Whither Darnell? A mystery about A&E’s “The Cleaner” is resolved!

Given that the A&E drama “The Cleaner” only lasted for two seasons, it’s probable that there aren’t a great number of people who are clamoring for the answer to this question, but for those of you who did watch the series throughout its run, I’d like a show of hands if you wondered what happened to the character of Darnell McDowell – played by Kevin Michael Richardson – after the first season.

Not that Richardson hasn’t got more than enough work to keep himself busy: he’s one of the most prolific voice actors in the animation business. At present, you probably know him best as the voice of Cleveland, Jr. on Fox’s “The Cleveland Show,” but he’s also the voice of Maurice on “The Penguins of Madagascar,” turns up with some regularity on “Batman: The Brave and the Bold” (he voices Black Manta, B’Wana Beast, and – yes! – Detective Chimp), and, on a related note, did an admirable job of stepping into Mark Hamill’s shoes as The Joker on “The Batman.” But, still, I love the guy, I thought his character on “The Cleaner” was interesting, and when Season 2 of the series premiered and he wasn’t on it, I noticed.

I ran into Richardson briefly last year at the TCA Press Tour, and I asked him what happened. In truth, he seemed pleased that someone had even noticed his absence, but as far as the reason why he’d been written out of the show, he didn’t really have much of an answer, short of saying that he’d gotten the impression that the writers had kind of hit a brick wall as far as knowing what to do with the character of Darnell.

Okay, fair enough: I understand how the business works, and I also understand that shows evolve and characters originally intended to be series mainstays unexpectedly become superfluous. While screening “The Cleaner: The Final Season” in order to write my review of the DVD set, however, I remembered the biggest reason why I’d been so annoyed with Darnell’s departure: not only was he written out of the show, but there wasn’t even so much as a mention of Darnell, let alone any sort of clarification as to his ultimate fate. Given everything that he went through with the team during the course of Season 1, this seemed like the kind of oversight that would really irk fans of the show…like, say, me…so I did what any self-respecting journalist would do: I went on Facebook, found the page for the show’s head writer, Jonathan Prince, and asked A) why Darnell was written out of the show, and B) why there was no reference to his departure from the show.

“Good question,” Prince replied. “The tension between how much ‘family’ and how much ‘procedural’ is not the only challenge facing us when we create these truly character-driven procedurals. There’s an additional tension as to how much story we give our ‘procedural regulars’ and our ‘guest stars.’ The desire for closed-ended single episode stories means that there’s so much real estate that must be dedicated to the guest stars and their own dynamics. Kevin is an exceptional actor, and you’re a smart journalist to wonder why at least there wasn’t a passing reference. The short answer is that there were two states of mind regarding that issue. My state of mind was overruled. I had hoped we could tell the loyal viewers what happened to that character, but some felt that new viewers wouldn’t understand. This is the great challenge in television: how to reward loyal viewers and seduce new ones.”

With the lines of communication open and Prince’s interest in offering the character of Darnell some closure established, I felt obliged to ask at least one follow-up: did he actually have a (now apocryphal) fate written for him, or was he summarily dismissed before making it to the writing stage?

“We had hoped to tell the story that he had been given the chance to go save his Baby Brother again, a kid who William had ‘saved’ but who fell back into drugs,” Prince revealed. “In the depths of that family dynamic, he would have lost himself in the ‘case,’ and when his brother OD’s and dies, Darnell gives up working for William and goes to work in a church and aspires toward the clergy.”

So there you go, “Cleaner” fans: that’s what would’ve happened to Darnell.

Of course, now we’re stuck wondering what would’ve happened to the rest of the characters on the show, too, but that’s a question for another column…

  

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