That awkward moment when you try to write a complicated, flawed character, and end up just creating a monster.
5. Franky Fitzgerald (Skins)
What a difference a year makes. If I’d been writing this list a year ago, it’s likely there would still have been a character from Skins‘ third generation on the list, but it would’ve been Alo, whose entire personality for the fifth series was “NUH! DON’T WANT TO GROW UP! NOW I’M GOING TO IGNORE MY FATHER’S OBVIOUS HEALTH PROBLEMS AND DESTROY MY FAMILY’S ONLY SOURCE OF INCOME!” Yet here we are, a year later and (spoiler) Alo isn’t on my list, but the previously-likeable Franky is. So what happened? Well, she started out as an endearing androgynous outcast whose truckload of issues was relatable despite the slightly more try-hard aspects of her personality (an obsession with weird stick men and making stop-motion films out of them), and as characters of that type often do on television, she underwent an extreme personality transplant the second she actually made some friends. Sadly, it was a change for the worse, as somewhere between seasons she suddenly developed a death wish and a monstrous sense of her own importance. Her poor decision-making when it came to boys was one of the main catalysts for the drama between the group throughout the whole of the sixth series, and while most of the others became quieter and more reflective as a result, Franky decided to become the absolute worst version of herself imaginable and spent the rest of the series just behaving like an utter, utter self-righteous tit. Most of the others did stupid stuff as a result of their confusion and grief, but none of them decided to drive down the path of Total Irredeemable Cuntishness as Franky did. Frustratingly, even the moment in the finale when it looked like Liv (one of the few characters who was likeable in both series five and series six, well played Laya Lewis) was finally going to point out to Franky what an utter blowhard she was being ended up somehow working out in Franky’s favour, because Mini woke up and cut the speech short. Curses.
4. Lynette Scavo (Desperate Housewives)
I have mixed emotions about including Lynette on this list, and that’s largely thanks to Felicity Huffman. She’s arguably been saddled with some of the most unsympathetic storylines throughout all eight seasons of the show, since all of Lynette’s storylines were inevitably informed by the trait of “hypocritical shrew”, and yet managed to play the heck out of them, often making Lynette a far more likeable character than most of her more ostensibly-appealing neighbours. Ultimately, though, I doubt there’s an actor in the world who can play the exact same flaws for eight years without resentment eventually starting to bleed into my feelings towards the character, and the problem with Lynette is that she just follows the same pattern repeatedly: her obsessive need to be right about anything causes a fight with a loved one, she realises that she’s an awful person, she resolves to treat people better, she completely forgets in time for the next episode to begin so she can be awful in exactly the same way all over again. It’s pretty hard to have any respect for a character who’s so incapable of remembering making the exact same mistake all of two days ago. This much I will say in Lynette’s favour, though: the way season eight is going, the writers are doing their darnedest to make sure Susan has completely out-awfulled Lynette by the time we get to the series finale, so there may still be hope.
3. Nick Miller (New Girl)
During an online discussion about the relative strengths and weaknesses of US comedy’s various “hang out” shows, I noticed one commenter claiming that “Happy Endings is like New Girl without the likeable characters”. This absolutely floored me. I mean, I’m not going to pretend the characters in Happy Endings are warm, welcoming human beings, but that’s very much a deliberate decision on the part of the show’s writers. New Girl, on the other hand, is filled with awful people that I think we were actually supposed to love. The one who comes closest to tolerability is Schmidt, partly because he’s such a ridiculous caricature that we’re obviously not meant to take him remotely seriously, and partly because no one can articulate the word “chutney” or demand to know the whereabouts of an Irish walking cape like Max Greenfield. As for the rest, though, Zooey Deschanel’s forced zaniness is likely to give me diabetes before the season is out, Winston barely has any developed character traits beyond “just got back from Latvia” and “good with kids”…and then there’s Nick. The effort the show has put into teasing the romantic possibilities between him and Jess suggests that we’re expected to like him and want the two of them to get together, but it doesn’t work, because Nick is awful. He complains about everything in a horrid nasal whine. He blames everyone else for his own failings. He constantly draws people’s attention to how ashamed he feels of his own friends, conveniently ignoring the fact that he should be grateful to have any friends in the first place. Better writing, or better acting, could salvage the character, but at this point he feels like a lost cause. To bring this full circle, the characters in Happy Endings may all be intensely annoying, but I completely get why they like each other. In New Girl, on the other hand, I find myself considering how much better the show would be if Nick accidentally tripped and fell into the oven and then Jess accidentally turned it on in some sort of adorkakooky mix-up and the next episode began with Jess, Schmidt and Winston nonchalantly disposing of some charred bones and never speaking of this shitslice again.
2. Annie Wilson (90210)
Again, I’m sure we were supposed to like Annie, at least in the beginning. She was the new arrival, the out-of-towner, thrust into an unfamiliar world of rich high school bitches and cliques. She was supposed to be our generation’s Brinda Walsh (though to be fair, a lot of people didn’t like her either), and while she started out as a bit of an obnoxious goody-goody, there was rarely anything actively offensive about her. That is, until she killed a man while drunk-driving (underage, to boot) in the first season finale, drove away from the scene of the crime without telling anyone, spent pretty much the entirety of season two trying to cover this up, was ultimately punished for her transgressions by spending the summer under house arrest (conveniently all occurring off-screen during the break between seasons), whining about how unfair this was, being inexplicably given the hottest guy on the show as a love interest and dragging him into her net of tedium and self-obsession, befriending a lonely, aging and filthy rich actress who by the law of every soap opera ever then died and left everything to Annie, then WHINING ABOUT HOW UNFAIR IT WAS THAT THE ACTRESS’S FAMILY WERE CONTESTING THE WILL rather than anticipating this course of action or bothering to be gracious about it, becoming a hooker and expecting men to actually pay to put up with her, all the while snootily passing judgements on other people who didn’t live up to her stringent moral code, then selling the necklace the deceased actress gave her in order to cover her debts, behaving like it was in any way sneaky or underhanded for the actress’s family to buy the necklace from the pawn dealer to use as evidence that Annie didn’t give a shit about the old lady and was only interested in her for her money, and finally BREAKING INTO THE FAMILY’S HOME TO STEAL THE NECKLACE BACK AND ACTING LIKE SHE WAS THE WRONGED PARTY IN ALL OF THIS BECAUSE THEY WERE STANDING BETWEEN HER AND THE MONEY SHE TOTALLY DESERVED. Honestly, the only redeeming thing about the character at this point is spotting all those moments when even Shenae Grimes thinks Annie is being a total cow and can’t be bothered to pretend otherwise.
1. Will Schuester (Glee)
After that little tirade, you might be wondering who on Earth could possibly be worse than Annie. Well, here’s your answer. For all Annie’s faults, she at least has the excuse of being young and spoilt; Will Schuester is a grown man in a position of considerable responsibility and influence, and still behaves like an absolute dickhead. I remember being on his side to begin with, appreciating how his life hadn’t worked out quite as he’d hoped but that leading the school’s glee club full of losers was at least giving him some sort of direction and purpose. Then he started openly sneering at his own students (for all that some viewers complain about the preferential treatment he gives Rachel when it comes to handing out solos, he really does treat her like absolute shit quite a lot of the time), getting seriously creepy and proprietorial over on-off girlfriend Emma, to the extent of telling her boyfriend at the time that he would ALLOW HIM TO CONTINUE DATING HER like he had any fucking say in the matter, and also telling her that he planned to fix her OCD (which, incidentally, had significantly improved while she was seeing the aforementioned boyfriend, and suddenly went out of control when she had to cope with Will Schuester on a full-time basis – coincidence?) by singing Coldplay at her, sending his students to New York to compete in a National Showchoir Championships without actually having written the songs they were going to perform, and just generally being a really, really shitty teacher, to the point that when the show did an episode about how he was a Spanish teacher who spoke lousy Spanish, I actually considered that to be the least of his problems as an educator. Frustratingly, there are points where the show seems to realise what a hollow, pointless character Will Schuester has turned into, but because this is Glee, they think it’s enough to just crack a few meta-jokes about it rather than actually addressing the problem in any real sense. Oh well. He may never triumph at a showchoir contest, but at least he’s a winner tonight.