The Very Best of the Many Great Characters on Parks and Recreation

Slate's Culture Blog
April 19 2012 3:18 PM

Character Studies: April, Parks and Recreation

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Aubrey Plaza as April Ludgate on Parks and Recreation.

Danny Feld/NBC

NBC’s Parks and Recreation, the fourth season of which returns for its last few episodes tonight, boasts a wealth of great characters, from tough-as-nails Ron Swanson to the adorable Jean-Ralphio. But April Ludgate, Swanson’s college-age assistant, steals the show more regularly than any of them. One of the “99 Hottest Fictional Women Of 2012,” who delivered one of the Best TV Lines of 2011, she has garnered millions of fans and inspired thousands of fan-blogs, including the inevitable “Fuck Yeah, April Ludgate.”

Why? It begins with the casting. The character of April was written specifically for Aubrey Plaza, who left such an impression on Parks and Rec co-creator Michael Schur that he wrote her into the show. “Aubrey came over to my office and made me feel really uncomfortable for like an hour, and immediately I wanted to put her in the show,” he has said. This is why April’s oddball shtick never gets old: It’s genuine, not an over-the-top put-on.

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Plaza has perfected the sort of deadpan sitcom irony you also see on Arrested Development and The Office. “My mom’s Puerto Rican,” she quips in the episode “Sister City.” “That’s why I’m so lively and colorful.” Her wry approach to life also shapes her reluctant interactions with co-workers: Leslie’s aspirations to become her “mentor” fail miserably, as do Ann’s attempts to sustain more than “four seconds” of conversation with her. At the same time, April’s proclaimed hatred for workplace productivity and “talking to people about things” helps her forge a silent bond with the anti-social Ron. Both characters balance out Leslie’s effervescent persona, though April in particular reins in her boss’s earnest—and sometimes irksome—tendencies.

Idiosyncratic as she may be, April’s smart-ass quips and signature eye-roll also make her something of an archetypal twenty-something. She despises “stupid boring adult stuff” and listens to indie bands like Neutral Milk Hotel. At the Parks Department, she devotes much of her time and energy to avoiding menial tasks, somehow working her up from Leslie’s dispassionate, underachieving intern to Ron’s dispassionate, underachieving administrative assistant. (In an unlikely but interesting recent development, she’s been asked to fill in for Leslie, who’s running for local office.) Toward the end of Season 2, her deliberate inefficiency is put to the test when Ron enlists her help to escape—or further postpone—94 meetings scheduled on a particular day. In one scene, she successfully scares off someone wanting to meet with him by offering rescheduling dates like “June 50th” and “Marchtember Oneteenth.”  

Yes, everything April says or does drips with irony, and her vaguely disillusioned attitude may seem to some cooler-than-thou—especially as the rest of her co-workers fall into chaos and frivolity. But over the last two seasons, in particular, April Ludgate has become a surprisingly three-dimensional character. Her emotional repertoire has expanded considerably, thanks in large part to her unlikely romance—and eventual marriage to—goofball Andy Dwyer. “Somehow, it seemed to make sense that April Ludgate would be tired of only scowling at things, and could fall for a guy who is nothing but upbeat and positive,” Schur said of April’s development. “It’s really given Aubrey a chance to show off lots of different colors.”

April’s emotional inaccessibility only heightens the flashes of tenderness and sincerity that do slip through, leading us to see her less as a smirking, stereotypical millennial, and more as a full-fledged young woman.

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