Actors want to leave shows all the damn time it seems. Some because they’ve grown too big for their britches. (We call that Caruso-ing.) Some because they’re exhausted after playing the same character for nearly a decade. (Understandable.) Sometimes it’s a money thing. Sometimes it’s an “you’re insufferable and we hate working with you” thing. But actors come and go and TV writers have to struggle to come up with a departure that makes sense in the context of the world. The easiest thing to do, of course, is to kill someone off. This works both when you have a lot of notice that an actor is leaving (Lady Sybill on Downton Abbey) and when you have no notice that an actor is leaving (Cousin Matthew on Downton Abbey). The body count is so high on Downton at this point that they had no choice but to hastily write off a third character by passing off someone else’s departing feet as O’Brien’s. What’s the Jazz Age equivalent of jumping the shark? Charlestoning over the Dowager? Bumping off people is a fine tradition and works especially well in shows that take place in risky environs like 1920s New Jersey or a bugsh*t alternate dimensional Unitarian Universalist purgatory island scenario. But what if you don’t want to kill off your character? What then? Here are ten scenarios to help emotionally prepare us for Donald Glover’s departure on Community tonight.
“Leaving To Bang George Clooney”— ER: Clooney’s departure was a hard one to reconcile, particularly because we had to believe that Doug Ross would just walk away from the alleged love of his life and, oh yes, THEIR TWIN DAUGHTERS. But it was all worth it because the show was able to pull a stealth Cloons attack when it came time for Nurse Hathaway to leave. I mean, could anyone second guess her decision to leave the arctic environment of Chicago to hook up happily ever after with Clooney? They could not.
“Putting Her Through Hell Before Letting Her Go” — Grey’s Anatomy: Do you remember that they made her f*ck a ghost for a season? Or that they gave her a dreadful cancer wig. We all get it. Heigl isn’t fun to work with (allegedly) and it appears the writers hated her as much as the more reactionary sector of the internet did. So it was a relief when Dr. Stevens finally left Seattle to “find herself” or whatever it was. No more ghost f*cking? Okay!
“Suddenly Needing To Live Somewhere Other Than The City That The Show Has Worked So Hard To Make Us Love” — Parks And Recreation: If you step back from the Ann and Chris departure, it doesn’t make a heap ton of sense, does it? Isn’t the whole premise of the show that Pawnee is heaven on earth? But suddenly it’s not good enough for the Traeger-Perkins spawn? Ann and Chris are going to leave everyone they love? Really? Okay.
“Squandering A Perfectly Tidy Abducted By Aliens Plot” — X-Files: Wouldn’t it have been best for all of us if Mulder had gotten abducted by aliens and stayed that way? Wouldn’t that have been the neatest way for him to go? It all would have made so much sense. But, no, he had to return and hang around and die but not die and go into hiding and, oh dear, it was all very sloppy at the end.
“Running Away From A Horrible Shrew” — Girls: I’m a huge Girls advocate but when the shows says “Charlie left to get away from Marnie” my response is “THAT MAKES ALL THE SENSE IN THE WORLD.” Stay away if you know what’s good for you, Swarles.
“Man Isn’t It Convenient That It Looks Like We’ve Been Planning This For Three Seasons?” — The Office: Amy Ryan’s lovely Holly Flax first popped up in Season 4 and it was clear that she was a perfect match for Michael. Bringing her back early on in Season 7 was the perfect way to lay the groundwork for Michael’s exit. She’s just about the only reason he would leave the job he loved so much.
“We Forgot To Give You A Proper Send-Off Before” — Happy Days: Richie Cunningham the, to be clear, undisputed lead of the show, left to join the army between Seasons 7 and 8. This is a storyline that took place off screen and the show struggled to incorporate Ron Howard’s character as much as they could. (Fonz acts as a proxy in Richie’s wedding to his girlfriend. Okay….) But Ron Howard came back to give the show a proper goodbye with a plot about Richie and his wife and kid moving to LA. The best part of Richie’s farewell? The lingering look he gives the audience. It breaks the fourth wall in a super sappy and earnest way that television can’t pull off anymore. Weeelll, for the most part.
And then we all know what happened next.
“What The Sh*t Are We Going To Do Now?” — Cheers: Before Kelly Taylor chose herself, Diane Chambers chose to say “I Do” to her career over saying it to Sam. The entire show had been built on the chemistry between Danson and Long so letting Diane go was a big risk. But Rebecca made us forget all about Ms. Chambers and in not bumping Diane off, the writers were able to pull Shelley Long back in for the series finale.
“Replacing Them And Hoping Nobody Notices” — Bewitched/Roseanne: My favorite of all.
“WHY GOD WHYYYYY?” — Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Do you get why Giles left? We get why Tony Head left, but do we really get why Giles left? I know he sang a whole song about it. It rhymed! There was counterpoint and harmony and everything! But the basic premise makes the sense that is none. She’s struggling? She’s died and is having a really hard time adjusting? So now would be a good time to yank the rug out and leave? For shame, that’s balderdash. The one upshot of this horrid, nonsensical departure? The rousing cries of “GIIIIIIILESSS!!!!” heard in living rooms around the world when he made his triumphant return.