exercise. The upheaval to life in Pawnee, Ind., comes amid a spate of changes set this fall for established programs faced with the challenge of making the show go on.
Chevy Chase appears done with the resilient "Community," while Donald Glover's burgeoning career will relegate him to part-time status this season. Angus T. Jones, the “Half” on “Two and a Half Men,” won’t be around much anymore on the long-running sitcom, which already survived Charlie Sheen’s 2011 implosion.
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"Saturday Night Live" begins its 39th season without Fred Armisen, Bill Hader and Jason Sudeikis. Seth Meyers is set to leave midseason to replace Jimmy Fallon, who is replacing “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno, a battle-worn veteran of TV shakeups.
On the drama front, Dan Stevens has exited “Downton Abbey” and Cote de Pablo is saying goodbye to “NCIS” after eight seasons. “Glee,” sadly, can never be the same after the tragic death of Cory Monteith.
There is, of course, precedent for shows thriving after the departure of major characters, with “Cheers” and “MASH” leading the comedy pack. More recently, “The Office” rebounded from a shaky period after Steve Carell left near the end of the Season 7, finishing strong in its ninth and last outing. Dramas seem to weather change better than sitcoms, whether in realistic shows (“ER,” “Law & Order”) or campy soaps (“Dallas,” where a shower washed away a season).
The shows that successfully forge ahead are tied by strong writing and quality ensemble casts, even if creating new chemistry is far from an exact science. Still, some programs just don't know when to quit, post-major departures, most notably “All in the Family” and “Happy Days," which floundered after Fonzie jumped the shark.
Jumping a shark sounds like a dare Chris Traeger would relish. But we’re not too worried about “Parks and Recreation,” which is coming off its fifth and best season, striking its most winning quirk-to-substance ratio.
Still, Lowe and Jones will be missed. Lowe’s Traeger rivaled Nick Offerman’s mustachioed meat lover Ron Swanson as the show’s most meme-friendly breakout character, thanks to his constant use (and misuse) of “literally” (“It has literally been a world class pleasure,” Lowe tweeted after news of his impending departure broke). Jones brought humor and vulnerability to Ann Perkins, the grounded, if lovelorn, best friend/straight woman to Amy Poehler’s pie-in-sky-reaching Leslie Knope (March 14 always be “Ann Day” on Leslie’s calendar, where seemingly everyday is a holiday).
The on-and-off Chris-and-Ann relationship, presumably, will play a key role in the episodes leading up to their farewell. In the meantime, check out one fan’s supercut of Chris employing his favorite L-word:
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.