Last night’s episode of You’re the Worst opens with a montage depicting Jimmy’s (Chris Geere) mad rush to finish his second novel: The dishes piles up in the sink as he paces back and forth, drinks, smokes, carries his laptop from one room to the next, and generally plays the part of the Tortured Artist. When he finally puts the finishing touches on his Carrie Matheson-like vision board, he steps back and triumphantly pumps his fist. Then he unzips his pants and jerks off to the awe-inspiring sight of his own work.
Jimmy’s masturbatory writing process is part of a long tradition. Writers can be notoriously self-centered, so it’s no surprise that TV writers have created their share of characters who make a living off the written word. Below, we’ve compiled 20 of TV’s best (and worst) fictional authors, poets, and playwrights, ranked in descending order.
Diane Nguyen, BoJack Horseman
Oh, Diane. Has any other TV character inspired so much head-nodding sympathy from fellow writers? A ghostwriter initially hired to pen former TV star BoJack’s memoirs in Season 1, Diane (voiced by Alison Brie) is ambitious and intelligent, and appears to fill the role of the voice of reason. But, like BoJack — and like many writers — Diane suffers from depression. That, coupled with her rocky relationship with her husband, Mr. Peanutbutter, often saps her drive to work, despite her talent and ability. We feel you, girl!
Suzanne Warren, Orange is the New Black
In one of the funniest recurring gags on OITNB, Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren (Uzo Aduba) enjoys a brief bout of celebrity in Season 3 when she writes an erotic sci-fi novel called The Time Hump Chronicles. What starts as an exercise for Litchfield Prison’s new drama class quickly takes over the imaginations of the inmates — especially when a bed-bug scare prompts the guards to burn all the library’s books. But the serial adventures of Space Admiral Rodocker more than make up for the loss.
Liz Lemon, 30 Rock
The patron saint of single workaholic women, Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) is the head writer of 30 Rock’s show-within-a-show, TGS with Tracy Jordan. Sure, the sketches on TGS could use some improvement. But Liz is a beacon for every writer who’s ever looked up from her desk to realize she’s the last one in the office — before heading home to throw on a Snuggie and work on the night cheese.
Jessica Fletcher, Murder, She Wrote
Small-town widow Jessica Fletcher is such a skilled author of murder mysteries, even Scotland Yard and the FBI call on her to help solve their cases. Played by Angela Lansbury, Jessica was trained as a journalist and worked as a substitute English teacher before meeting her husband, Frank. It wasn’t until Frank passed away that she began writing best-selling novels — and solving actual murder mysteries — reminding us all that it’s never too late to pursue your passion.
Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City
Someday an intrepid journalist will reveal exactly how many aspiring journalists packed their bags and headed to the Big Apple dreaming of Carrie Bradshaw’s spacious West Village apartment and closet full of Manolos — all paid for by her once-a-week sex column in the fictional equivalent of the New York Post. Oh, and there was that one time she got offered four effing dollars a word to write about her shoe habit for Vogue . Alas, that version of the writing life is a complete fantasy. But sometimes a fantasy…
Jane Gloriana Villanueva, Jane the Virgin
Sweet, virginal Jane (Gina Rodriguez) just wants to write filthy, dirty romance novels — and she’s not going to let a little thing like being accidentally artificially inseminated with some guy’s sperm get in her way. This woman is so dedicated she almost missed her wedding so she could drop off her final graduate paper, a draft of her first novel. We could all take a page from Jane’s very eventful book.
Ezekiel “Zeke” Figuero, The Get Down
The first words we hear in The Get Down are Zeke’s poetry, expressing his yearning for his “butterscotch queen,” Mylene Cruz. Nicknamed “Books,” Zeke (Justice Smith) is a sensitive soul, a poet and iconoclast who, with the help of his friend Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore), uses his rhyming skills in the service of a new and revolutionary musical genre: hip-hop.
Rory Gilmore, Gilmore Girls
Only perfect, apple-cheeked Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel) could take an assignment about the repaving of the school parking lot and turn it into “a bittersweet piece on how everybody and everything eventually becomes obsolete,” in the words of her approving teacher. From star of her fancy prep school’s newspaper to the editor of the Yale Daily News, Rory has been making well-meaning journalism students feel inadequate since the beginning of the millennium. It doesn’t hurt to have a frenemy like Paris Geller (Liza Weil) to give you a push.
Ken Cosgrove, Mad Men
Account executive by day, sci-fi writer by night. Mad Men established Ken Cosgrove’s (Aaron Staton) side gig early in the first season, when it’s discovered that Ken has had a short story published in The Atlantic Monthly called “Tapping a Maple on a Cold Vermont Morning” (Ken hails from Burlington, Vermont). When his bosses at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce object to his habit, he starts writing under the pseudonyms “Ben Hargrove” and “Dave Algonquin.” You’ll have to pry the pen from Ken’s cold, dead fingers.
Rob Petrie, The Dick Van Dyke Show
The Dick Van Dyke Show, which premiered in 1960, is proof that TV writers have been creating navel-gazing, self-referential meta-comedies since the early days of the medium. Dick Van Dyke stars as Rob Petrie, a staff writer on a variety show produced in New York City — which gave the show an excuse to toss in joke after joke, just for the sake of laughter.
Julie Kessler, Difficult People
One half of Difficult People’s caustic central duo, Julie Kessler (series creator Julie Klausner) is a struggling comedy writer who pens TV episode recaps while awaiting her invitation to stardom. Julie’s dedication to the fine art of recapping is rivaled only by her many jokes at the expense of her, ahem, career. “I have to go home and recap T.I. and Tiny: A Family Affair,” she tells her BFF (Billy Eichner), “although I might end up just splitting the difference and putting my head in the oven.”
Sean and Beverly Lincoln, Episodes
Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig have wonderful chemistry as married couple Sean and Beverly, who created a successful sitcom in their native England and have been tasked with adapting it for an American audience. But their show about a schoolteacher and his young charges quickly morphs into a rather lame series starring Matt LeBlanc (who plays himself) as a hockey coach. The situation strains Sean and Beverly’s marriage, but with a little pluck, they decide to stick it out it hellish Hollywood as long as someone’s still cutting them a paycheck.
Doll and Em, Doll & Em
Created by real-life besties Emily Mortimer and Dolly Wells, Doll & Em’s first season revolved around the conflict generated by Em’s decision to hire Doll as her personal assistant on a big film shoot in L.A. — a situation that leaves Doll feeling worthless and underappreciated. In the second season, Doll and Em opt for a much healthier partnership when they write a one-act play together. The opening credits depict a montage of the two friends passing the laptop back and forth as they work on their baby, a nice homage to the spirit of friendly collaboration.
Richard Castle, Castle
“There are two kinds of folks who sit around thinking how to kill people,” Richard Castle informs us. “Psychopaths, and mystery writers. I’m the kind that pays better.” Played by Nathan Fillion, Castle is a former private investigator who writes best-selling crime novels about a private investigator named Derrick Storm. The Derrick Storm books became so popular, they were even released as a set of actual e-books, under the name Richard Castle, and ABC has commissioned a sort-of-spinoff based on the Derrick Storm novels. Not bad for a fictional author.
“Jonathan Ames,” Bored to Death
Another instance of fiction comingling with fact, Bored to Death was created by real-life author Jonathan Ames — and stars Jason Schwartzman as a fictional version of Jonathan Ames, a Brooklyn-dwelling author who moonlights as a private detective. (Jessica Fletcher, look what you’ve begat!) “Ames” writes for a New York-based magazine called Edition while he struggles to write his fiction; appropriately, a Raymond Carver detective story inspires him to launch his (unlicensed) private investigating career, which eventually becomes more successful than his writing career. Them’s the breaks.
Zoe Barnes, House of Cards
Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) is an ambitious journalist determined to uncover Washington’s biggest secrets — until her source and sometime lover, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), pushes her in front of an oncoming subway train in the second season premiere. House of Cards’ portrait of a young, eager female journalist willing to sleep with sources to get a scoop earned the ire of not a few young journalists. But I think we can all agree the real crime in HoC’s depiction of journalism is its vision of millennial-run new media, manifested in its fictional news site, Slugline. I still shudder at the word.
Hannah Horvath, Girls
It was incredibly vindicating to watch Hannah (series creator Lena Dunham) get up onstage at an open-mic storytelling event in the Season 5 finale of Girls and deliver a perfect, lovely, funny speech about coming to terms with her best friend’s new relationship with her ex-boyfriend. Since the show’s first season, we’ve watched Hannah stumble through a writing career, from her disastrous e-book contract to her stint writing advertorials for GQ to her abandoned career as a graduate student at the Iowa Writers Workshop. But throughout it all, she’s been learning about the kind of writer she is and wants to be, and the most recent season gave viewers a reason to be optimistic about her future.
Jimmy Shive-Overly, You’re the Worst
You’re the Worst delivers some of its finest satire in the form of Jimmy’s (Chris Geere) career as a novelist, expertly skewering the kind of entitled white guy who deems himself a genius for essentially transcribing his daddy issues and sexual frustrations. “This is literature,” Jimmy spits at Dorothy (Collette Wolfe) when she points out his new novel sounds kinda sexist. “It shall sing its own song uncaring if sensibilities are too delicate.” The first season began just after Jimmy published his first novel, Congratulations, You’re Dying; the current third season has Jimmy working on his next book, a literary erotic novel set during World War II that contains, Dorothy points out, “Just so many descriptions of semen on stockings.”
Noah Solloway, The Affair
Noah is just about the worst (I say “just about” because, well, you’ll understand when you click to the next slide). A schoolteacher who wrote one fairly well received, if slightly ignored, novel, Noah (Dominic West) embarks on a torrid affair with a married waitress, Alison (Ruth Wilson), whom he meets on a family vacation in Montauk in The Affair‘s first season. In the second, he leaves his wife and four children for said waitress and publishes his second novel, Descent, which he writes in a blur when he’s sent to the rubber room for having sex with one too many teachers at his school. Let’s face it — anyone who can be described as “the new bad boy of American letters” has just got to be the worst.
Hank Moody, Californication
Who else could hold the distinction of The Worst Fictional Writer on Television but Hank Moody (David Duchovny), Californication’s sleazy hero? The esteemed author of the critically acclaimed screed God Hates Us All, Hank finds late-stage success with Fucking & Punching, a novel based on the time he unwittingly had sex with his ex-wife’s teenage stepdaughter. At least The Affair and You’re the Worst treat their obnoxious white-male novelists with an appropriate degree of disdain and/or irony; Californication is a full-on celebration of Hank’s debauchery.