TV Analysis: The Case of the Vanishing Character

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Anyone who watches a show for more than one season comes to the inevitable tragedy; your favorite side character leaves a show. No, I’m not talking about when it falls in line with the plot of the narrative; i.e. Gus on Breaking Bad or anyone you love on Game of Thrones. I’m talking about when either contract negotiations go sour or an actor leaves a show to pursue another opportunity, or frankly, the character isn’t working, and they just disappear.

Now, there are two ways to handle this: one is to not acknowledge it whatsoever. Very few people realize that Richie Cunningham on Happy Days had an older brother, Chuck. He went upstairs, never to return, and no one was the wiser. Another great example was Family Matters. Judy, Laura and Eddie’s little sister, just… wasn’t on the show anymore, then Aunt Rachel disappeared, then Grandma Winslow… without any kind of explanation. I guess the rest of the Winslows were just too distracted by the antics of the nerdy neighbor Steve Urkel to notice their family was dwindling. My bet is Urkel was the culprit serial killer, but enough of my FMFF (that’s Family Matters Fan Fiction for short)

The other option, and my personal favorite, is have the characters not only acknowledge cast changes, but to make fun of them. Anyone who has binge watched The New Girl has seen this in the character Coach, played by Damon Wayans. Coach was in the pilot, but was replaced on the second episode by Bishop, played by Lamorne Morris. There are a slew of examples of the writers mocking this, one case where Nick Miller tells his future self, “Don’t be mean to Coach, or he’ll leave us for another group of white people,” which, actually happened. Wayans left the cast of Caucasians on New Girl to be the token black cast member on Happy Endings.

Boy Meets World did this type of thing in spades. Morgan Matthews, Corey and Eric’s little sister, was absent for several seasons. She suddenly came down the stairs, and Corey, aghast, says, “Morgan, long time no see.” Morgan responds, “Yeah. That was the longest time out I’ve ever had.” Two years. No kidding.

The show also had Minkus, the arch-rival dweeb who had stopped appearing after the main characters went into high school. Then, as Corey and Shawn are reminiscing about the friends they may have lost touch with, the camera pans to Minkus. He says that he’s been in the other part of the school and points off camera, then runs to greet Mr. Turner, another mainstay character who had disappeared two years before. It’s season 5, episode 24. I highly recommend you check it out.

Altogether, I don’t envy any writer who has to ax a character for the wrong reasons, but I applaud those who give their audience at least a half-hearted or even comical reasoning as to why a character leaves. I mean, that’s a writer’s job, right? That’s my Entertainment, what’s yours?

Written by: John Stiens