A good sitcom has the ability to play with our emotions. If we’ve engaged enough with the characters over time, we feel like we’ve been on a journey with them. We share their highs, and we share their lows. Those lows, for the most part, take form of a failure that is soon resolved, or perhaps the departure of an actor off to fresher fields. Sometimes, however, a comedy is not afraid to pull on our heart-strings in the most devastating of ways; by killing off a much-loved character. Today we’re going to take a look at some of the most heart-wrenching deaths in some of our most beloved sitcoms.
10. Bea Simmons (The Simpsons)
Back in the days when The Simpsons was actually an animated family drama rather than the lacklustre dead horse that is continually flogged now, Matt Groening was not afraid to play with our emotions. Some of the greatest Simpsons episodes come from earlier seasons, and one that really packs a punch is season 2’s Old Money, in which Abe falls in love with the lovely Bea, only for her to tragically pass away whilst Grandpa is forced to join the rest of the family at a safari park. Grandpa’s subsequent descent into depression is The Simpsons at its bleakest, and arguably best.
9. Victor Meldrew (One Foot in the Grave)
Cantankerous old git Victor Meldrew (Richard Wilson) won our hearts despite being the grumpiest man in Britain. After eleven years of misfortune and unbelievable bad luck, however, his time was finally cut short in the series’ heartbreaking final episode, Things Aren’t Simple Anymore. After Victor is killed in a hit-and-run accident, his long-suffering wife Margaret is left in mourning, eventually making friends with another pensioner by the name of Glynis. Emotions are shattered even more, however, when we discover that Glynis was in fact the driver and the episode ends ambiguously with Margaret possibly having poisoned her husband’s killer.
8. Brian Griffin (Family Guy)
Family Guy is not exactly known for its touching moments. Indeed, usually when something sad or violent happens, it’s disguised by some ridiculous hilarity (see the numerous chicken fights or Stewie’s snotty nose before the kidney operation for confirmation). As such, when Seth McFarlaine actually killed off the sardonic voice of reason, Brian (albeit for what transpired to be only two episodes), audiences were suitably shocked. The sombre episode of the comedy series is a far departure from the norm, and one can’t help but well up as Brian croaks his final farewell on the vet’s operating table.
7. Dan Conner (Roseanne)
With its candid slice of Americana, Roseanne was one of the top shows in the world for almost ten years. Centering on the Conners, a typical working class family struggling to get by, it hit home with audiences. During the final season, the family wins the lottery, each of the children pursue their dreams and everything seems to be coming up roses. The final episode, however, reveals that the entire season has been a story created by Roseanne to deal with her husband Dan’s death from the heart attack he had apparently recovered from at the end of season eight. The revelation shocked audiences, and Roseanne’s coping mechanism has gone down in TV history as one of the most shocking reveals of all time.
6. Ben Sullivan (Scrubs)
With its hospital setting, Scrubs was never one to shy away from the subject of death. Indeed, this list could easily have been made up entirely of Scrubs moments, from Mrs. Tanner in season one, to Laverne’s death in season six. Or even Perry’s three transplant patients lost due to rabies infected organs. The stand out, however is the episode in which we discover that Jordan’s brother and Perry’s best friend Ben (Brendan Fraser) has lost his fight with leukemia. The audience’s subversion combined with Cox’s reaction to the news is simply devastating.
5. The Entire World (Dinosaurs)
Behind its Jim Henson façade, Dinosaurs is one of the smartest family-based of all time. Following the everyday adventures of the Sinclair family, the show tackled all manner of real-life issues from deforestation and drug abuse to the infamous “terrible twos”. After four years, however, audiences were left in stunned silence as the ice age hit our favourite family in the final episode, Changing Nature. As a result of society’s carelessness and irresponsibleness, the end of the world is brought about by the WESAYSO corporation. As the Sinclairs sit huddled in the freezing cold, the world is suffocated by black clouds and nuclear winter, leaving audiences crushed by the allegorical demise of a family so similar to our own.
4. Marvin Eriksen Sr. (How I Met Your Mother)
One of the few American shows that was never afraid to leave the audience feeling broken at the end of an episode, How I Met Your Mother perpetually took fans through a rollercoaster of emotions (including utter rage at the finale…). The most tragic moment comes, however, in the season six episode Bad News when, after worrying about whether or not he and Lily will be able to conceive a child, Marshall receives the crushing news that his father and closest confidant has suffered from a fatal heart attack. The death is made all the more touching as Marvin’s final words come via a voicemail left only moments before his passing.
3. Lt. Colonel Henry Blake (M*A*S*H)
The softly spoken commanding surgeon Henry Blake acted as the heart of the team in the Korean War based comedy drama M*A*S*H, a series which by its setting alone, was rife with sombre moments. The final episode of season three sees Henry planning for a trip home to his wife and family in Illinois. Soon after his departure, however, Radar delivers the news that Blake’s plane has been shot down over the Sea of Japan. The episode received a record number of responses, with audiences devastated by such a shocking moment in what had, until then, been a rather light hearted look at one of America’s toughest times in history.
2. Seymour Asses (Futurama)
Futurama is more famed for its far-out futuristic antics than any kind emotional substance. As such, it is not a surprise that the episode Jurassic Bark, in which we discover the fate of Fry’s loyal canine compadre Seymour, has gone down as one of the televisual highlights of the last few decades. After finding Seymour’s fossilised remains, Fry contemplates bringing his beloved pet back to life. When Professor Farnsworth reveals that Seymour lived twelve more years after Fry was frozen, however, he realizes that the dog lived a full and happy life after he had left. The final sequence of the episode, in which we see the tragic truth, that Seymour had in fact waited Hachiko-like for his master’s return, remains one of the biggest tear-jerkers an animated series has ever delivered.
1. Going Over The Top (Blackadder Goes Forth)
Blackadder took us on a journey through time with its often surreal look at some of the Empire’s most historical periods. When we joined our band in the trenches, however, an ominous cloud hung over their exploits as they tried their hardest to both cope with and escape their fates. In the final episode, in which the order is given for the squadron to go over the top, each character deals with the news in his own bittersweet way. The slow motion mowing down of our heroes followed by the fade into the poppies of Flanders Field remains one of the most memorable moments in British comedy and rightfully takes number one in our top ten.