We are not talking about the Dr. Gregory Houses, Michael Scotts, or Hannah Horvaths of the world. Nor, for that matter, are we speaking of Dexter, Sherlock, or American Sherlock. And no one even wishes to discuss Walter White. Anti-heroes are a dime a dozen. We’re talking about heroes that are supposed to be relatable. Heroes we’re supposed to root for and sympathize with. We’re talking about the protagonists of American television and, specifically, we’re talking about how goddamn awful many of them are.
Self-obsessed, smug, mean-spirited, and angry, these characters drive the plot forward and normal people up that wall. There’s plenty to dislike out there, but these characters are the worst of the bunch.
Ted Mosby, How I Met Your Mother
Few things are as baffling as America’s decade-long love affair with this haughty, mid-twenties guy obsessed, nay, consumed, with matrimony. We spent a decade going “aww” as this guy hunted down a yellow umbrella with the romantic fervor of a bloodhound suffering from separation anxiety. Anything can be romantic and endearing if you squint hard enough and throw in a laugh track, but add sixty pounds and a trench coat to Josh Radnor’s boyish charms and you’ve got yourself a ‘80s Scorsese picture with a nasty ending.
Olivia Pope, Scandal
In large part because of Kerry Washington’s performance, Olivia Pope has become an icon of not only feminism but competency. Week after week, the character proves that she is not only “as good as any men” but in fact, much better than they are at handling every scenario from kidnappings to your run-of-the-mill election fraud. She also commits a lot of crimes on a daily basis. A lot of crimes.
Jim Halpert, The Office
Now, look, we’re not saying that Dwight Schrute wouldn’t be an off-putting workplace presence, but Jim Halpert’s constant and mostly one-sided prank campaign against him always seemed a bit much. By all accounts, restless Jim locked in on the most hard-working and dedicated employee at the company and decided to make his life a daily hell in order to cope with his own unfulfilled ambitions and romantic frustration.
Remember when Pam Beasley dreamed of leaving Scranton for New York to become an artist? Remember how she ended up in a relationship with the guy two feet away who was not only creepily possessive, buying his parents’ house for them to move into, and getting her pregnant twice in a row? Pam was left a discontent Office Manager who almost had an affair with a boom mic operator that was apparently standing two feet to the left of the frame this entire time, before being whisked to Austin, Texas with Jim’s promise of a better life that we’re not too confident will turn out that much better.
Buffy Summers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Serena Van Der Woodsen, Gossip Girl
A show centered around the tribulations of impossibly rich and beautiful teenagers with New York City at their feet is not bound to inspire much sympathy in the first place, but in the case of Blake Lively lookalike, Serena Van Der Woodsen, it was difficult to argue that life wouldn’t be infinitely better without her there. In fact, several storylines had to do with Serena leaving Manhattan and turning it into a gossamer field of joy every time. The boys fighting over her played basketball together, her best friend stopped scheming, and even her occasionally malevolent mother seemed to find some peace in these brief interludes.
Ultimately, Serena reminded us of that person we all know who continuously bemoans the drama that befalls their life while salivating at the mouth at all the delicious drama that’s totally not their fault, you guys.
Even when the eponymous Gossip Girl blog (who turned out to be an ex of hers, but hush) got bored, Serena herself took up the faceless mantle because she felt like her life had no meaning without the spotlight she spent years complaining about.
Harvey Specter, Suits
The legal bro-drama follows the friendship between slick, alpha male Harvey Specter and gifted college dropout Mike Ross, whom the former takes under his wing after a weed delivery mishap. (If you happen to know a fraternity pledge that intends to go to law school, chances are Suits is his favorite show.)
Beyond the terabytes of Tumblr fanfiction that this pairing has inspired, there is also the fact that Harvey Specter gets a vaguely inappropriate thrill from dressing and grooming this younger, smarter version of himself while also regularly threatening to throw him under the bus if need be.