With Steve Carell leaving ‘The Office’ last month, it’s time to reflect on big goodbye episodes. I thought ‘The Office’ pulled off his departure well, although I’m not sure how I feel about the future of the show.
Here’s my top ten list of other shows that have successfully sent a character off in style. The rules: it is a true “goodbye” episode with a major character or star departing. If it happens off-screen, it doesn’t count. So that’s why I’m not including some obvious departures, such as Rhoda Morgenstern, Frank Burns, Coach Pantusso, etc.
Here they are. Do you agree?
10. T.R. Knight, ‘Grey's Anatomy’ – ‘Now or Never’ – May 14, 2009
I wasn’t even a fan of the show by this point, but rarely has a regular character exited a TV show in such a twist. Thinking George had already left, the staff treats a badly disfigured John Doe who has been hit by a bus. The final revelation that it’s George packs a wallop. Perhaps a cruel sendoff, but a powerful one.
9. Jimmy Smits, ‘NYPD Blue’ – ‘Heart and Souls’ – Nov. 24, 1998
Speaking of powerful send-offs, we know Bobby Simone is critically ill after a heart transplant, but watching him die is still wrenching. But the most poignant part of his exit is the end of the Simone-Sipowicz relationship. Bobby dies in the episode, but so does part of Andy.
8. Anthony Edwards, ‘ER’ – ‘On the Beach’ – May 9, 2002
Okay, let’s get the sad deaths out of the way, shall we? Dr. Greene is ill with brain cancer and chooses to spend his last days on the beach. He does manage to make up with his daughter before succumbing. The staff receives the news while working. It is a realistic, cold, hard death. And his exit would be felt for many seasons.
7. Diana Muldaur, ‘L.A. Law’ – ‘Good to the Last Drop’ – March 21, 1991
Hmm, another death. But this one’s different. Rosalind Shays is such a love-her-or-hate-her character. She is notorious. Many characters at the law firm probably fantasized about her dying. So when she randomly steps into an empty elevator shaft and falls to her death, it’s one of those shocking moments where you don’t know whether to laugh, gasp or shriek. It is an abrupt end to a polarizing character.
6. Gary Burghoff and McLean Stevenson, ‘M*A*S*H’ – ‘Abyssinia, Henry’ – March 18, 1975; ‘Goodbye, Radar’ – Oct. 8 and 15, 1979
Some people are still mad about this show killing off Col. Blake. When Henry gets discharged, it seems like a happy moment. But when everyone gets word he got killed on his way home, the show turns instantly tragic. It is the saddest moment of the series, and probably the most shocking. Radar’s departure is not as sad, but after seven years on the show, seeing characters bid him farewell is heart-wrenching. If you don’t choke up when Col. Potter tears up telling him, “It’s not exactly how I wanted to say goodbye, Radar,” you might not be human.
5. Bea Arthur, ‘The Golden Girls’ – One Flew Out of the Cuckoo’s Nest’ – May 9, 1992
One might argue Bea Arthur did not actually leave the show since this is the last episode, but she really did. It would have continued if she hadn’t departed, and it did continue, in fact, in the form of the failed spin-off ‘The Golden Palace’ on CBS. In this finale, Dorothy finally finds love after Stan in the form of Leslie Nielsen. She walks down the aisle and prepares to move away. Her final goodbye to the girls, when she tearfully re-emerges twice for another hug, is perhaps the series’ most emotional scene.
4. Shelley Long, ‘Cheers’ – ‘I do, Adieu’ – May 7, 1987
Sam and Diane have already been house-shopping and are prepared to walk down the aisle, but a roadblock emerges. A publisher expresses interest in publishing Diane’s novel, and before they say, “I do,” Sam halts the ceremony and sends Diane off to live her dream. He knows it’s a final goodbye, though, and tells her, “Have a good life.” The camera cuts to his fantasy of him and Diane in some sort of alternate universe, dancing together, growing old together.
3. Dominic Monaghan, ‘LOST’ – ‘Through the Looking Glass’ – May 23, 2007
This episode has a lot going on, brilliantly so, but we know Charlie’s doom might be imminent. Desmond has predicted he will die, and sure enough, the prophecy comes true. Charlie realizes he must sacrifice himself for his friends, and watching him drown is probably the most gut-wrenching moment of the show, ever. Thanks to Director Jack Bender and Composer Michael Giacchino, it’s one of the most poignant character deaths of the last quarter century.
2. Johnny Carson, ‘The Tonight Show’ – May 22, 1992
Okay, am I cheating here? Maybe a little, but this is one of the most memorable TV farewells ever. Even if Johnny isn’t playing a character, his departure from ‘The Tonight Show’ ranks as one of TV’s most heartfelt goodbyes. Whether it’s seeing Bette Midler serenade him, or watching him say one final farewell, the show is a finale for the ages.
1. The entire cast of ‘M*A*S*H’ – ‘Goodbye, Farwell and Amen’ – Feb. 28, 1983
Maybe I’m cheating again, but so what? This episode is like a major character’s departure, times ten. Or 50. Everyone is leaving Korea (well, except Klinger) and everyone is saying goodbye, like, forever. The emotions are magnified. From Hawkeye and Margaret’s kiss to Col. Potter’s final trot on Sophie to B.J.’s goodbye note to Hawkeye, the finality of this episode, for each character, blasts all others - hands down.