Last Sunday's Mad Men found the normally unctuous Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), junior partner and SCDP, in rare form: engineering an office push to get Joan to sleep with a Jaguar big shot in order to secure their account, calling a vote when Don left the room and self-righteously defending his actions when Don called him out.
Seriously, the man is so creepy he makes Goodnight Moon sound unpleasant.
To be fair, Campbell is merely the most obvious dickhead in an office full of them, but Don appears to have lost his mojo, Lane is more pathetic than anything and Roger is actually the coolest guy on the show these days. What's important, therefore, is how Pete Campbell ranks among the worst assholes in TV history.
To be clear, to qualify in this category you can't actually, you know, cause direct harm to others. That sort of moves you beyond "asshole" into "violent criminal." And those are rarely funny, canned laughter or not.
I say this to fend off the inevitable "No Cigarette Smoking Man from X-Files?" comments. He killed Kennedy, people!
Eric Cartman (South Park) He's been a foulmouthed little shit for 16 seasons, which gives him the endurance award in this category. Plus, I'm pretty sure he's the only one who's said "suck my balls" on TV.
Frank Burns (M*A*S*H) Frank was never a worthwhile antagonist, as Hawkeye, Trapper and later B.J. always got the best of him. But I can't put Charles on here because he had too much emotional depth.
Dwight Schrute (The Office) Dwight is as annoying as an all-vuvuzela rendition of Les Misérables, to be sure, but I've never been able to take him very seriously as a tool. His favorite movie is The Crow, for Christ's sake.
Archie Bunker (All in the Family) He's almost quaint now, but the patriarch of the Bunker family was quite the rod of lightning during the show's early 1970s run. Nowadays you hear more offensive crap in the average Republican primary commercial.
Bill Bittinger (Buffalo Bill) Dabney Coleman still works sporadically (he's 80 years old, give the dude a break), but nothing will ever match his 1980s run of film and TV scumbags. Buffalo Bill never got the love it deserved and was canceled after two seasons by NBC, doing its best impersonation of the Fox Network.
Dan Fielding (Night Court) Now here's a contender. John Larroquette is capable of reaching levels of sleaze most mortals can only dream of, but Night Court always suffered from that '80s peculiarity of mixing sexual innuendo with plaintive moralizing. The solution, I always found, was to just change the channel with five minutes left in the show.
Louie de Palma (Taxi) Kids, back in the old days, houses usually only had one television, and if you wanted to watch it you were usually stuck watching whatever it was your parents were into. This one time, I was glad Tuesdays were reserved for Louie's gleeful amorality on Taxi.
Just don't ask me about having to miss the half of Battlestar Galactica's original run because Mom was watching fucking Centennial.
J.R. Ewing (Dallas) I may be off on this; did J.R. ever kill anyone? If anyone could really give Pete Campbell a run for his money, it's this guy. On a completely unrelated side note, I totally called it that Kristin was the one who shot him.
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Dr. Gregory House (House) I admit, those early episodes were funny and all, but eight seasons of "cantankerous genius annoys everyone around him and stumbles upon the correct diagnosis at the last moment" got pretty old. Plus, he gets a happy ending? Weak.
Given these examples, I'd have to give J.R. the edge, but Pete's a fairly close second, though it remains to be seen if the final two episodes of Mad Men finally push him over the edge into violence.