#ActualWorst Round One: Tammy ‘Two’ Swanson vs. Pete Campbell

A bracket to find the most terrible person on television

NBC / AMC / Paul Spella / The Atlantic

Throughout the month of November, we’re soliciting readers’ help to definitively answer an age-old question: Who is the actual worst character on television? We reviewed your submissions, did our own research, and came up with a list of 32 characters across four different categories, who’ll go head to head over the next four weeks until one of them is crowned as the most despicable, unlikeable, flat-out awful (fictional) person on the small screen.

See the bracket in its entirety here.

The Case for Tammy (Parks and Recreation)

Chris Haston / NBC

Why this character is the actual worst: The second wife of Ron Swanson, she’s a cackling succubus. She tends to appear at the most inconvenient times to systematically seduce and destroy her ex-husband, whether for fun or personal gain. She’s often powerful enough to neutralize the efforts of kind, well-meaning people like Leslie Knope who try to save Ron. It’s likely she was programmed by someone in the future to come back and destroy all happiness. Even telemarketers avoid her. Her birth was payback for the sins of mankind.

Worst moment/s: When she tried to ensnare Ron in front of his new girlfriend, Diane, or when she attacked Tom Haverford (she even pushed a bookcase on him). Or when she and Ron had sex on a table in a diner.

Worst trait/s: She works at the library, which may by default make her the actual worst. Or as Ron put it when he heard about her new job: “Perfect. The worst person in the world working at the worst place in the world.”

Redeeming moments/qualities: She knows how to own her sexuality, however demented the situation. Whether she’s flashing her crotch, rubbing the scent of beef jerky on herself, or making puns about “woodworking,” Tammy Two has a kind of fearlessness and self-possession that would be admirable if she weren’t Mephistopheles disguised as a human woman. —Lenika Cruz

The Case for Pete (Mad Men)


Why this character is the actual worst: Pete Campbell isn’t just an asshole. He’s a smug, slimy, entitled, phony, cruel, cheating liar. He is equal parts sadistic and pathetic. The fact that his scuzzy plots—blackmail, adultery, advertising—are so often spoiled can, some have argued, make him seem pitiable. Please. Don’t feel sorry for Pete Campbell. He repeatedly uses his position of power and privilege to keep people down. And he does so in a way that’s as loathsome as it is nauseating.

Worst moment/s: Pete’s worst moments are his most misogynistic. Like the time Peggy asked him to dance—smiling, confident, doing the twist with coworkers in a Manhattan bar—and Pete, seething with contempt, tells her, “I don’t like you like this.” Or the time Pete tried to sell Joan’s body to a Jaguar executive in exchange for an advertising account, telling her: “We’re talking about a night in your life. We’ve all had nights in our lives where we’ve made mistakes for free.” But it's hard to do worse than the time Pete raped his neighbor, a young German au pair, demanding a reward for having helped her exchange a damaged gown to a department store. The woman’s level of consent is debated among viewers, but her character’s discomfort in the scene is clear.

Worst trait/s: Abuses of power, rampant misogyny.

Redeeming moments/qualities: He can dance a mean Charleston. But don't think for a second that getting back together with Trudy makes him a better person. Pete’s good fortune is thoroughly, painfully undeserved. And maybe this is what makes Pete Campbell the actual worst: The fact that his character is so realistic, that humans who think like Pete Campbell really do exist, and that they often end up getting what they want—no matter how they act and whom they humiliate along the way. —Adrienne LaFrance