Joel McHale’s confirmed that, whenever Community comes back, “someone you’ve seen a lot” will die in the show. This seems like a good decision: I think the show’s done a good job with its younger characters this season in terms of both giving them emotional stakes and moving them towards figuring out what their adult selves will be like. But the older characters feel a little stagnant. Shirley’s relationship with her husband, the impetus for her to go back to school in the first place, has been resolved. Pierce is settled as a static character. And Jeff’s quest to get back to being a lawyer feels like it’s stagnated, but it’s not clear if it’s because he doesn’t actually want to go back to his own life or if he’s stuck. A death, if done right, could shake things up a bit. But who is the show going to kill? I can think of a couple of candidates:
Leonard: This would be the lowest-impact choice. Leonard is the oldest character on the show, and perhaps the most peripheral of the minor characters. It would be relatively easy for him to pass away of natural causes, and for it to be low-impact and touching. Person most likely to be affected by his death: Pierce, for whom Leonard’s been a hook for anxieties about his age before.
Neil: Neil’s suicidal impulses were the basis for perhaps the best episode Community’s ever done based on a peripheral character, “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.” That means we’ve got an emotional hook into his continued survival. And if he died, it would lend a dose of darkness to the college experience—and the show’s been very good when it’s accessed that unexaggerated pain, as it did in “Mixology Certification.” Person most likely to be affected by his death: Jeff, who was the architect of Neil’s inability to get a clean slate at Greendale.
Professor Ian Duncan: He is a rather impressive alcoholic, and his role in the show’s been so reduced that I can see them getting rid of him to shed salary. Person most likely to be affected by his death: Again, Jeff, for whom it would be a reminder that Greendale isn’t an escape: it’s a trap, if he really wants to live the life he says he’s committed to.
Vaughn. Or Rich. Or both: They’re both so annoying. And maybe Community could kill them off in a goofy accident involving City College. Person most likely to be affected by their deaths: Annie. Who maybe would react to the deaths of both of her college boyfriends and flirtations by finally having things happen with Jeff.