By Sierra Filucci, Common Sense Media TV editor
From Abby Lee Miller to Walter White, TV is full of wild and crazy characters who make us laugh, cry, or grit our teeth in frustration. Each year, Common Sense Media calls out the TV characters and personalities who have the most and least to offer kids and families. You'll see some familiar faces on the "worst" list (the Kardashians, for the third year in a row) and a few newbies, who may or may not stand the test of TV time.
Even with all the new devices competing for kids' attention, regular old TV still dominates kids' screen time. That means all the characters they watch or otherwise absorb through popular culture make a big impact on kids' still-forming identities. But even the worst role models can help you start important discussions with kids about what is and isn't appropriate behavior. These talks can also help your kid become more media-savvy. Discuss the reasons why these folks get so much attention. Who makes the decisions to popularize these characters and their TV shows?
1. Walter White (Bryan Cranston), Breaking Bad
Worst offense: Offering a confusing message of morality
Many of us here at Common Sense Media really love Walter White's character and the Breaking Bad series overall. But the more we've seen babies dressed in Walter White Halloween costumes, the more we realize what a huge impact this character has made in pop culture. So even if kids aren't actually watching the show, they're absorbing the message that when an everyday person meets tough times, drugs, murder, and sacrificing one's family is a viable, or even admirable, solution.
2. Drunk History creators (Will Ferrell and Derek Waters)
Worst offense: Making drunkenness look appealing
No question these folks are funny. As adults, we find the juxtaposition of history lessons and inebriated comedians quite entertaining. But for teens who watch, the message is that drinking enough alcohol to slur your words, stumble around, or throw up is hilarious.
Worst offense: Encouraging unhealthy competition
Both of Abby Lee Miller's shows purposely pit moms against moms and young dancers against one another. Not only does she use shame as a motivator for her young charges, she screams and insults their parents, too. Thanks to Miller's influence, the moms also bicker with one another and openly criticize both their own kids and others'.
4. Kardashian clan, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, et al.
Worst offense: Putting appearance and attention above substance and accomplishment
Although the family sometimes exhibits a charming loyalty among themselves, as an entity they represent some of the worst things about our culture. Kim's insistence on being in full hair and makeup while giving birth is just one example of how this family values appearance over substance. Add to that drug abuse, relationship drama, sexing up the still-underage girls in the family, and a general vapidity exhibited on the show and in the larger pop culture arena, and this family is one we really don't want to keep up with.
5. Ryan Lochte, What Would Ryan Lochte Do?
Worst offense: Valuing empty fame over true achievement
Here is someone whose physical achievements are so great that he has the potential to be an incredible role model to kids. He could teach them about perseverance, stamina, sacrifice. But instead he chooses to seek fame in Hollywood, demonstrating to kids that being on TV, even if it puts you in an embarrassing light, is the ultimate goal. Ick. (Thankfully, his show was quickly canceled.)
Worst offense: Wallowing in shallowness
There's something undeniably charming about Big Ang, which is probably why producers offered her a spin-off after the ridiculous Mob Wives. But there's just so much wrong with her behavior: drinking and smoking to excess, modeling an exaggerated representation of the female body (her chest and lips defy nature!), and creating a work environment that thrives off catty competition and sexed-up bodies.
7. Cat (Ariana Grande), Sam & Cat
Worst offense: Reinforcing "airhead" stereotype
Actress and pop singer Ariana Grande is not without talent, but her character on this spin-off of two mega-popular Nickelodeon shows (iCarly and Victorious) is the epitome of a "dumb girl." She speaks with an affected whispery voice, regularly misunderstands common vocabulary, and seems generally self-absorbed and, frankly, annoying. Young girls and boys who are just figuring out their identities might pick up some really confusing messages about what's funny and appealing thanks to Cat.
8. Seth MacFarlane, the Oscars, Family Guy, etc.
Worst offense: Humor that consistently crosses the line
As host of the Oscars, MacFarlane stepped out from behind his offensive Family Guy characters and showed his true stripes. From a song objectifying all of Hollywood's actresses ("We Saw Your Boobs") to jokes about Adele's weight, the comedian stood in front of an international audience and made us wonder how someone with such a warped and unkind view of humanity could be so successful.
Worst offense: Racism and sexism mixed together
These three characters from two new fall TV series represent the dark underbelly of mainstream comedy (it should be noted that Seth MacFarlane is responsible for Dads). In the Dads pilot, both Eli and Warner go along with a plot to dress up their Asian female colleague as a sexed-up schoolgirl to appeal to their Chinese clients. Ugh. And in the thankfully canceled We Are Men, the character of Frank had an unabashed preference for dating Asian women several decades younger than he was. Double ugh.
10. Brickleberry characters, Brickleberry
Worst offense: Offending for the sake of offending
Comedy at its best teaches us something about ourselves, from South Park's skewering of political correctness to Parks and Recreation poking fun at the bureaucracy that surrounds us. But Brickleberry -- stuffed with exaggerated stereotypes (a horny lesbian, a lazy African-American, and a sexed-up blonde, among others) who offend without any greater purpose -- is just sad. Edgy comedy that's smart can be justified, but this... there's just nothing here of value for families.
Related articles from Common Sense Media
10 Best TV Role Models
10 Worst TV Role Models of 2012
Q&A: Which celebrities are good role models for girls?
About Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media is dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology. We exist because our kids are growing up in a culture that profoundly impacts their physical, social, and emotional well-being. We provide families with the advice and media reviews they need in order to make the best choices for their children. Through our education programs and policy efforts, Common Sense Media empowers parents, educators, and young people to become knowledgeable and responsible digital citizens. For more information, go to:www.commonsense.org.