The good news is that I had a hard time filling up a full list of 2018’s Worst TV characters, and a very easy time filling one up for its best characters. The only bad news is that the following characters still exist. But who knows? The way things are headed, this list may not exist at all next year, although it’d be a shame to break tradition…
Not Quite Getting It: Elizabeth Lail playing Beck in “You”…There wouldn’t be anything inherently wrong with this character (and given her ultimate fate, I feel bad for even bringing this up), but the entire first season we see character after character become obsessed with her–and not just the main protagonist/psycho-stalker. She gets sexually harassed by her professor, hit on by a potential literary agent, sexually obsessed over by her own therapist (John Stamos, of all people), and her rich “best friend” (Shay Mitchell, certainly no slouch) is really a closeted lesbian so in love with her she’s willing to fund a move to Paris. After an entire season of this, you may wonder “Just what the hell is so great about Beck?” That’s probably not the best thought to be having about the stalkee on a show about stalking.
10. William Scully (Miles Robbins) in “The X-Files”…Probably all we can hope for out of another season of “The X-Files” is just hanging out with old friends Mulder and Scully, but it sure felt like time was standing still whenever we had to follow William instead.
9. Most new characters in “The Walking Dead”…Only a few minutes after absorbing Rick Grimes “death” and the whiplash experienced from that fakeout, “The Walking Dead” thought it was a good idea to introduce a bunch of randoms that will forever be tainted by being wedged into an unconvincing flash-forward. [Oh, and this includes most of the people who’ve joined the series in the last seasons, like Siddiq, a wimpy, poor substitute for Grimes in his loooong scenes with Michonne.]
8. Owen Milgrim (Jonah Hill) in “Maniac”…To be fair, Justin Theroux’s mess of a doctor also annoyed me too, but he’s sort of supposed to grate. Hill is underplaying his part to the point of being near-comatose, and that may be why Emma Stone has received the lion’s share of “Maniac”‘s awards attention.
7. Most of the robots in “Westworld”…Ever since “2001,” we’ve seen story after story where the robots are arguably more “human” than the humans hunting them (“Blade Runner,” “I Robot”), but “Westworld”‘s human characters are so intentionally underdeveloped and nasty that you can’t help but feel the deck is being stacked in the robots favor. Yet we’re still left with a bunch of homicidal jerks no more capable of feeling than their pre-recorded responses. [Part of my dislike of the characters may also stem from “Westworld” reaching peak-film flam in season 2, pausing the gory action every so often to wax pseudo-philosophically. This is a show that always thinks it’s a little bit deeper than it really is.]
[Spoilers for “Ozark”] 6. The Langmores in “Ozark”…Truthfully, “Ozark” has always had more than a few annoying characters, but it’s also exceptionally good at getting rid of them (Pastor Mason and FBI agent Petty both bit the dust before the end of the second season). But even though Cade Langmore was finally let go, we’ve still got to put up with his “Annie Get Your Gun” “sassy” stereotype of a daughter Ruth—who never met scenery she couldn’t chew—and his absolute idiot of a nephew Wyatt (Charlie Tahan, who has one of TV’s most smackable faces).
5. King Alfred (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) in “Vikings”…When you signed up to watch a seemingly endless TV series called “Vikings,” you probably expected to spend most of that time with, you know, vikings. But the series spends more and more time in ancient England, and this season that means significant screen time with the bone-dry, scared boy-“king” Alfred (the actor portraying him is still a teenager and looks it) who got his older brother to give up the throne, but has looked woefully unprepared to take it ever since.
4. Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) in “American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace”…Whereas the “People vs. OJ” was a panoramic masterpiece that expertly shifted viewpoints–and sympathies–from episode to episode, and sometimes even at the beginning of a scene to the end of it, “Crime Story” feels like we’re held hostage by Cunanan. [Edgar Ramirez’s Versace feels like a complete after thought, and it’s almost like the story is tired of him whenever he’s on-screen.] It doesn’t help that Criss starts off portraying him as a fairly one-dimensional, attention-hogging psychopath (it’s a little like watching Jack from “Will & Grace” take on the role of Lestat) for almost the entire season, and the series waits until very late in the game to reveal additional layers of Cunanan. Although we still only see a pampered serial killer who had a hard time not being a dick even when someone was doing him an extraordinary favor. No wonder the season felt like such a drag until the final few episodes, when we were seeing the manhunt for Cunanan.
3. Paige Jennings (Holly Taylor) in “The Americans”…You didn’t think we’d make it all the way through one of these lists without including Paige did you? The Jennings’s eternally ungrateful, plot-stalling daughter ended the series as she lived it: giving her parents a huge headache when they included her, even as she bellyaches that they don’t include her more. I have never seen a character get more of what they so desperately seek—in this case, an inclusion into her parent’s spy world—and then hate what she’s getting anyway, eventually leaving her parents for their cruel double lives…right as they’re about to end those double lives for good.
2. Peter (Justin Kirk) in “Kidding”…The interloper dating a recently divorced/separated man’s wife is a big theme in star Jim Carrey’s work (“Liar Liar,” “Mr. Popper’s Penguins”), but “Kidding” takes a much darker turn as Carrey and his wife—an especially aloof Judy Greer, who may have played the joyless wife a little too many times by now—are only apart because of the death of one of their twin sons in a car accident. You can’t help but feel for Carrey’s Mr. Rogers-esque “good man in a troubled world,” but Kirk’s faux-good guy Peter keeps showing up to give Carrey’s surviving son terrible advice, prevent Greer’s character from spending real time with Carrey’s Jeff Pickles, and to generally try to fill a role he’s not meant to play. When he offers Carrey’s straight-laced Pickles a joint, and Carrey responds by running him over, I literally started clapping.
1. Almost everyone in “Camping”…This is the first time I’ve ever picked an entire cast, but I can’t think of a better place filler than an ensemble that would be more at home on Showtime’s worst comedy than a prime HBO slot. Just to give you an example, Jennifer Garner’s protagonist is so (intentionally?) unlikable her own sister calls her a bitch, her good friend calls her a “cunt” (before sleeping with her husband as quasi-revenge–har har), and even David Tenant’s annoyingly neebish husband eventually calls her a “bully.” The characters are so bad they seem to accentuate each actor’s biggest flaws–like Brett Gelman playing yet another oddball, Juliette Lewis playing yet another tiresome flake or “free spirit,” and Garner fully inhabiting her somewhat Stepford-Wife-reputation.