Chuck Cunningham Syndrome is the tragic loss of a TV character who just wasn't interesting enough to keep around on the show.
These people might have been around for years, or maybe only a couple episodes, but one day they vanish from the face of the earth. Never to be seen or heard from again. Why does this happen? Do the television Powers That Be think that we're just not going to notice one missing character? Come on. We're fans. We would notice if one of the characters was eating a sandwich with peanut butter and jelly when four seasons earlier that very same character had a throwaway line about a peanut allergy. These are the kinds of things that make the world of Tumblr go 'round.
So why do they choose to send these characters off into oblivion? Well, there's a few reasons.
Maybe the character isn't going over as well as it should. Maybe they realized that having five kids in the family is too complicated and expensive, so they decide to downsize. It is a rough economy, after all. Maybe they don't know how to write for them anymore, maybe they think that their story line has played out and they don't have anything to contribute, but regardless, there's no excuse for the complete lack of thought in writing these characters off the show.
10. Judy Winslow - Family Matters
Judy Winslow was the youngest daughter of Carl and Harriette Winslow. We say "was", because all of a sudden she seemingly got kicked out of the family. Five seasons into the show's run. There's gratitude for you.
Arguably, Judy didn't bring a huge amount to the show, and with Urkel's popularity at an all time high, Judy was seen as more or less expendable. But this is a particularly odd example, because it happens after the character has been on the show for five years. And then she's just gone one day. No explanation. And they just basically retcon everything that's happened with her character for that entire time.
It's inexplicable that the writers would remove such a main character to the show, but if it had to happen, they should have at least written a line or two explaining where she was. "Where's Judy?" "Oh, she is (with Grandma/in military school/ran off to join the circus/ran off to join a cult)." Literally any of those would have made more sense than just pretending that she never existed. Shame on you, writers. Do you think your viewers are stupid?
9. Bobby - All My Children
Bobby Martin was the twelve-year-old son of Dr. Joe Martin, and his only real crime was having brothers and sisters. Ultimately, the producers of the show decided that there were too many Martins running around, and they wrote off little Bobby.
They sent him up to the attic to get his skis (never mind the fact that he was about to head off to summer camp...water skis maybe?) and he just never came back downstairs again. The most galling part about this whole mess is that it's a soap opera. There are literally limitless possibilities to write off characters. You don't want a character around anymore? Fine. Have him die from a rare blood disease, or get eaten by a werewolf, or fall down a well for ten years until the character could be played by an adult actor and not have to deal with pesky child labor laws.
The world is your oyster, All My Children! Creating melodramatic and unrealistic deaths for your unwanted characters is what you were put on earth to do! And you sent little Bobby up to the attic? That's what you came up with? Wasted opportunities. Never let it be said, however, that they didn't have a sense of humor about their writing. Years later, a character went up to the attic, only to find a skeleton wearing a ski cap with the name Bobby on it.
8. Chuck Cunningham - Happy Days
Chuck was the older brother of Richie Cunningham, the star of Happy Days (until Fonzie became the golden boy and even Richie's parents started liking him better, but that's another story). It would remiss not to mention him in this article - after all, Chuck is the trope namer, the patron saint of disappearing siblings, if you will.
Chuck Cunningham was featured in eleven episodes of the first season of the show, while Happy Days was still finding its footing. He was away at college, so he only appeared sporadically, but when he did show up he was almost always carrying a basketball. But then season two rolled around, and he was gone. He went upstairs one day, and just never came back. The family seems to forget that he ever existed, and Richie and Joanie carry on as though they're the only two Cunningham siblings. Mr. Cunningham even goes so far as to refer to his "two kids". As in, two kids total. No Chuck. Chuck never existed. And poor Chuck is probably still sitting upstairs in that room, waiting for a pickup basketball game that will never come.
7. Detective Kate Lockley - Angel
Kate Lockley was an LAPD officer, a tough as nails skeptic that was alternately allies and enemies with Angel, depending on which episode it was. With Angel working as a supernatural detective, she provided a link into the real world of investigation, giving the writers an easy way for him to obtain information from the police.
But as the narrative structure of the show shifted ever so slightly away from it's original detective theme, they didn't really know what to do with her. The character didn't fit as well into the show as it had evolved, so they got rid of her. No shame in that. But she has a very abrupt departure...one minute she's one of the show's main characters, second only to Doyle and Cordelia, and featured in nearly every episode. Then she's just gone.
Her storyline comes to an end after her suicide attempt, but it's just weird that someone who was so much a part of Angel's life would never be heard from again. Did she leave LA for a less occult city (maybe Cleveland)? Is she still around somewhere in the city, hiding from her grief? She was such an interesting character, and while it makes sense that they wrote her off, it still would have been nice to have a little bit of closure.
6. Grace Miller - Scrubs
Oftentimes, when a television show develops an unexpected breakout star from one of their secondary characters, a knee-jerk reaction is to try and replicate their success by creating a similar character of the opposite gender.
Sometimes audiences are on board, like the time when Sheldon Cooper became the star of The Big Bang Theory, and they created his mirror image in Amy Farrah-Fowler. But then there's the significantly less successful attempts, like when Scrubs tried to create a female version of Dr. Cox. The result was Dr. Grace Miller, and it didn't take anyone a very long time to realize that they hadn't thought the idea through.
First and foremost, Dr. Cox is a fantastic character, but he's dangerously close to being Too Much. Put two Dr. Coxes on the show, and there's a huge potential for the audience to find the whole situation incredibly grating. Which is what happened with poor Dr. Miller. There was a massive promotional build-up before she was on the show, and then there was very little payoff.
Bottom line: the audience did not embrace the character the way they had been hoping for, and she only lasted six episodes before being unceremoniously removed from the show.
5. Half The Cast Of Boy Meets World - Boy Meets World
This sort of thing happens every few episodes on Boy Meets World, so it's best not to get too attached to anyone. And it's not just one-off characters, either, that we don't really need to see again -- it's close friends and familial connections that should have been a part of the canon continuity.
For example, how many of you remember that Topanga once had an older sister named Nebula, only to somehow become an only child? Or that over the years, Shawn has had three different siblings, only one of which has stuck (Matthew Lawrence as Jack). He had an older sister named Stacey very early on in the series, and an older brother who he caught stealing on camera. We can only assume that these two ragamuffins fell into an open sewer or something for the duration of the show, because Shawn seemed to forget about them.
Then there's Mr. Turner, who has a pretty substantial story line as Shawn's pseudo-adoptive father. It ends after a serious motorcycle accident with Shawn praying at the foot of an unconscious Mr. Turner's hospital bed. They close out the episode with Mr Turner's fate remaining ambiguous, and then they never bring it up again. Come on. You can't do that! We don't ever see Mr. Turner again, and Shawn never even mentions the man who was kind enough to take him into his home when he needed it. Which makes it pretty clear that Boy Meets World just straight up did not care about continuity.
4. Tom Milligan - Doctor Who
After the Master takes over the world, Martha is sent on a mission to walk the earth for a year, telling people of the Doctor so that he can use the powers of their good vibes and resurrect himself a la Jesus Christ. Along the way, she meets another doctor, a kind-hearted, devastatingly handsome young man by the name of Tom Milligan. They have a brief connection, and Tom gives his life trying to protect Martha.
After the world reverts back to its former self, Martha decides to track Tom down, seeing that he's not dead and all. The next time we see her, she's glowing and has a ring on her finger. Finally, Martha has the doctor that she deserves. But then when she shows up in Ten's very last episode, all of a sudden she's married to Mickey. They're a cute couple and all, but...um, guys? Where did Tom go? Why even bother writing this whole subplot about her finding him and them falling in love if Martha/Mickey is endgame?
Putting aside the fact that Martha and Tom were adorable together, it's kind of silly to think that all of Ten's former companions need to be neatly paired off with one another. It wouldn't have taken anything from either character to keep Martha and Tom together, and it certainly would have been less jarring.
3. Tina And Valerie Pinciotti - That 70s Show
Once upon a time, there was a girl named Donna who lived next door to a boy named Eric. Donna had a younger sister named Tina, and an older sister named Valerie, who was supposed to be away at college.
We met Tina early on in the show, when Donna threw a party and Tina flirted with Fez. She was supposed to be fourteen years old, so presumably too young to leave home, but after that first season episode, we never saw her again. The only other mention of her comes at the end of a second season episode, where the narrator dramatically wonders where she's gone off to. Valerie, it seems, was just an elaborate figment of the collective Pinciotti imagination, as she is neither seen nor heard.
It's entirely possible that these characters were invented and summarily destroyed as a nod to Happy Days, which That 70s Show frequently riffs on. Less clear is the loss of Eric's sister Laurie, who stopped appearing in episodes after being a supporting character for several years. This can be excused, though, because Laurie had a somewhat strained relationship with her family, and we can assume that she still exists somewhere out there, she just doesn't come home very often. Red and Kitty never go so far as to deny her existence (they refer to themselves as having "kids"), which is more than we can say for Bob, Midge, and Donna, who have wiped the memory of Tina and Valerie completely out of their minds.
2. Two Out Of Five Torkelson Children - The Torkelsons/Almost Home
The Torkelsons was an odd bird. It was this fluffy little show about a folksy, traditional family living in Oklahoma. They're dirt poor, as the mother Millicent struggles to support her five children after her husband left them.
The show lasted for one season in this incarnation, and then was retooled and renamed (becoming Almost Home) before the second season in an effort to increase ratings. Millicent takes a job as a nanny, and hauls her three children up to Seattle. You read that right. Three children. Because you see, in between seasons, Millicent managed to unload the less memorable children of the family, and vowed never to speak of them again. Imagine the surprise of sitting down to watch this show, and thinking, "Wait. I'm pretty sure there were five kids last year. I know there were!"
But of course, Wikipedia didn't exist back then, so you would have no way of knowing if you had just made up these two extra kids in your head. Alas, it's true: 12-year-old Steven Floyd and 10-year-old Ruth Ann did not make the cut. Did they just expect us all not to notice? And after all that, Almost Home was canceled after only one season.
1. Stephen - The Tomorrow People
The Tomorrow People were a group of (mostly British) people who have to keep their superpowers hidden from the average Joes. They have the ability of teleportation (called "jaunting") and telekinesis, among others. Stephen Jameson was written to be the main protagonist, as a young teen learning to come to terms with his special abilities.
When you've been a leading character on a TV show for four whole years, it's not asking too much to at least be given a decent departure episode before you're tossed to the curb like yesterday's rubbish. Stephen was one of the first characters introduced on The Tomorrow People, and he was one of the two longest running actors on the show. So how could it be that after the fourth season, they just decided to get rid of him?
They didn't even have the courtesy to write him out of the show -- because that at least would require a little bit of effort. They just made the executive decision to not have one of the stars of the show come back for the fifth season, with nary a throwaway comment about where he had gone off to. This sort of injustice should not happen in polite society.