This isn’t the sort of thing we do here normally but, what the heck, it’s Sunday, and I’m bored. Plus, I’ve watched a lot of TV over the last ten years. So when I woke up this morning at 5:00am to deal with a fussy baby, and the idea for this post popped into my head, I decided to run with it. So here we go. This list is my own personal list of the worst 20 TV characters I have seen over the last ten years of watching TV. I am excluding characters from TV shows that were just bad and uninteresting – to make the list, you had to be a bad character on a show that kept my attention for at least a full season.
If you have complaints about inclusions/exclusions from the list, drop them in the comments. Also this list will be rampant with spoilers, so if that matters to you, you can complain about that in the comments as well. (I probably won’t read the comments)
20. June Stahl/Lee Toric – Sons of Anarchy (FX)
Listen, if I were feeling lazy about making this list, I could have composed it literally 50% from characters from Sons of Anarchy. By the end of Season 3 I was actively hoping for virtually all the so-called protagonists to die. And yet, I watched the entire show through to its brutal conclusion and even would consider the first 5 seasons to be good television (The last two seasons were every bit as terrible as the unwatchable wind-down of Dexter). How is it possible that a show about psychopathic (and not very smart) bikers could hold anyone’s interest for that long? Simple: by pitting the bikers you hated against law enforcement officials you hated worse. The show featured a rotating cast of these, but Stahl and Toric were by far the worst.
And by the way, FX? I’ll never ever forgive you for making me see Donal Logue’s butt. Ever. So don’t think we’re past that because we’re not.
19. Shane Walsh – The Walking Dead (AMC)
Shane is the first of four TWD characters to make the top 20 list. How loaded was this show with bad characters that made you hate every minute they were on screen? Dale didn’t even make the list, for the sole reason that I didn’t want it to be composed of 20% characters from one show. Where to start with Shane? His annoying habit of rubbing his head for no discernible reason? His completely implausible plots to to wrest the terrible Lori (who will make an appearance later) from Rick? The way that he always looked like he just ate a particularly potent batch of pomegranate seeds?
On the merits, Shane might have been the very worst of all the TWD characters, but his life on the show was mercifully short, plus we got to watch him die twice. That counts for a lot, when you are as annoying as Shane was.
18. Chuck McGill – Better Call Saul (AMC)
Chuck has a bulls*** malady that you can tell about 15 minutes into episode one is entirely psychosomatic in nature. He claims throughout the show to suffer from excruciating pain every time he is around electromagnetic fields. Instead of being pitiable, however, Chuck is about 99% annoying as he spends most of the first season just panting and moaning. When he isn’t doing that, he’s saying idiotic things about the law being sacred that only Class A D-bag lawyers believe. Like, seriously, people who insist on being called “Esquire” out loud and who secretly wish they lived in England so they could wear their powdered wigs out and about instead of at just home in front of their mirrors every morning. To top it all off, after Jimmy bends over backwards to help him throughout the first season, Chuck stabs him in the back for no discernible reason at all. I hope Season 2 opens and it turns out that Chuck really does have an allergy to the sun that causes him to spontaneously combust into flames the next time he goes outdoors.
17. Barlow Connally – Longmire (A&E)
This one is kind of a cheat. Really, who I am wanting to acknowledge here is Gerald McRaney, the actor who plays Connally – and who also played the same exact character in Deadwood (except he was called George Hearst), and with a slight twist the same guy as Josiah Cairn in Justified. Somewhere along the line, Major Dad got really good at playing an asshole. I mean, he really elevates it to an art form. It’s almost hard to include him on this list, he’s so good at making me hate him. The only real question I have is whether he’s even doing it on purpose or not.
16. Helena – Orphan Black (BBC America)
Look, Tatiana Maslany does amazing things by playing 7 or 8 different characters during the course of this show. This is known. However, Helena is one that the show’s creators should have had the decency to leave on the cutting room floor or at least killed off by now. What the hell is even going on with Helena? Where is she from and how does that explain the horrible generic Eastern European accent? Why is her hair blonde when all the other clones are brunette? Why does she always look like she got drunk and put on three coats of red eyeshadow? Why do all the other clones not seem to care that she is a homicidal maniac and her main targets thus far have been other clones?
Helena’s character is so terrible and nonsensical that the Season 3 hunt to rescue her from the military base (or whatever it is) in the desert has destroyed the entire show. When the ridiculous pretend scorpion became a main character, it was time to get off this bus. Someone please let me know if Helena dies so I can start watching this show again.
15. Elizabeth Jennings – The Americans (FX)
This one will be controversial. I’m led to understand that there are a lot of people – primarily women – who actually like this character. I’m trying to refrain from drawing adverse inferences against the entire gender because of this. Look, in the first place, Elizabeth is a terrible person, as evidenced by the fact that she allowed her husband to be tortured because he committed the sin of liking America a little bit. Then she kept a side guy in Philadelphia for years and has the nerve to get passive-aggressively jealous every time Philip gets even the slightest bit emotionally involved with a mark. She is also a hypocrite – she has spent the better part of the last two seasons trying to turn Paige (who almost qualifies for this list) into a soviet spy behind Philip’s back, and gets snippy with him when he does relatively benign things like buy a dress for her without consulting Elizabeth first. She is also a worse spy than Philip, being hotheaded and impulsive, almost getting them caught multiple times. I love The Americans but I sure hope it ends with Stan Beeman killing Elizabeth in some painful or embarrassing way.
14. Foggy Nelson – Daredevil (Netflix)
Where to even begin with the manifold ways that this douchey character tried to ruin a perfectly good comic book television series? Should we start with the way he constantly (and implausibly) punched out of his weight class with respect to women, only to screw it up with each of them with his pointless nattering complaining? How about the way that people who are shaped like a giant gourd should never attempt to sport that hairdo? Really, though, it’s mostly about the idiotic way that Foggy was actually pissed off to learn that his best friend took homicidal maniacs off the street through the nonlethal use of force. Because that’s not how lawyers are supposed to do it, or something. Daredevil fans are, I think, constantly secretly hoping that Matt breaks his pledge not to kill people, and no one in the whole series deserves it more than this dopey fool.
13. Deb Morgan – Dexter (Showtime/CBS)
Dexter was actually two shows – one good show about a serial killer with a heart of gold that lasted four or five seasons, and one very terrible show about a network out to prove that literally nothing could stop us from watching the show once we started. However, the two shows had one thing in common – Dexter’s extraordinarily annoying sister who somehow didn’t figure out that a guy she spent every day with was a serial killer for, like thirty years. Deb had basically one facial expression/posture – she always looked like she was trying to start a fistfight with everyone she talked to, no matter what the conversation was about. She constantly treated everyone around her like a subhuman moron and her vocabulary roughly resembled that of a fifth grader who has just learned the joy of using the F word out loud. Somehow, in a show that featured probably over 200 murders, Deb Morgan was never the victim of a single one of them, and for that, Showtime will never be forgiven.
12. Inspector Chester Campbell – Peaky Blinders (Netflix)
What fresh hell is this? Good old wholesome Sam Neill, who we will always remember for saving the world from the Great Dinosaur Menace, reimagined as a loyalist Ulster cop with a creepy, perverted sadistic streak? Here is the thing – within the context of Peaky Blinders, Campbell works as a character. He doesn’t drag down the whole show. But whether he’s raping random geriatric women or abusing his power to get his rocks off, Neill’s performance is so awesomely horrible that next time you watch Jurassic Park, you’ll be rooting for the raptors.
11. Cyril Figgis – Archer (FX)
Cyril is a terrible secret agent, an equally bad accountant, painfully beta, and a whiner of the first order. He shares all the vices of the show’s protagonists, but in a way that makes him grating and painful instead of rakish and charming. The thing about Archer as a show, though, is that it needs a Cyril, because literally everyone else on the show is likable in spite of being a bunch of narcissistic, incompetent alcoholics. You can’t get away with making everyone likable on a show about substance-abusing morons, and so Cyril serves as the focus of the rage you should feel against all the show’s other characters – especially Archer himself.
10. Winona Givens – Justified (FX)
I never really understood what Winona’s problem was or why she always had this look on her face like she was sitting on a very uncomfortable chair, even when she was standing up. Nor did I understand why she constantly ran headlong into problems that only Raylan could solve, only to run whining to him to fix them, and thereafter spend most of an episode passive aggressively sighing with displeasure about the way he got it done. After six seasons, it really became more than enough when the poster child for bad life choices couldn’t handle the pressure of having a husband who had a job that required him to get shot at occasionally. It’s no coincidence that the show’s best seasons (3 and 4) featured an almost total absence of Winona from the screen.
9. Betty Draper – Mad Men (AMC)
Here’s something I genuinely don’t know – was the character Betty Draper horrible and unlikable because of the way she was written, or because she was played by the most horrible and unlikable actress of our generation? I have no idea, but I suspect the show’s producers mostly just told January Jones to play herself (which, so far as I can tell is the only thing she is capable of doing), which had the result of somehow making the victim of Don Draper’s terrible treatment zero per cent sympathetic. After all, if we can’t even tell that Betty gives a crap one way or the other about how she is treated (I mean, just based on the absolute lack of facial expression), why should I? It also doesn’t help that she resolved her angst at her years of being taken for granted by Don by engaging in a lengthy and marginally successful career in gold digging – come to think of it, I think Betty Draper is unlikable for both reasons. Embrace the healing power of “and.”
7. Rollo Lothbrok – Vikings (History)
You put a sword in Rollo’s hand, and he is quite a badass. You take the sword out of his hand, and he immediately becomes a feckless, whinging pervert who has no loyalty to anyone or anything. Also, he has delusions of grandeur and likes to take credit for things that he did not do. Also he married the widow of his brother’s arch rival, who still wants his brother dead. What could possibly go wrong? Also, his name is Rollo. Like, everyone else on the show has awesome names like Ragnar and Lagertha and Floki – names that sound like people who are meant to burn and pillage everything in sight. Rollo sounds like a guy who wants to be president of the Chess club, but can’t because even the other chess club members hate him.
6. Lori/Carl – The Walking Dead (AMC)
It’s hard to say which member of Rick’s family was the bigger drag on the show. To begin with, Lori was just the worst parent. It’s the middle of the zombie apocalypse, you’re in a group of like 15 people, how is it possible that she just constantly and repeatedly lost Carl when keeping up with him was pretty much her only job. Second, she waited roughly 15 minutes after Rick was supposedly dead before shacking up with his crazy friend (see Shane, supra), lied about it, got pregnant and then wanted to kill the kid, and that doesn’t even get into her terrible personality. The best moment in the second season of the show was when Lori died, but then the show’s creators even took that joy away from us by having her come back to literally haunt the show from her grave. Thankfully, even Lori’s ghost didn’t really last long, but last I saw TWD, stupid Carl was still hanging around with his stupid hair and even stupider sheriff’s hat, saying stupid things that are supposed to convey the idea that the zombie apocalypse has prematurely aged him but instead merely convey that Carl is growing up with aspirations to join the O’Doyle clan from Billy Madison. I have no idea how I kept watching this show for three full years.
5. Skyler White – Breaking Bad (AMC)
For some reason, Skyler was always on the wrong side of everything. At the beginning of the show, when Walter was a cancer patient, she followed him around with this stupid glare, hating on everything he did without actually confronting any of it. Then when Walter was cured and was just a psychopath selling drugs, she decided to jump on board and launder all his money for him. Then she had some bizarre attack of conscience because she accidentally had the creep who was trying to get her in jail killed and just became this completely unsympathetic zombie. The principal weakness of Breaking Bad – which is maybe the best TV show I’ve ever seen – is that it was almost impossible to root for Walter to succeed because the main beneficiary of his success would have been Skyler, who was irredeemably scowling and annoying.
4. Jax Teller – Sons of Anarchy (FX)
The worst thing about Sons of Anarchy was enduring the indignity of everyone else on the show – including his rivals and law enforcement – constantly saying that Jax Teller was “smart.” No, he was not. He was a moron. Unless you think that someone who repeatedly fails to take into account that people tend to get pissed off if you kill their family members and steal their stuff is “smart.” I mean, I am sure that if Jax Teller could spend his whole life playing chess against himself, he would be considered a “smart” chess player but the problem, in chess as in life, is that other people tend to be playing against you who don’t want their family members killed and their stuff taken. Whenever the eminently foreseeble blowback from one of Jax’s harebrained schemes resulted in yet another one of his friends being brutally killed, he always adopted the same pained stupid face and always said the same stupid thing: “NOBODY could have seen this coming.” I mean, apart from literally everyone who watched the show, you pscychopathic doofus.
The finale of Sons of Anarchy is widely regarded as the worst finale in history and for me, that’s almost exclusively because Jax didn’t end up being eaten alive by ferrets.
3. E.B. Farnum – Deadwood (HBO)
If you’ve never seen Deadwood (which is a great show) and are thus unfamiliar with E. B. Farnum’s unique, ah, charm, imagine if a naked molerat were given a set of Cousin Vinny’s best suits, a stupid tophat, an occasional stutter, a refusal to make eye contact with the other characters or the camera, and (bizarrely) a lust for money and power. Now imagine that, against all odds and at the expense of everyone of even marginal worth on the show, he actually succeeds at accumulating that wealth and power, and you’ll have some idea of how terrible it was to watch Farnum, even for the three (too short!) years that this fine show lasted. My most sincere hope is that someone resurrects Deadwood for the sole purpose of having Seth Bullock throw Farnum to Wu’s pigs.
2. Kate Austen – Lost (ABC)
I assume that roughly half the people who clicked a link to this story did so for the sole purpose of scrolling down hoping to find Kate from Lost at #1. Sorry. She gets docked down to number 2 because I never understood the appeal of Lost. Frankly I assumed most people kept watching it hoping to learn that the entire show was merely the daydream of, like, a large tapeworm that was eating Kate to death from the inside out.
1. Clay Morrow – Sons of Anarchy (FX)
What’s that you say? I can’t have four people from the same show in my top 20 list? Screw you, you didn’t sit through seven years of this damn show, five of which featured Ron Pearlman’s weirdly misshapen head and protruding simian jaw spewing things that actually made me root for Jax Teller (see above). The sine non qua of any truly successful television bad guy is that you have to be able to at least imagine that there would be some people who might like them or trust them. FX gave us none of that with Morrow, as basically everything about both Morrow’s looks, personality, and history screamed “dishonest and untrustworthy scumbag,” and never more so when he “smiled.” You know why I think the first 5 seasons of SoA were a good show? Because at the end of Season 5 we got to have the catharsis of seeing Clay Morrow shot in the face. Unfortunately FX knows a cash cow when it sees it and so we all were subjected to two more years of Jax the Tortured Idiot Biker. And I watched it all. Clearly, I hate my life.
Honorable mention: River Tam, Firefly; Roger Sterling, Mad Men, Carmela Soprano, The Sopranos, Joffrey Baratheon, Game of Thrones, Herc Hauk, The Wire.