There is only one thing that matters when making a great TV show, or even just one you’ll resign yourself to whiling away the hours in front of until you’ve aged enough to die: good characters.
You can have all the highest concept premise, the most winning dialogue the finest writers can come up with, enough intrigue to keep a goldfish in suspense, but if the viewers hate your characters, they’ll switch off.
The best telly understands this and will lay on a huge platter of great characters, enough to comprise an entire alternate reality you’d like to escape from your own miserable one into. But sometimes they overcompensate and add too many to the mixture, leading to annoying dud characters. Characters who suck the enjoyment out of every scene, who make you angrily check your watch and remind you that you’re wasting your life.
A quick note: here ‘annoying’ doesn’t mean ‘annoying’ in the sense that the show deliberately wants you to hate them (see: Pete Campbell in Mad Men, or Skeletor in He-Man), but ‘the worst’ because the show thinks you should like them, but you just can’t. No, in your eyes they are the televisual equivalent of nails down the chalkboard, upturned plugs underfoot and neverending car alarms.
Dana Brody - Homeland
On the face of it, Dana Brody is deeply sympathetic: her dad is a crazed terrorist. She's been through a lot. But all of that fades in the face of her endless whingeing, perma-scowl and half-arsed, weed-smoking teenage rebellion. And she has a boyfriend called Xander. Truly unforgivable. Josh Williams
Gavin – Gavin and Stacey
You’d think being an eponymous character would automatically grant you some immunity from being a show’s shittest, but Gavin’s potent combination of petulant shrug-sighing and unfailing ability to disrupt the patter of one of TV's most effortlessly funny shows with every whiny contribution made you want to grab him by the lapels of his Harrington and submerge his beady goblin face under the murky Barry Island waves for twice as long as it takes to drown a scuba diver. If you went back through all three series (and the Christmas special) and digitally replaced all of his banter vacuum appearances with Chinese Alan going “Did someone order a Chinese?!”, it’d be the show of the century. Tristan Cross
Anthony Soprano Jnr. – The Sopranos
This cherub faced wanker grew up to be simply: just a wanker. AJ Soprano stinks up every scene, erupting in at least one “How come [character] gets to…” tantrum per episode, slamming every door in sight, his it’s-not-faaaaair-waaah expression stretching his features so tautly across his brat face it’s practically about to tear off from indignant entitlement. Completely devoid of the unquantifiable aura that made Tony such a charming anti-hero, the only silver lining to AJ came in the final episode, when [SPOILERS [depending on your interpretation of the final scene] his dad gets capped in the head right in front of him as he shovels onion rings into his spoiled prick mouth. Tristan Cross
Jacob – Lost
The whole show basically revolved around him. He essentially was God. We waited five long seasons to meet him. His character should have been big, memorable, powerful, thought-provoking. He was immortal for fuck's sake. What do we get? A dry yank with zero personality who turned out to be nothing more then a bit of an arse. And smug with it too. They couldn't even write him a single profound piece of dialogue. Awful. Tim Lane
Dawn – Buffy The Vampire Slayer
The ultimate angsty teen – acting way younger than her age, moaning about ridiculous non-problems when her sister was fighting demons from the actual Hellmouth each and every single night. She ruined the Buffster’s relationship with Joyce, destroyed the dynamic of the Summers family, and contributed NOTHING to the Scoobie Gang whatsoever. God I hate her so much. My blood pressure has raised significantly. Kayleigh Dray
Foggy Nelson – Marvel’s Daredevil
If there’s a ninth circle of Hell’s Kitchen you can bet Franklin Nelson is somewhere at the bottom of it, festering away in a quagmire of worry and dread. This stuttering, cock-blocking best friend of Matt Murdock is not only the most grating character in the show but, for my money, the worst ever to appear in a successful televisual programme (and yes, I’ve seen Mrs Brown’s Boys). Clearly the screenwriters’ attempt at comic foil, actor Elden Henson’s ham-fisted attempts at comedy habitually fall as flat as his pug-like features, making you implore Daredevil to punch him in the face. Just once. I’d even wager the only positive Ben Affleck can take from his turn as Daredevil is that he didn’t have to put up with this gargantuan douchebag. Joe Ellison
Bernard – Bernard’s Watch
Bernard’s watch is undoubtedly the best superpower - and if you’re one of these people that goes “Oooh, no, it’s actually flight” or “Me? I’d be invisible” then, and I'm not debating this with you, and I am being kind here, but you are a total dunce, so you really ought to consider how your imbecilic opinions are affecting other areas of your life. There possibilities Bernard’s watch would afford you that are virtually limitless. You can’t go back in time, no, but as we know from every sci-fi movie ever, you can’t be dicking about with the past unless you want to make everyone in the present have webbed feet and arm heads and also stop yourself from ever existing. Instead, Bernard’s watch allows you to stop time and live in the space in between, allowing you to do literally anything you want for as long as you want. Make yourself seem amazing at football, prank your teachers, see the entire world, rob a bank and redistribute the money to society’s most vulnerable or study for long enough to cure every disease. And what did Bernard do with this watch? Helped around school. Picked up litter. Did his homework on time. What a little jobsworth weasel. Tristan Cross
Peggy Patch - Playdays
A trinity of female power players led the Playdays bus: Poppy, Peggy and Why. Poppy was the affectionate cat, sometimes scatty, reassuringly dumb. Why Bird was an effective-if-blunt tool for asking the questions kids were all thinking. And then there was Peggy Patch. Patronising, passive aggressive, Peggy Patch. If Peggy Patch taught me one thing as a kid, it was how to hate with unbridled passion. She should have stayed a silent, passive doll. David Cornish
Katie Bernadetto – The Fall
While The Fall was fantastic, it ran into problems when it came to the portrayal of women – and Katie was one of them. She was whiney and pathetic and tragically obsessed with throwing herself at a serial killer. Though the reveal of her backstory in the final series did endear me a little bit, this was only after 3(!) seasons of her annoying the hell out of me. She was the image of what out-of-touch adults think troubled teenage girls are like, and in fact only served to expose the writers had completely misunderstood. She started dressing gothic out of the blue, pierced her nose one morning before school and scratching her best mate’s eyeball outside a club. Total unrealistic pain in the arse! Harriet Hall
Phoebe Buffay - Friends
Phoebe Buffay is the biggest mistake of US television. In early series of Friends, she’s the human equivalent of a children’s cereal box - a patronising depiction of the ‘cute’ social liability, on the verge of being sectioned or spouting something oddly insightful. When the writers realised they’d run out “I talk to spirts” gags, they mangled the character into a vapid, ineffectual waste of narrative. Phoebe does nothing ‘important’ after series five. She’d have been a more effectual character if she’d hit by a bus and haunted Central Perk from series two onwards. David Cornish
Pudsey Bear – Children In Need
The limelight-hogging, partially-sighted bear is the spokesman for one of the biggest charity nights in the calender, and he says nothing. He has one of the biggest platforms on TV to enact massive change, but just stands there in front of harrowing VT after VT, keeping his grinning lips sealed while children go hungry. Utter scumbag, and one with no banter to boot. It’s meant to be a night of fun, Pudsey, you leech. Tristan Cross
Marissa – The OC
Ah, Marissa – the hot rich girl you were probably supposed to fancy. But, after all the straight vodka-downing, pining after that dude who always wears a vest, and weird Noughties fashion choices, that car crash wasn't without its upsides. Harsh, yes, but this is the OC, bitch. Danielle Richardson
Sergeant Bash – Robot Wars
For delivering the mindless destruction every child sought to exact on a world that made them feel powerless and insignificant, Robot Wars’ brand of cathartic mechanised death was second to none. If you can describe a more blissful scene to a six-year-old than getting to watch someone else’s father-and-son team have their pathetic dustbin of a robot get ripped to bits by a team of Oxbridge nerds who have precision engineered the most effective buzzsaw known to man, then you’ve got yourself the most successful children’s franchise since JK Rowling scribbling something about a wizard on a napkin. And the big daddies of demolition were undoubtedly the house robots: there was Matilda’s fearsome flipper, Shunt’s devastating axe and Sir Killalot’s all-round great game. And then there was Sergeant Bash, who had a flamethrower. Kids love seeing things burned, so it was a crushing blow to realise this was entirely useless against metal. It would take Sergeant Bash literally hours, if not days, to melt the robots it was trying to burn, the total dumbass. And yet it would still get involved, spitting it’s useless flames over oblivious other bots, obscuring the view. If I hadn’t already used this space to call out the fraud Sergeant Bash, I’d slate Nemesis too. In fact, you know what… Tristan Cross
Nemesis – Robot Wars
Get fucked you combustible carpet loser. Stop wasting valuable battle time. Tristan Cross
Lori – Walking Dead
Your husband is presumed dead. What do you do? If your answer is to shag your deceased partner’s deranged best mate, then you’re probably Lori from The Walking Dead. Rick Grimes body wouldn’t even have been cold yet and Lori was literally bent over by Shane in a forest most likely crawling with zombies, while her annoying son Carl was around the corner by himself worrying where papa was. I know it’s the apocalypse and all, but god damn that’s some bad family values. Jamie Carson
Every Character - My Family
All of the characters in this show hated each other, and this was somehow meant to endear them to you. “This is what everyone’s family like, right?! You all hate each other! Haha!” Except, most people don’t despise every member of their own family, and if they do, spending 30 minutes in the company of hateful on-screen manifestations of them is not really a barrel o’laughs. “Aw, c’mon! I liked Nick! He was alright!” you protest. No. He wasn’t. Here is every scene with Nick:
THE DAD: Nick, you wretch, you permanent stain of a son, have you seen the neighbours’ dog?
NICK (through a mouthful of a Rustlers burger, dopily): Eh? Dog?
THE DAD (removing his spectacles and looking up from his newspaper in mild annoyance): You know, you stupid oaf, you hateful boy, the dog. The dog that our neighbours have. The dog we’re looking after while they’re on holiday. The neighbours’ dog.
NICK (scratching his chin and staring into space, dopily): Dog… dog… d-oggg…. Hmmm… Oh! The one that goes ‘woof’ you mean?
THE DAD (ripping his paper in anger): Yes the one that goes ‘woof’, you bin bag brain, you bad mistake.
NICK (taking another mouthful of his burger and chuckling, dopily): Oh! Hurhur! That thing! I thought it was a Rustlers burger so I microwaved him!
THE DAD (apoplectically hopping up and down so violently that he smashes his head into the ceiling): NIIIIIIIIIICK!
I hated Nick the most. Tristan Cross