Parks & Recreation’s Ann Perkins and The Office’s Karen Filippelli are both played by Rashida Jones - and both characters could really be the same person. Actors jump from one TV show to another all the time, and sometimes their characters have some similarities that make fans believe they are the same character or the shows are part of the same universe; sometimes it's done on purpose while other times it's a mere coincidence. But perhaps in the case of Jones' characters, it was the former.
The Office was a TV mockumentary sitcom created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, later adapted for American television by Greg Daniels. The series, which premiered in 2005, followed the daily lives of office employees in the Scranton, Pennsylvania, branch of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. Parks & Recreation was created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, debuting on NBC in 2009. Originally developed as a spinoff of The Office, Parks & Recreation followed a perky bureaucrat, Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), working at the Parks Department in Pawnee, Indiana, as well as her coworkers and friends. Both series had Jones as part of their casts, and this has made fans believe she played the same character, but with a different identity.
Rashida Jones played Karen Filippelli in The Office, and was the regional manager of Dunder Mifflin Utica and ex-girlfriend of Jim Halpert (John Krasinski). The theory (via Reddit) suggests that, as Karen testified against the Scranton Strangler and it was a high profile case, she entered the Witness Protection Program. She was sent to the small town of Pawnee, Indiana, under the alias of Ann Perkins. In Parks & Recreation, Jones played Ann Perkins, a nurse who became Leslie’s best friend when she started to attend Parks and Recreation meetings after her boyfriend fell into a large pit next to her house and broke his legs.
Although it’s a fun theory, it doesn’t quite add up. After breaking up with Jim, Karen was later shown to be happily married and expecting her first child – Ann Perkins, on the other hand, didn’t have kids at the beginning of the series. Had Karen been part of Witness Protection Program, that would have covered her family too, and even if she had divorced Dan, there was no mention of their child. Ann eventually became a mom when she went through the process of in vitro fertilization and asked her ex-boyfriend, Chris Traeger, to be the father. They got together again later on and raised two children.
Given the initial connection between The Office and Parks & Recreation, fans are constantly looking for clues and links, whether in events or in characters, like Karen and Ann. This theory has many flaws, but it’s fun to think of Ann Perkins as someone who had a very different past, in another town, with an entirely different career.