Top 10 Most Controversial TV Characters

Script written by Shane Fraser They amuse us, upset us and sometimes anger us. But that’s why we love them! Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Controversial TV Characters.For this list, we’ve chosen characters that were received negatively by some facet of society. Special thanks to our users sarahjessicaparkerth for submitting the idea using our interactive suggestion tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Script written by Shane Fraser

Top 10 Controversial TV Characters


They amuse us, upset us and sometimes anger us. But that’s why we love them! Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Controversial TV Characters.

For this list, we’ve chosen characters that were received negatively by some facet of society. These personalities run the gamut of offensiveness, and are ranked by their cultural footprint in terms of popularity, notoriety, and influence. We’re only including fictional characters on this list, so Hitler from the exceptionally short-lived “Heil Honey I’m Home!” will not make an appearance.    

#10: Jack Bauer 
“24” (2001-14)

An anti-terrorist agent who’s worked for various intelligence organizations, notably CTU, Jack Bauer is often thrown into life-and-death situations. What’s more, many of the tasks he performs in the line of duty are of questionable morality, including murder and torture. Considering “24” aired during the Abu Ghraib prison torture controversy, and counter-terrorism was an on-going issue at the time as well, the ethics of interrogation was a contentious issue - something not helped by Bauer’s nationally-televised atrocities. Many people, especially human rights activists, chided these segments of the show, calling Bauer a torture propagandist. While his methods were questionable, Bauer saw them as a means to an end and the only way to save the day. 

#9: Beavis & Butt-Head 
“Beavis and Butt-Head” (1993-97; 2011)

Beavis and Butt-Head were the victims of youth emulation and media reproach. The characters, in all their irreverent glory, were delinquent, misanthropic, and borderline-sociopathic, making sure they were hated by parents and loved by children – a dangerous combination. One child, allegedly imitating the duo’s fascination with fire, burned down his home with his sister inside. Another child, after hearing Butt-Head mention sticking a firecracker inside a cat, did the exact same thing. However, the legitimacy of claims that the characters were to blame has been debated. Whatever the case may be, controversy followed Beavis and Butt-Head like a shadow.

#8: Tom & Helen Willis 
“The Jeffersons” (1975-85)

As a white man married to a black woman, Tom and Helen Willis were among TV’s first interracial couples. Considering “The Jeffersons” premiered less than a decade after anti-race mixing laws were abolished, some people weren’t receptive to that level of integration on national television, with Louise Jefferson often voicing the antiquated views of such a demographic. It speaks to the likeability of the show that this controversy was not longstanding, as “The Jeffersons” was beloved for its racial honesty and humor, and the Willises became fan favorites. Humor is one of the best devices for quelling racial tension and this couple certainly helped break down barriers on TV. 

#7: Don Draper 
“Mad Men” (2007-15)

As an advertising executive in the ‘60s, Don Draper is the epitome of masculinity – for better or worse. Such a standard is impossible to hold without collateral damage, however, as Draper’s lifestyle is fraught with adultery, alcoholism, and grossly inappropriate conduct towards women. For this reason, “Mad Men” has received controversy for its alleged misogynistic overtones and sexist treatment of female characters. While he’s by no means a good role model, Don Draper is true to his time period and his character, and, as the saying goes, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

#6: Murphy Brown 
“Murphy Brown” (1988-98)

It’s fairly shocking in hindsight, but “Murphy Brown” was the subject of significant controversy in her day, specifically because she was a single mother. During 1992’s presidential campaign, then-U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle delivered a speech about family values, wherein he singled out Murphy Brown, a career woman who carried and raised a child without a man, for contributing to the decay of society. In the ‘90s television landscape and beyond, Murphy Brown was considered a pillar of feminism, partly for her independent lifestyle, and this rubbed some people – even major politicians – the wrong way. But did Murphy and her creators take this lying down? No way: they tackled Quayle’s comments head on.

#5: Al Bundy 
“Married… with Children” (1987-97)

“Married… with Children” was a spoof on the traditional sitcom. Every standard rule was abolished in exchange for satirical freedom, which ruffled the feathers of many a situation comedy viewer. But no character was freer in their debauchery than the head of the Bundy household, Al; an exaggerated male stereotype, full of lust, beer, and crudity. An anti-obscenity advocate launched a campaign to boycott the show, which ultimately worked for a time. In the end, the FOX series’ sponsors ended up paying much closer attention to the content, leaving an episode entitled “I’ll See You in Court” unaired due to scandalous content. The bad press ended up working more in the show’s favor, however, with Al winning the war, and “Married… with Children” returning to its trademark irreverence.

#4: Ren & Stimpy 
“The Ren & Stimpy Show” (1991-95)

When a kid’s series is so dirty that an adult version of the show has to be created just to facilitate the jokes, then you’ve got one untamable beast on your hands. The indecent acts of the eponymous Ren and Stimpy are the stuff of legend. The Nickelodeon series is full of adult jokes, sexual innuendos, and incredibly dark subject matter with no educational value whatsoever, and the creators knew that from the get-go. As you can imagine, the censors were perpetually tested by the content. Combine all that with the characters’ ambiguous sexuality and you can only loosely call this a kid’s show.

#3: Dexter Morgan
“Dexter” (2006-13)

Dexter Morgan’s brand of justice is morally grey at best. Seemingly a normal man on the outside, Dexter has murderous tendencies on the inside. Because of this, he lives by a code, only killing those who deserve it – mostly. Unlike the other characters on this list that are only superficially controversial, Dexter’s controversy has real-life implications: the serial killer character has spawned copycats in the real world. In fact, seven murder victims can be connected to “Dexter,” including a mother who was killed by her “Dexter”-obsessed son, an oil-field worker who was killed in a “Dexter”-inspired murder room, and a girl who was dismembered by her boyfriend in a “Dexter” imitation. Unfortunately, it seems like “Dexter” is to spree killers what “The Catcher in the Rye” is to assassins.

#2: Eric Cartman 
“South Park” (1997-)

Though Bart Simpson was the original obscene cartoon child, when Eric Cartman stepped on the scene, everyone had a new authority to respect. There aren’t enough terms of bigotry to describe Cartman’s personality, so we’ll just let him speak for himself. An adult character spouting the same hateful rhetoric would be bad enough, but coming from an eight-year-old child, it’s almost demonic. It’s common knowledge that “South Park” has received opposition from decency groups for possibly inciting prejudice, and Cartman is almost always the catalyst. Don’t cross this bad boy or else he’ll make you eat your parents. 

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- Jodie Dallas 
“Soap” (1977-81) 

- Maude Findlay 
“Maude” (1972-78) 

- Andy Sipowicz
“NYPD Blue” (1993-2005) 

- Tony Soprano 
“The Sopranos” (1999-2007)

#1: Archie Bunker 
“All in the Family” (1971-79)

When looking through today’s politically correct lens, it’d be easy to see Archie Bunker as an abominable character: he’s a staunch conservative whose views on social issues are archaic – even for the time period in which he lives. Quick with a racist or misogynistic quip, the patriarch of 704 Hauser Street is flat-out abrasive, originally designed by creator Norman Lear to be hated by audiences. But hated he was not: because of Archie’s sincerity and his apparent – though often repressed – heart of gold, viewers were able to look past his bigotry, helping him to inspire future controversial characters like Eric Cartman and become one of the best-loved TV characters of all time. There’s something to be said for honest convictions.   

Do you agree with our list? Who’s your favorite controversial TV character? For more shocking Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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