I’ve always fancied myself a champion of the misunderstood, especially when it comes to TV and movies. In most cases, the antagonists have got it tougher than the heroes. Maybe they aren’t antagonistic at all- maybe they’re just annoying. Whatever the case, they didn’t deserve the vitriol they received.
1. Sharpay Evans (High School Musical)
It’s a TV movie, it still counts. Yes, I was a theater geek growing up. What’s your point?
Sharpay Evans, the glamorous blonde “villain” of the High School Musical franchise, really isn’t such a villain after all. In the first movie, it’s stated that she’s starred in every school play “since kindergarten.” Sure, she’s a diva, but she’s clearly dedicated to her craft. Enter Gabriella, the boring mathlete who steals her spotlight while knowing fuck-all about theater. Of COURSE Sharpay is annoyed, but she graciously wishes Gabriella good luck at the end.
The second movie, however, is where Sharpay is revealed as more of a tragic character. For starters, she doesn’t appear to have any friends besides her twin brother. When her classmates take summer jobs at her parents’ country club, they exclude Sharpay from everything; even after she goes above and beyond to help Troy Bolton’s college prospects. When her brother ditches their double act for the talent show at the last minute, Troy does step in to help her, but states he is doing this so she will allow his friends to be in the show. Sharpay’s tearful reply is “I kind of wish you were doing this for me.” This, folks, is the true tragedy of Sharpay Evans: a friendless girl who hides her loneliness behind a makeshift ego.
2. Pete Campbell (Mad Men)
No one is saying Peter Campbell is a good person. Hell, when Lane Pryce clocked him in the face, Joan Holloway-Harris noted that “everyone in the office has wanted to do that to Pete Campbell.” In the earlier seasons, he was conniving and underhanded in his career ambitions, going so far as to blackmail Don Draper, in addition to cheating on his wife.
In his defense: Don was committing some pretty serious identity theft? He lied to every person in his life about his name, past, and identity. For all Pete knew, he could have been a war criminal. He more than redeems himself for this in season 4, by covering for Don when North American Aviation looks into Don’s background, by claiming that he himself dropped the account. Pete willingly takes the subsequent backlash, knowing it will save Don from exposure.
As for the womanizing, literally every man on the show was an adulterer. Pete’s extramarital affairs pale greatly in comparison to Roger Sterling’s or Don Draper’s. As far as the controversial German au pair scene goes, Producer Matthew Weiner insists that the script specified the act as consensual. Remember, these were actors, not real people, following a script.
At the very least, Pete appears to grow and learn as the show goes on- more than we can say for fan-favorite Don Draper. As the seasons go by, Pete is also shown to be more politically progressive than the rest of the main cast. He openly calls out Harry Crane’s ignorant remark about the death of Dr. King with “It’s a shameful, shameful day!” and “Did you know we are in the presence of a bona fide racist?” Moreover, when Joan complains about not being taken seriously, Pete tells her “they don’t know who they’re dealing with.”
Actor Vincent Kartheiser states that “Relationships between all men and women on this show are like that of Pete Campbell. I mean, what does Pete Campbell do that Don Draper does not? I think people judge Pete Campbell quite harshly. I’m not trying to justify his behavior, I’m just saying I don’t think that’s the primary reason for the dislike of Pete.”
Perhaps the sympathy I have for Pete lies in his portrayal. Kartheiser’s delivery of Pete’s strangest lines made them laugh-out-loud hilarious- “Howdy-doody circus army,” anyone? Or “not great, Bob?” He was also the only member of the main cast to never be individually nominated for an Emmy, an injustice if there ever was one.
3. Skylar White (Breaking Bad)
I’ve written about Skylar White’s unjust hate before, so I’ll keep this short. Skylar was berated so severely by the fandom that actress Anna Gunn released a New York Times Op-Ed about it. She was vilified for her less-than-enthusiastic reaction to her husband’s meth-making hobby and the resulting criminal enterprise. Not jumping for joy because your hubby is running a murderous international drug empire out of your house? THE NERVE. Yes, Walter White is blowing people up and poisoning children, but somehow his wife is the bad guy for having a problem with it.
4. Sansa Stark (Game of Thrones)
For the first few seasons of the fantasy powerhouse, Sansa Stark received an excessive amount of hate for being “whiny” and “annoying,” especially in comparison to her sword-wielding sister. While Arya’s on the run, Sansa is high and dry in King’s Landing. She might as well be living in paradise, right? WRONG. She’s engaged to a sadistic psychopath whose family killed her father. She has no idea where her sister is. She is cut off from the rest of her family. Next, she ends up wedded to an older man against both of their wills, but at least they’re kind to one another. Eventually, she’s married to a different sadistic psychopath who physically abuses her. Can Sansa Stark please just catch a goddamn break?
As one article put it: “The problem with Sansa Stark is that she is just like most of us, and so we hate her. The reality is, most of us live entrenched lives, relying on foundations and systems that we’ve been familiar with since birth, trusting that the institutions will stay strong, hoping that we will never need to start all over. Most of us aren’t iconoclasts like Arya, combatting the injustices of the patriarchy from day one. Most of us aren’t dragons like Daenerys, possessing inner gifts that allow us to transcend any limitations that the rest of the world endures. Most of us are trying to do the best we can in an ever-changing world while also trying to uphold the values and ideals we’ve always held close. Arya and Daenerys are who we want to be, but Sansa is who most of us are.”
5. Debbie Gallagher (Shameless)
I’ve previously written about Debbie Gallagher’s descent from precocious elementary schooler to reckless teen mother. When we are first introduced to Debbie in season 1, she’s a wise, staunchly ethical 10-year-old taking on responsibilities far beyond her years. She is implied to be academically gifted, and even Frank Gallagher calls her an angel. Unfortunately, in the Gallagher’s world, these qualities aren’t exactly rewarded, so Debbie drops them in favor of severely misguided attempts to be accepted by her peers, culminating in getting secretly pregnant by boyfriend Derek.
Derek promptly abandons her, but Debbie wholeheartedly accepts motherhood. I don’t agree with her decisions, but Debbie does seem dedicated to baby Franny, even stealing strollers for her. In season 7, Debbie easily earns her GED and begins full-time work as a welder, openly determined to make it on her own.
Has the character made some terrible decisions? Yes, but what character on Shameless hasn’t? Ian lied his way into the army and then deserted it, Lip got kicked out of school for alcohol abuse, Carl served a stint in juvie for drug trafficking. Hell, even Fiona was arrested for coke in season 4.
6. Dan Humphrey (Gossip Girl)
I know, I know. The holy grail of detestable teen drama characters. Not only was Dan a wannabe intellectual with a serious outsider complex, but he secretly ran an entire website devoted to exposing the personal lives of Manhattan’s wealthiest teenagers. Eventually, he even wrote a book about it. I’m not saying he wasn’t sneaky and underhanded, because he was, but can we put ourselves in his well-worn oxford saddles? As the lower-middle class son of an art gallery owner, Dan faced an obscene amount of classism from every other character on the show. Even when he’s dating Serena van der Woodsen, most of her friends (particularly Chuck and Blair) treat him like something they’d found floating in a public toilet. He eventually forms a friendship with golden boy Nate Archibald, but still struggles to be accepted by the other characters.
Dan is, in certain ways, a victim of his circumstances. That doesn’t make his double life as the malicious titular character okay, but it does help to understand it. Does simply being annoying truly the ultimate sin compared to other characters? Does Dan end up embezzling in the final season, like golden boy Nate Archibald? Is he a date rapist, like Chuck Bass? He saves Blair Waldorf after her disastrous wedding to Prince Louis, and she continues to treat him like a lapdog. Tbh, I would have written a scathing tell-all too.
Word of advice: don’t cross a writer unless you’re okay with getting dragged on their blog. Yes, this is a message for myself.
7. Miranda Hobbes (Sex and the City)
For years, Miranda Hobbes was the least liked of Sex and the City’s four main characters. Alongside the scatterbrained Carrie, vivacious Samantha, and starry-eyed Charlotte, Miranda is by far the most realistic. She’s career-driven, pessimistic, and no-nonsense.
In recent years, cultural shifts have begun to redeem her, and rightfully so. She’s by far the most honest, and openly calls out the others on their various romantic entanglements, most notably when she tells Carrie “every time you get near [Big], you turn into this pathetic, needy, insecure victim and the thing that pissed me off most? You’re more than willing to go right back for more.”
Was that what Carrie wanted to hear? No. Was it what she needed to hear? Good god, yes. Never mind that Carrie Bradshaw was the actual worst.
Miranda refuses to lower her standards and reward men for the bare minimum. When Samantha laments on how difficult it is for men to admit insecurity, Miranda’s sharp reply is, “so they get a medal for correctly identifying a feeling?” She’s a high-powered attorney who refused to apologize for her success, even when she made more money than her boyfriend.