As long as there’s been TV, the family has been one of its favorite go-tos. All week long, Vulture is exploring how it’s been represented on our screens.
The TV Teenager is a curious species. They run the gamut from earnest and relatable portrayals of the teenage experience (hello, Mariana on The Fosters) to so not relatable you have to wonder if every character is in some kind of 21 Jump Street situation (oh, Riverdale, you wonderful, weird thing). But whether a show is focusing on teenagers or just happens include a teen, whether we’re exploring teens living the good life or dealing with money issues, there is one thing you can count on for sure: At some point, those teens will be insufferable brats.
We get it — being a teenager is hard! You’re hormonal and angry and probably smelly and you have no idea why. Of course you’re going to be a brat! It’s a part of life. But not all TV teen brats are created equal. Some are bratty depending on the situation, some are brats all the time but in an understandable way, and then there are some that are just so irritating, so ridiculous, and so infuriating that we, as a collective audience, are yelling “get off my lawn!” at them. Those are the kind of teens we’re here to discuss. The worst kind. Here are the brattiest TV teens, ranked from bad to worst.
9. Meadow and A.J. Soprano, The Sopranos
To be fair, Meadow and A.J. are supposed to be a little irritating. Tony may be the head of a mob family, but the guy still gets frustrated with his kids. Hey, that’s relatable! It’s a way into Tony’s world and a way to understand our anti-hero. Still, Meadow and A.J. were much more than irritating. Meadow eventually becomes a tolerable adult, but as a teenager she lets her spoiled-princess flag fly. (And that’s before one semester of college turns her into an insufferable know-it-all.) A.J. is on the other end of the spectrum, since he’s mainly whiny and lazy. Their biggest sin, however, is that neither of them are that interesting compared to what else is going on in Tony’s life. If you’re going to be a brat about things, at least add a little excitement!
8. Dawn Summers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
True, no teenager would choose to be a mystical energy force hidden in a teenager’s body in order to hide from a hell goddess, but still, one has to assume most would handle the whole situation much better than Dawn, who doesn’t handle it at all. Instead, she cries, screams, runs, and causes lots of drama for her slayer sister who is ONLY TRYING TO HELP HER. Like some teens, Dawn is dramatic and vehemently believes that her problems are the most important problems in the world. Unlike most teens, she is held up to the Buffy standard, which is, of course, very high. Dawn does not kick ass. Dawn is not courageous. She is literally described as “helpless.” Mainly, she just gets in the way of the Scooby Gang. Also, she dabbles in black magic and has a kleptomania problem. So, no, Dawn doesn’t have too many fans.
7. Dana Brody, Homeland
Listen, I get it. Having a dad who is a secret terrorist is decidedly not chill, but Dana is a full-on brat before she even knows what her dad is up to. The deep spiral that leads to her suicide attempt in season three gives me more sympathy for her than others on this list, but Dana is a tough teen to warm up to. The sulking! The back talk! That whole hit-and-run situation! She made terrible romantic choices (fun fact: VP’s son Finn was played by pre-peach Timothée Chalamet!). If this list were solely based on scathing eye rolls and furrowed brows, Dana wins hands down. Alas, it is not. She gets some slack since her home life is so screwy. But, still, was it really that hard to be nice to her mother?
6. Maddie Conrad, Nashville
Oh, Maddie, you dope. Although Nashville is attempting to redeem country’s brattiest teenager as the series winds down (tragically losing a parent will knock the petulance out of most), it’s hard to forget just how insufferable Rayna’s oldest daughter has been in the past. She’s been irrationally mean to her sweet-faced younger sister. (Daphne just wants you to love her, Maddie!) Plus, she treated her mother with such contempt, the girl should win an award. Their biggest beef stemmed from Rayna forbidding Maddie from becoming a professional musician at such a young age. Rayna was attempting to protect her, not punish her. But, like, what would international superstar Rayna James know about the music industry, right? When Maddie is physically unable to just wait until she’s an adult to sign a record deal, she decides to get emancipated from her parents, and to do so, she drags Deacon’s demons out into the middle of family court for everyone to see. She regrets it eventually, but the damage is done. Here’s hoping the end of Nashville has some sort of #JusticeForDaphne in which the younger Conrad sister takes her rightful place on the country-music throne.
5. Dawson Leery, Dawson’s Creek
Real talk, Dawson: Even your “friends” didn’t like you. You were pretentious and annoying and it was tough to be around you. You always acted like Pacey was beneath you. (News flash: He was not! He was most definitely better than you.) You were super rude to both Joey and Jen, and then got mad when neither chose you. You were always angry and sulky. Why? Sure, hormones and watching too many movies can mess with impressionable minds, but, like, can’t you just chill? You were the biggest drama queen on that creek, and also, you should’ve been nicer to your parents. I know this is harsh, but if anyone on this list could benefit from some tough love, it is you, Dawson Leery. And please don’t cry over this. Nobody wants to see that.
4. Carl Grimes, The Walking Dead
Going through puberty in a zombie apocalypse adds some extra complications to the situation (on the bright side, you can blame your ripe body odor on a nearby zombie herd). Having to shoot your mom in the head so that she doesn’t join the ranks of the undead would put anyone in a mood. Getting your eye shot out after watching a woman get devoured by several zombies is definitely something to angst over. So, yeah, the kid has been through a lot. He’s currently dying in a sewer thanks to a little zombie nibble, so it’s also hard to rag on him too much … but still, Carl is grating. Rick isn’t always the best leader, but he’s still your dad and you should listen to him! Running away, being disrespectful, and thinking you know more than everyone else are par for the moody teenager course, but Carl doesn’t exist in a normal teenage experience. When he runs away or disobeys orders, people literally die. So, Carl, would you just please stay in the house? Please?
3. Jenny and Dan Humphrey, Gossip Girl
That’s right, people, I’m putting Jenny and Dan together. Typically, Jenny gets all the flak for being a terrible teenager, but older brother Dan is no treat either. Jenny is awful in your “predictable rebellious teen who discovers eyeliner and contemplates emancipation” kind of way. She’ll do almost anything to be popular, including but not limited to sabotaging events, sabotaging relationships, and foolishly attempting to overthrow Queen Bee Blair Waldorf. It’s ballsy, but, oh honey, no one plays Blair’s game better than she does. Jenny isn’t totally at fault for her awfulness, of course — she does have to live with Dan. He’s a different type of teen brat: self-righteous, selfish, and just generally condescending. Oh, yeah, and HE TURNS OUT TO BE GOSSIP GIRL, which means he spent his teen years (and some of his 20s!) being a gossipmonger who ruined people’s lives and secretly tortured his friends. Forget being a brat, Dan Humphrey is just a dick. Poor Rufus!
2. Julie Taylor, Friday Night Lights
One of the greatest TV mysteries of our time is how two glorious angel people like Tami and Eric Taylor could give life to the moodiest, poutiest, most insufferable teenager in all of Dillon, Texas. Most of Julie’s annoying qualities could be chalked up to being a typical teen, but she always seems especially bratty because she doesn’t realize just how good she has it. Daughter to wonderful humans in a deeply loving marriage! Girlfriend to unicorn of a teenage boy, the sweet, sensitive, underdog quarterback and secret artist Matt Saracen! Sister to Gracie Bell, who, okay, is a baby who we don’t see very often, but she still seems cool! Serious question: When did you finally realize Julie Taylor was the worst? Was it that time when she broke up with Matt for the Swede and told him she didn’t want to turn into her mother, as if Tami Taylor isn’t someone we all aspire to be? Or was it that time she let her dad think the worst of Tim Riggins because she didn’t want to get in trouble, stunting the blossoming bond between Tim and his much-needed father figure, giving us one of the most heartbreaking moments in Friday Night Lights history? Tim may have forgiven Julie after she comes clean, but I never will.
1. Joffrey Baratheon, Game of Thrones
Does it seem a little harsh to put a bunch of teens on a list with a psychopathic, murderous villain? For everyone but Julie Taylor, sure. But if you look closely at Joffrey, his actions are those of an extremely bratty teenager who has too much power and a deep, unquenchable thirst for blood. When he gets shown up by Arya and her sword skills, innocent bystanders Mycah and Lady pay for his embarrassment with their lives. To show his girlfriend who’s in charge, he executes her father and makes her look at his head on a spike. He’s moody. He’s disrespectful to everyone. He enjoys lying. He throws temper tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. He throws people under the bus when the mood strikes. He’s whiny and wimpy. He believes that the rules do not apply to him. In short, he’s a teen monster. Even his mother-aunt and father-uncle seem a little relieved when the kid bites it. If that doesn’t win you Brattiest TV Teen, I don’t want to know what does.