These aren’t just people we see on our television screens week after week. We come to care about them the way we care about our friends and family—until they suddenly disappear from our lives via a long-awaited series finale or an unexpected cancellation. That’s why I love it when shows like Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock give us flash-forwards to beloved characters’ futures, or old favorites like Arrested Development and Full House get new life via Netflix reboots or spinoffs. When it comes to finales, I don’t want ambiguity. I want to know everybody will be okay decades into the future. But what of those characters who ride off into the sunset, never to be heard from again? I know I’m not the only one who continues to think about the fates of fictional characters years after they last graced our TV screens. Here, the television characters I miss the most and think about surprisingly often:
1. Julia Salinger, ‘Party of Five’
Oh, Julia. You were so smart, so beautiful, yet made so many terrible decisions. I couldn’t help but relate to you because we were the same age, had annoying little sisters, and wanted to be writers. True, my life was not touched by dead parents or teen pregnancy, but on some level, I really got you, even if you always made the wrong decisions when it came to your love life. Truth be told, I was always a little envious of you, with lots of cute boys (and once a girl) who vied for your love, and no parents to prevent you from throwing house parties or tell you that teen marriage might possibly be a bad idea. But we all do stupid things in college, and we all grow up a little wiser. I hope you’re a bestselling author now or, at the very least, a hugely successful mom blogger.
2. Alex P. Keaton, ‘Family Ties’
Alex P. Keaton was my first fictional love. Granted, at the age of 6, I didn’t really know what love was, and that whole Republican thing probably would have ended up being a deal breaker anyway. The last we saw of Alex, he was headed to New York City for a hotshot job with a big investment firm. I hope he at least had the integrity to avoid making the sort of bad decisions that contributed to the financial crisis of 2008. Or that if he did, he emerged wiser and more humble and applied his considerable talents to running a nonprofit or volunteering as a docent at the Nixon Library.
3. Rudy Huxtable, ‘The Cosby Show’
Rudy, I’m sorry you and your show are now forever-associated with an alleged rapist. But nobody can deny that you and your siblings were fictional stand-ins for so many of us children of the ’80s. Everybody wanted to be as effortlessly cool as Denise and as popular as Theo. But I related to you the most because, like Party of Five‘s Julia, you were exactly my age. We reached so many milestones (friendship dramas, first crushes) together and you also understood the embarrassment of having a slightly bumbling but ultimately well-meaning father. Like me, you’re approaching your 20th high school reunion. I hope that you get to attend it boasting about a few fancy degrees and a pile of professional accolades, like so many of my brilliant, ass-kicking, real-life female friends. I also hope you get to enjoy 15 minutes of Internet fame when one of your nieces or nephews unearths that old video of your family performing “Night Time Is the Right Time” and posts it to YouTube.
4. Kevin Arnold, ‘The Wonder Years’
The Wonder Years gave us more closure than most finales, with an epilogue that featured adult Kevin’s voiceover relating the news of his father’s death and that he and high school sweetheart Winnie Cooper did not stay together forever. But whatever happened after that? We know that Kevin and his wife-who-is-not-Winnie eventually had a son. Don’t we all want to know how he would have fared raising his Gen X (Millennial?) kids in the ’80s and ’90s? And is it too much to hope that his son and a future child of Winnie Cooper’s might one day meet at a neighborhood reunion and fall in love?
5. Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Chandler, Ross, and Joey, ‘Friends’
We’ve all agreed to forget Joey ever existed, right? It’s been 11 years since Rachel got off that plane, and Chandler and Monica moved to the suburbs with their twins. How are the friends handling middle age and parenting tweens? Actually, I’m not very interested in that because that’s the life I live on a daily basis, and trust me when I tell you it’s not very exciting. Whenever I think about Friends, I think about Phoebe and her cute husband Mike (played by Paul Rudd!). I hope that whatever they’re doing, they’re still super weird and happy together.
In the case of television finales, perhaps a little ambiguity is a good thing. Unlike my mom’s cousin or that one girl I once had one college class with, the once-beloved characters who meant something to me at certain times of my life will never occasionally pop up in my Facebook feed with a picture of the dessert they had last night or a weird political rant. Maybe if they did, I wouldn’t spend so much time obsessing over what happened to them.