- Beloved characters often return unexpectedly to shows, even after their departure seemed final.
- Actors leave shows for various reasons, but if they leave on good terms, they may be invited back in the future.
- The return of a character can fix any dissatisfaction with their departure and offer closure to their story arc.
There is nothing better than seeing a beloved character unexpectedly return to the show after all hope for their reappearance has already faded. It is not uncommon for actors to depart from TV series before the finale, which tends to result in their characters being written out of the plot. However, in rare cases, previous cast members may agree to come back for an anniversary episode, the finale, or even permanently if the circumstances that used to prevent them from filming the series have changed. For instance, That ’70s Show‘s Eric left after season 7, but Topher Grace did make a cameo appearance in the series finale.
The reason for the main actor’s departure from the show is often quite obvious. There may be a scheduling conflict with another more profitable project, the cast member may want to get on with their film career, they may have creative differences with the showrunners, and so much more. However, if the actor parts on good terms, they can be invited to return in some capacity in the future, provided that there is a good enough story for their character to be brought back. Michael almost didn’t return for The Office‘s finale, but Steve Carell’s love for the project that had made him famous and his great relationship with series creator Greg Daniels allowed Michael’s cameo to happen after all.
8. Eric Forman
That ’70s Show
Topher Grace exited That ’70s Show at the end of season 7 to pursue other career opportunities, and his character, Eric Forman, was sent rather abruptly to Africa to teach. Eric’s departure was sudden and a bit out-of-character, although it could be argued that his off-screen breakup with Donna over the phone in season 8 was even worse. Still, it was exciting to see Eric back in Point Place in the season 8 finale, “That ’70s Finale.” His return fixed what was wrong with the way he left — Eric apologized to Donna, and the two thankfully reconciled.
Gina Linetti was a force of nature, and without her, the 99th Precinct never felt the same. Gina was the only non-cop main character, so when the time for the alleged budget cuts came, she was the one to go. Chelsea Peretti’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine exit was handled so naturally and amicably that it didn’t seem forced at all. In season 6, episode 4, “Four Movements,” Gina decided to spread her wings and dedicate her time to building an online brand. Peretti returned twice, with her last appearance being Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s wholesome finale, “The Last Day,” where Gina took part in the precinct’s annual heist. It was the perfect reminder that she was forever part of the team.
6. Jess Mariano
Jess Mariano was one of Rory’s boyfriends in Gilmore Girls, and he played an important role in her life during the show’s earlier seasons. After Rory refused to leave Stars Hollow and broke up with Jess for good, the character’s journey on the show was over. In season 4, episode 21, “Last Week Fights, This Week Tights,” Milo Ventimiglia bid his goodbyes to Gilmore Girls, as he wanted to move on to other projects. The actor reprised his role for a few episodes in season 6. The former bad boy came full circle — he was now the good kid, having written a novel and given Rory some life advice.
5. Michael Scott
Michael Scott, the Regional Manager of the Scranton Branch of Dunder Mifflin, was an integral part of The Office for seven seasons. He was the cringeworthy busybody of the office, and yet Steve Carell made Michael so lovable that it was devastating to see him go in season 7, episode 22, “Goodbye, Michael.” The only comforting thought was that Michael finally found his one true love, Holly, and they were starting a new life together. Having been missed for the following two seasons, Michael briefly showed up to be the best man at Dwight and Angela’s wedding in the season 9 finale, “Finale.” For once, Michael managed not to crave being the center of attention.
4. Cordelia Chase
Cordelia Chase, the retired mean girl, was a valuable member of Angel Investigations for four seasons, but in Angel season 4, she fell into a coma after a demonic pregnancy. In the season 4 finale, “Home,” with Cordelia still in a coma, Charisma Carpenter departed from the show due to a toxic environment on the set of Angel. In season 5, episode 12, “You’re Welcome,” Cordelia was seemingly all better and ready to help Angel beat the forces of darkness, but in reality, Cordelia never woke up from her coma, and her “presence” was arranged by the Powers That Be. Despite the fact that Cordelia met a heartbreaking end, the episode flawlessly wrapped up the character’s arc.
3. Mary Winchester
Mary Winchester’s gruesome death jumpstarted the entire journey that Sam and Dean were on for 15 seasons of Supernatural. Even though the character was dead from episode 1, Samantha Smith reprised her role a few times as a ghost, a vision, or a memory. What no one expected was for Amara to properly resurrect Mary as a parting gift for Dean in the season 11 finale, “Alpha and Omega.” Mary’s emotional return opened up a plethora of opportunities to explore her relationship with her grown sons. It is a shame that she was killed off by Jack during one of his outbursts in season 14, episode 18, “Absence” — Mary Winchester deserved a better second death.
Winston replaced Coach after New Girl‘s pilot, and this risky move was attributed to a scheduling conflict with Damon Wayans Jr.’s other show, Happy Endings. Luckily, in season 3, episode 7, “Coach,” the character moved back into the loft. Coach’s return allowed him to grow as a person, develop a deeper on-screen relationship with the rest of the gang, and even find love. The character’s second exit happened in the season 4 finale, “Clean Break,” when Coach decided to move to New York for his girlfriend, May, who got a job offer there. The actor frequently appeared in the later seasons as a guest star, and it was like Coach never even left New Girl.
1. Rose Tyler
Rose Tyler’s departure in the season 2 finale, “Doomsday,” left a big hole in the Doctor’s heart. To the collective shock of the audience, Billie Piper reprised her role in a rather mysterious fashion in season 4, episode 1, “Partners in Crime,” and went on to appear throughout the season. In the finale, “Journey’s End,” Rose’s arc came to a satisfying conclusion — the Doctor dropped Rose and the Metacrisis Doctor off in the alternate dimension where they lived happily ever after. In Doctor Who‘s 50th-anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor,” Piper also returned as the Moment, the conscience of the most dangerous weapon in the universe who happened to look exactly like Rose Tyler.