The 25 Greatest Television Antagonists: 1950-2000 [US]
Through the years, TV villains have been a source of bitterness with fans. Whether it’s “The One-Armed Man” from The Fugitive, or “The Borg” from Star Trek: The Next Generation, there are some characters it’s impossible to like.
Then there are the antagonists that don’t fall under the category of an enemy, or a villain, but rather an annoying foil that causes discourse, but ultimately becomes one of our favorite characters of the series they represent.
These are the top 25 characters we both – love and hate – at the same time.
- Eddie Haskell – The sycophantic brown-noser who could play a room of adults better than any politician, the “Leave It To Beaver” character was only on the series for 97 episodes, but left an impression like no other character. Played by Ken Osmond, Eddie Haskell wasn’t a bad guy at all, but he was, by Cleaver standards, a troublemaker with motives that would lead their kids to be sneaky and artificial. The feigned and insincere behavior was always funny and we all seemed to have an Eddie in our childhood.
- Major Charles Emerson Winchester III – Winchester was an incredibly gifted surgeon, an intelligent and cultured, often thoughtful character. What made him the foil of the 4077th was his fellow surgeons who were cut-ups and had established a report of smart comments and wisecracks. Unlike Frank Burns, Winchester — played by David Ogden Stiers — often got the best of his counterparts, Hawkeye and B.J. Hunnicut. Far from heartless, some of the sweetest moments on the show involved the anonymous kindness of Winchester.
- J.R. Ewing – Sure, Bobby Ewing was the brother we all loved. His honesty and integrity made the Ewings a beloved “Dallas” family. However, it was J.R. we tuned in to see! The duplicitous business man was sly and put his own interests ahead of family, friends and business. When he was shot, our first reaction was to find out who did it and get revenge. J.R. was a horrible husband, father, brother, son and business partner. He was also the guy who fixed a lot of problems that Bobby couldn’t. We loved to hate him.
- Mr. Haney – Without Mr. Haney’s involvement in tricking the Douglas family into buying something they didn’t actually want, we wouldn’t have had one of the funniest shows on television, “Green Acres.” Haney could sell anything and often did. If he didn’t have it on his truck, he would convince you you didn’t need it. Hooterville’s all-purpose traveling salesman dealt with everything from real estate to licenses and offered musical instruments, bands, singers and farm equipment. His net worth must have been in the millions.
- Dr. Smith – At some point in our lives, we all dream of being in space with a capable crew of resourceful friends and, naturally, a robot. What “Lost In Space” did was give us that, but offer a twist of a sneaky doctor with a feverish attitude, flying off the handle without a second thought. Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris) was, for some reason, trusted with The Robot and Will Robinson, which often would lead to bizarre and outlandish scenarios that the rest of the crew would have to solve, rescuing an ungrateful Smith.
- Louie De Palma – Danny DeVito’s character packed a lot of anger into a slimy character on the show “Taxi.” No one liked Louie except for Latka Gravas. Louie was rude to the drivers, would constantly make insensitive remarks, then would make unwanted advances at Elaine. At the end of the day, he was still a character we loved and often got the biggest laughs. We would sometimes see his more sensitive side, when the chips were down, requiring Louie to take a stand for what was right.
- Newman – The hatred between Newman and Jerry on “Seinfeld” was a deep one, lasting well beyond the series itself. We never really knew why Jerry originally hated the mail carrier, played by Wayne Knight, but we did know the devious behavior of Newman often caused contemptible issues, particularly when Newman and Jerry’s neighbor Kramer came up with a get-rich-quick scheme, or a way to make their own lives easier.
- Archie Bunker – “All In the Family” provided laughs and thought provoking moments, usually at the expense of the racist Bunker, played by Carroll O’Connor. Bunker’s issues with every race, religion, color and country was something that would be hard to laugh at, had it not been for the fact that his family still loved him. His son-in-law, Michael ‘Meathead’ Stivic would attempt to use logic and reason to debunk Archie’s lifetime-old bigoted ideas, yet Archie would return fire with history lessons that were usually complete misunderstandings of what actually happened. Archie worked hard, he provided for his family and he loved them, he just had a hard time showing it.
- Aunt Esther – Fred Sanford was quick witted and highly capable of putting just about anyone in their place. The one person that could always get the best of him was the ultra-religious relative, Esther, played by LaWanda Page. While Fred often offered a punch to the upper lip to fix the situation, Esther was always able to get him riled up and get the upper hand, instead.
- Endora – The best over-involved mother-in-law in television has to be “Bewitched” Endora, played by Agnes Moorehead. Samantha’s magically sneaky mother-in-law character caused many a sleepless night for her daughter and son-in-law.
- Lenny & Squiggy – The single roommates “Laverne & Shirley” wanted to find love, happiness and a good life for themselves. What they got instead was two of the weirdest friends they could ask for. Lenny Kosnowski and Squiggy Squiggman (Michael McKean and David L. Lander) were the lustful neighbors who always showed up at the wrong time, always caused more trouble when they offered to help and always made us laugh in the end.
- Alexis Carrington Colby – Bordering on villain, Joan Collins character on “Dynasty” was wicked, rich and nasty, but we still loved her. Her schemes to destroy her ex-husband’s marriage to Krystle and run the lives her her children made for some epic television throughout the 1980s.
- Nellie Oleson – “Little House on the Prairie” was a wholesome, family show in a setting during the late 1800s. Who would have thought that one of the most stubborn, spoiled brats on television would come from such a show? Nellie (Alison Arngrim) was an entitled child, thanks to her mother Caroline, who was similarly an entitled adult brat.
- Steve Urkel – Without an evil bone in his body, Steven Quincy Urkel (Jaleel White) was never dishonest, or mean, yet he caused more problems for everyone around him than anyone in the 1990s. Urkel’s clumsy good intentions caused issues on “Family Matters” ranging from house fires to entire subway trains angrily telling him to shut up. The problems were never expected from Urkel who would simply respond, “Did I do that?”
- Stanley Roper – The most infamous landlord in sitcom history was Mr. Roper of “Three’s Company.” But his constant penny pinching, anger toward his tenants and ability to break the fourth wall with a simple grin wasn’t enough to keep Jack, Janet and Chrissy from having fun.
- Sue Ann Nivens – Mary Richards was one of the nicest people in television. She worked hard, did her job well and did it for little money or respect. Sue Ann was a jealous, demeaning co-worker who could belittle her with a smile on her face. Played flawlessly by Betty White, the character wasn’t cruel, but usually went out of her way to make herself the center of attention for Minneapolis.
- Mr. Drysdale – The rich banker, Milburn Drysdale (Raymond Bailey), wasn’t just a kiss-up to Jed Clampett when it came to making sure his money never left his bank; he was also a horrible boss to Jane Hathaway. Mr. Drysdale went out of his way to make sure his penny pinching paid off, regardless the lengths he had to go to, or have Miss Jane go to, to win the day.
- Maj. Frank Burns – Whiny, dimwitted Frank Burns somehow won the heart of Major Margaret Houlihan, but was far from capable of putting up a war of words, during the time of war, when it came to Pierce and McIntyre. His tattle-tail behavior was often a chance for Hawkeye to make him the butt of the joke.
- Diane Chambers – Sam and Diane’s relationship was on again/off again. When it was off again, Diane was high strung and somehow saw the rest of “Cheers” as beneath her.
- Sgt. Vince Carter – Frank Sutton’s loud and angry character from “Gomer Pyle, USMC” failed to see the humor in anything that Pvt. Pyle did or said. His blood pressure was high and his tolerance for Pyle’s innocence, which could often lead to trouble, was very low.
- Waldorf and Statler – “The Muppet Show” was full of fun and talented guest stars. None of which impressed the grumpy old men in the audience every week who always found something to complain about. No matter how good the acts were, the duo found reason to complain.
- Kimmy Gibbler – Annoying neighbors exist on every show, but it really takes some effort to be the most annoying character on “Full House.” Kimmy (Andrea Barber) was always showing up unannounced, in everyone’s business and talking far more than anyone would ever want to listen. She wasn’t a bad person, she was just horrible.
- Principal Michael Woodman – “Welcome Back, Kotter” had a band of sweat hogs with a teacher who formerly fell under the same category. The trouble making students had a hard-nosed principal standing in their way, though, with Mr. Woodman, played by John Sylvester White. His no-nonsense approach to academics involved putting Gabe Kotter and the gang back in line with every episode.
- Screech – “Saved By The Bell” was a lightweight children’s live action show about relationships and friendships growing up in the early 90s high school, Bayside. The characters were likable enough, with the exception of the overly annoying problem child, Samuel “Screech” Powers, who never did a single positive thing throughout the entire series. His entire nerdy approach was unbearable and did more harm than good.
- Derek Taylor – Jason Bateman’s young character from “Silver Spoons” was the Eddie Haskell of his day. His friendship with Ricky Stratton was strictly to make his life easier at the expense of others. He was sneaky and willing to lie to get what he wanted.