Last week’s episode of Glee featured a shocking development: the death of Jean Sylvester, a lovable woman with Down’s Syndrome.
Jean was perhaps the only person on earth who brought her sister Sue, the show’s ultra-bitter cheerleading coach happiness. Despite Sue’s bad attitude, Glee members help her clean out Jean’s nursing home room and sing at her funeral, a teary Willy Wonka-themed event. Even Sue cries. “As much as we loved seeing the Glee Club support Sue, and Sue make nice in return, we’re going to miss Jean!” reads one comment on ScreenCrave.
Killing TV characters off is a cherished sitcom tradition, done to boost ratings, eliminate unlikable personalities or just titillate viewers; if someone fans hate is killed viewers rejoice, if someone fans love is killed there can be a backlash. “It’s the atom bomb, and you have to be very careful about how you use the atom bomb,” Salon TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz recently told Wetpaint. “In some cases they are killing the character because they feel it is the dramatically right thing to do…In other cases, they’re having a fight with the actor; the actor wants more money, or the actor is an asshole.”
One of the most talked about TV kill offs of the last decade came in the twelfth episode of season 5 of HBO’s, The Sopranos. Adriana, a sassy bombshell long familiar with the mob life and girlfriend of Christopher, a fast rising star in the Soprano crime family, is set up as manager of the Crazy Horse nightclub. When Sal “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero gets whacked it becomes apparent to the FBI that Christopher is a big deal in the family; they see Adriana as a weak link and a way in. An agent befriends her but when Christopher makes a pass the mission is cut short. The FBI then tries to get info from Adriana by threatening her with jail time for dealing cocaine at Crazy Horse. She refuses but when the FBI learns of her involvement in a murder at the club cooperating seems like the only choice. Adriana admits to Christopher what she did, hoping he’ll understand, instead he beats her within an inch of her life and tells Tony Soprano. Tony has her murdered that very day. The episode won several Emmy Awards and was voted by Empire Magazine as “the best Sopranos episode of all-time.”
Another well-watched kill off occurred on the popular WB drama, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in an episode entitled, The Body. In it, Buffy comes home and notices flowers have arrived for her step-mother Joyce. Buffy calls for her but gets no answer. She finds her lifeless body on the sofa, staring blankly at the ceiling. Buffy, who has violently killed countless evildoers, is stunned by this natural death. She shakes Joyce and screams in her face then attempts CPR, all to no avail. Paramedics arrive and announce Joyce dead, Buffy goes into the hall and throws up. At the hospital a doctor tells Buffy she died of an aneurysm, suddenly and painlessly. While Buffy’s sister Dawn is viewing the body in the morgue a nearby body gets up and attacks her, turns out it’s a vampire. Buffy rushes to the rescue and slays it. Fans raved about the episode for weeks. “The Body has been described by multiple critics as one of the best television episodes ever broadcast,” states the show’s Wikipedia page.
A kill off that didn’t go nearly as well was that of Dawson’s dad, Mitch Leery, in Dawson’s Creek. During the first several years of the show Mitch struggles through a variety of jobs; substitute teacher, guidance counselor, high school football coach and co-owner of the family’s restaurant, Leery’s Fresh Fish, as well as a variety of women, including the high school’s film teacher and Gail, the wife he leaves in season two but gets back together with in season three. In season four Gail and him have a second child and continue to run the fish restaurant, all seems to be going swimmingly. Then in season five Dawson drops out of film school, leading to a bitter argument between him and Mitch. That night, on his way home from buying milk, Mitch is killed in a car accident. “It was so obvious that show was just out of drama and they needed something new to keep the tears coming,” New York magazine TV critic Patricia Greco told Wetpaint. “So they went for this kill — Dawson’s dad — and it didn’t work.”
“The show was already past its prime,” Greco added, “and viewers weren’t buying this cheap trick.”