A Definitive Ranking of the Worst Child Characters on TV

We here at The Wire don't like to be mean to children, but sometimes its necessary: frequently television shows have no idea how use their kid characters. 

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We here at The Wire don't like to be mean to children, but sometimes it's necessary: frequently television shows have no idea how use their kid characters. In some cases, that's due to the relative lack of talent present in a given show's younger stars. In others, it's just that the writers feel obligated to give storylines to characters that are essentially props for adults.

One show that traffics in a multitude of child characters, NBC's Parenthood, airs its season finale tonight. This is a show that's managed to do well by its teen characters (Team Amber forever), for the most part, and has been quite impressive with the character of Asperger's-afflicted Max. And yet, even on a show that does so much right with their kid characters ... there is Sydney. So in honor of the Parenthood finale, we at The Wire have decided to crown the worst children on current television shows. How else are they gonna learn?

The 15 Worst Child Characters Currently on TV

1. Sydney Graham, Parenthood

Sydney is the definitive nightmare vision of a single-child household. Spoiled rotten by her uber-bougie parents, she will throw a tantrum at the drop of a hat and twist her dimples to get whatever she wants out of the weary Julia and Joel. The introduction of adopted older brother Victor just made her even more of an evil pain. At one point, some truly misguided teacher labeled her "gifted," giving her even more of a free pass for such outrageous antics. Her parents might be getting divorced now. Guess what, Sydney? It's probably all your fault. —DS

2. Lily Tucker-Pritchett, Modern Family

Not the cute, silent baby Lily who was played by twins Ella and Jaden Hiller in the first two seasons. No, the new, yappy Lily who beginning in season three wouldn't shut up about things like not wanting a sibling and screamed expletives in the middle of a wedding. There's something so…stagey about new Lily. She's trying too hard. She's the Anne Hathaway of six-year-old actresses. —DS

3. Carl Grimes, The Walking Dead

It is patently wrong to root for the death of a child in any circumstances, fictional or otherwise. It is indefensible. But there is not a single person who watches The Walking Dead who has not, at one point or another, wondered whether life might just be easier for Carl—poor, shattered, miserable Carl—if he just bit the dust. We get it, he represents the loss of innocence. Does he have to still be around bumming us out all the time? You could send him to some farm too, just get rid of him. —DS

4. Dana Brody, Homeland

I have been one to defend Dana Brody at times, since the character isn't quite as annoying as what the writers did to the character. But, boy, Dana's slog was a tedious run filled with plot lines totally tangential to the whole homeland security aspect of, well, Homeland. Even after everyone thought her bad boy boyfriend was a terrible idea in the second season, the show gave her another bad boy boyfriend for the third. —EZ

5. Maddie Conrad, Nashville

We'll give this to Maddie: she and her sister are two of the best singers on this show about singing. But Maddie's paternity drama was one of the elements of the show that prompted this viewer to quit this show in its second season. —EZ

6. Chris Brody, Homeland

Poor Chris Brody. The forgotten cog of Homeland. Surely he must have some feelings about the fact that his dad's a terrorist! Well, no. All the attention is lavished on his trouble-prone sister. Chris is insufferable simply because he's such a nothingburger. All he seems to care about is breakfast. Show some emotion and we'll give you your damn huevos rancheros, Chris. —EZ

7. Grace Florrick, The Good Wife

Both of the Florrick kids behave like total aliens. It's like Alicia's life of political scandal, personal tragedy, and legal cunning is starting to look a bit too orderly, so out comes Zach to show his mom some internet porn, and then Grace has joined a cult, or some such nonsense. Yes, okay, as children of scandal (and now children of the governor of Illinois), there's a good reason why these two wouldn't have grown up like normal kids. But can't they just start smoking or run a cheating ring like normal kids? (Grace ranks higher on this list because she became friends with that weird performance artist and brought her into Alicia's home. Into her home!) —JR

8. Marcus Bowa, About a Boy

Marcus of About a Boy is a new addition to the pantheon of annoying television kids, but he's making a big impact. First of all, there's the matter of his stupid beanie, which he wears all the time. Seriously, the only time we've ever seen the top of the kid's head is when he went swimming. He's also painfully earnest, to the extent that he never ends an episode with any resentment toward the adults in his life, Will and Fiona, who are clearly messing with his head. —EZ

9. Glen Bishop, Mad Men

Mad Men actually does a very good job with their child characters. Sally has become a legitimately fascinating young woman. Bobby has weathered an entirely new face and physical appearance while not taking up too much narrative space. And what monster could hate baby Gene? So instead we all get to funnel all our hatred to Glen, that dead-eyed neighbor kid (played by Matt Weiner's real child) who managed to make Betty Draper look sympathetic by comparison. That he's gone away to school and become some kind of cigarette-smoking iconoclast makes him all the more infuriating. —JR

10. Zach Florrick, The Good Wife 

Everything we said about Grace applies to Zach, only slightly less so. Remember when that letter-writing sorority girl freaked out on her sisters about them being "SO F*CKING AWKWARD." That's Zach. Why are you so awkward, Zach? Why are you always weirdly available to play Florrick/Agos tech support? Why were you so hung up on Grace becoming a gossip-blog bombshell earlier this year? —JR

Dissent: I like Zach! He's a little one-note: always solving the tech mysteries, getting in trouble with crafty teenage girls. But at least he's not a wackadoo like his sister! He's got his head screwed on right, and he's not overused for any seriously exploitative plotlines. Oh, Zach. Can you fix the wi-fi for me? —DS

11. Manny Delgado, Modern Family

Of all the Pritchett clan's extended array of kids, only devil-child Lily is worse than Manny. Mostly because there's officially nothing creepier than kids who act too adult. Like everyone on Modern Family, Manny hasn't adjusted his one-joke premise in five seasons, and if we have to endure one more scene of Manny in a smoking jacket, admiring the canapes at a junior high bake sale, we're gonna flip. Burn those button-downs and give him a nice t-shirt already! —EZ

12. Paige Jennings, The Americans 

Granted, this is a personal pet peeve, but TV shows that rely on buttinski kids in order to goose the narrative are the worst, and Paige has to pay that price for The Americans. Plus, she's following down the Grace Florrick memorial path to child-character subplot by way of becoming weirdly more devout than her parents. We get it, writers of television, you're wary of how to bring up your children now that you've estranged yourselves from the religion of your youth we get it—JR

Dissent: Look, Paige may be showing signs of Dana Brody-like rebellion, but her version of standing up to her parents is far more interesting. I, for one, am fascinated as to how her budding Christianity will continue to impact her relationship with her Communist parents. — EZ

13. Ellie MacArthur, The League

Say this for Ellie, played by Alina Foley—she's sitcom royalty, daughter to Dave Foley of Kids in the Hall and NewsRadio. Ellie, who has rather severe bangs and a chirpy ignorance of all the depraved things happening around her, is always messing with the crazy schemes of her parents Kevin and Jenny (Steve Rannazzisi and Katie Aselton). She's deployed mostly to underline how disgusting or transgressive some plotline on the show is. It's often just unsettling. —DS

14. Henry Jennings, The Americans

Henry's not so bad, really. He's got that perma-eye-roll routine down solid whenever his parents or his sister try to dislodge him from his kid routines. But remember when stupid Paige got them both into a stranger-danger mishap last season by accepting a ride home from the mall by a squirrelly weirdo? Thank God Henry had his head on straight or else that could have gone real bad. Keep up the good work, Henry. —JR

15. Rickon Stark, Game of Thrones

First of all, a) Sansa is a married woman and thus does not qualify for this list (and also Team Sansa so step off), and b) Bran is a warg and he's paralyzed and in general has been through enough crap; he doesn't need jerks like us picking on him. And so we arrive at Rickon, who is boring and useless, but not especially bad in any way. Plus, he has the best-named direwolf, so bonus points there. Aw, Shaggydog. Good boy. —JR

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.