This year’s break-out primetime soap Revenge is yet another testament to our fascination with the rich and awful, in this case the Graysons — the family Emily Thorne (who is really Amanda Clarke) believes to be responsible for her father’s death. As we approach tonight’s finale, we’re looking forward to the big reveals (namely, who will die?), as well as the simple things: some Nolan and Ems hostage banter, a few classic Victoria zingers to send us on our way for the summer, and Daniel slipping further into the dark side (and, in turn, ratcheting up the tension between him and his possibly sociopathic bride-to-be).
The Grayson family’s hand in the David Clarke cover-up is far from clear at this point, but we’ve spent enough time in the Hamptons this year to know the scope of their power leaves nothing out of the realm of possibility. If you’re a Grayson and you want something done, it generally happens. Which of course got us thinking about the history of awful rich people on TV — from the lovably conniving (think Victoria) to the plain awful (think Conrad). Click through for our roundup of the most indelible characters, and as always we invite you to make your own additions in the comments.
Dallas: J.R. Ewing, oil magnate
There’s no better way to begin this list than with Dallas — the torchbearer of primetime dramas about greedy rich people. According to show creatorDavid Jacobs: “[J.R.’s] attitude was you have to screw them before they screw you… one actor offered the role (Robert Foxworth) wanted to know how we would be sympathetic with J.R. or at least understand him. I said I don’t think we are going to, this guy just likes it, and the actor passed.” Larry Hagman ended up winning the role, and quickly took the character from supporting cast member to star, proving that America had more than enough room in its heart for an unapologetic oil tycoon. In fact, 76% of our nation’s TV viewers tuned in on the night of November 21, 1980 to find out “Who shot J.R.?” (the culprit, for the 24% of you who were on another channel or not yet born, was his mistress/sister-in-law Kristin Shepard). J.R., of course, rehabilitated and lived on for the show’s 14-season run (including the initial miniseries), two reunion movies, five Knots Landing appearances, and now TNT’s revival — in which the Ewing family feud will live on through J.R. and Bobby’s sons J.R. III and Christopher (played by Desperate Housewives alum Josh Henderson and Jesse Metcalfe ).
Dynasty: Alexis Colby, oil/publishing/hotel/fur mogul
In the competition for “most evil ’80s soap opera character,” J.R. Ewing is neck and neck with Alexis Colby, the scheming socialite who came to Dynasty in Season 2 to take down ex-husband Blake Carrington, and ended up saving the show after a lackluster freshman year. Both Dallas and Dynasty are often lauded as parodies of the flagrant spending and greed of their era, and after re-watching Alexis’ (first) catfight with nemesis Krystle Carrington (see above), we have to assume this show wasn’t taking itself too seriously. That said, this woman’s execution of mink, silk house-capes, and extreme sleeves was genuinely intimidating.
The Simpsons: Charles Montgomery Burns, Springfield Nuclear Power Plant overlord
As the richest, most powerful man in Springfield, Burns maintains control of the town thanks to his nuclear power plant, which has been reported to have 340 violations, and is responsible for a new species of fish known as Blinky. Burns has lived long enough to (proudly) claim he once manufactured shells for the Nazis, and it doesn’t look like he’s going to die any time soon, despite having a tiny black lump for a heart. He reportedly stole Christmas from 1981 to 1985, once even tried to steal the sun (see: “Who Shot Mr. Burns?”), and has been known to use his employees as slave labor (see: “American History X-cellent”). Arguably his most egregious offense is his treatment of loyal assistant Waylon Smithers. Anyone who strings another human being along for so long is just cruel. We don’t understand why Burns won’t admit it already — this man deserves a promotion.
Will & Grace: Karen Walker, “Personal Assistant” at Grace Adler Designs
A socialite who found “poor people with big dreams” funny, Karen Walker’s main pleasures were booze, pills, shopping, and pretending to work. No one was immune to her derision (or high-pitched laugh), and that included her personal staff (said to total more than 30), friends, strangers, vegans, and Candy Bergen. She took particular joy in needling her own boss, Grace — namely for her clothes, horse teeth, small bust, and taste in men. And while we believe the Bible is wide open for whichever interpretation you choose, we have to say Karen’s missed the mark. See: “C’mon, Grace, it’s like it says in the Bible. The best way to make you feel good is to make someone else feel bad,” and, “Maybe it’s like it says in the Bible — I felt bad because I had no shoes, but then I met someone who had really bad shoes.”
Arrested Development: Lucille Bluth, real-estate empress
While Lucille shared many Karen Walker traits — berating people, cruelty to staff, drinking — she clearly carved out her own niche in TV socialite villainy. Whereas Karen avoided her family (her explanation for taking a “job” as Grace’s assistant), Lucille made the lives of her own a living hell. And unlike Karen, she was no golddigger; this woman was self-made, albeit illegally. As the Season 3 finale revealed, she was responsible for Bluth Corporation’s financial scandals, as well as the theft of Annyong’s grandfather’s frozen banana idea. When we last saw her she was making her getaway from the SEC, and if we haven’t made it clear enough before, we can’t wait for the next chapter in this awful woman’s life.
Deadwood: George Hearst, dramatized version of real-life mining/publishing magnate
When an evil interloper enters a story, rivals are often forced into unlikely alliances, which is exactly what happened to Seth Bullock and Al Swearengen when George Hearst set up shop in Deadwood at the beginning of Season 3. The murdered union workers, the construction of his evil overlord veranda, and the chopping of Swearengen’s finger — these all were harbingers of the havoc Hearst would wreak as he took control of the titular mining camp. The only uptick in his ruthless quest for “the color” (i.e., gold) was that it brought the people of Deadwood together. The sad part, of course, was that Hearst won — an illustration of how evil-capitalists were muscling in on this country from its most formative years onward.
Days of Our Lives: Stefano DiMera, CEO of DiMera Enterprises
Speaking of TV villains who just won’t die, Stefano DiMera has now survived his own death 11 times (hence his alias, “The Phoenix”) and will probably, somehow, live on even after the daytime soap genre ceases to exist. If you ever “accidentally” tuned into Days show during a sick day or an especially slow summer and thought, “What the hell is going on here?,” chances are Stefano was to blame. Demonic possessions, microchip mind control, creepy basement hostage situations, and of course the great baby switch, are all on a long list of crimes that can be traced back to this man. Our sources tell us he’s currently in jail, but if history has taught us anything, it won’t be for long.
Friday Night Lights: Joe McCoy, beer mogul/overbearing football dad
Never have booster club politics been as dirty as when Joe McCoy — father of star quarterback J.D. McCoy — used his money and power to control the West Dillon High football team — and eventually got Coach Taylor fired. This man was only on the show for a relatively short period of time, but the hate he inspired was so visceral, that he couldn’t not make this list. We’ll let the critics take it from here:
“His smug smile. His mirrored shades. I loathe him.” — Entertainment Weekly
“Since Moffett’s appearance on Friday Night Lights, I can’t help but reflexively sneer when I see his face. I hope that if I ever ran into the guy, I’d be polite, because he’s not really Joe McCoy, but I make no guarantees.” — A.V. Club
“Damn you, Joe McCoy. Damn you to hell.” — Smart Pop Books<
Game of Thones: Cersei, Jaime, and Joffrey Lannister, House of Lannister
We have yet to find one slither of good in Joffrey, but since he is only a “child,” we are throwing Cersei and Jaime on here too. They are only slightly better than their wretched son in that sometimes we see semblances of humanity in them — like the capacity to love (albeit only each other), and as Cersei conveyed in an awkward, sort-of-heartfelt confessional to her brother Tyrion recently, regret about her possible misdeeds (sleeping with her brother). But then she went and upended any empathy we felt when she had the woman she believed to be Tyrion’s “little whore” captured and tortured in the next episode. And while we recognize that the social norms of this imaginary world allow everyone to be sort of a jerk, they still started it.
Mad Men: Roger Sterling, Jr., Partner at the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce
As with Game of Thrones, we feel a little guilty singling out just one person from Mad Men, but we have to admit that since the show started we’ve pretty much always viewed Roger as an awful rich person. He’s racist, self-centered, and has an unnerving sense of entitlement at work and with women. Remember way back when he made a move on Betty in the Draper kitchen when they had him over for dinner? Or just a week ago when he insisted on going up to Jane’s new apartment? This man does what he wants, when he wants, because no one seems to have ever told him “no.” Sure, his recent LSD trip has given him a new appreciation for life and the cosmos or whatever, but at the end of the day he will always be Roger. The most recent “Codfish Ball” episode is a perfect metaphor for what we mean. He hangs out with little Sally Draper all evening — her big night out with the grown-ups — and it’s sweet. He even buys her a Shirley Temple! Then he has to go and get a blowjob from Megan’s mom.