A Hollywood production is a precarious thing. It doesn’t take much to make the whole thing topple to the ground – or at least make viewers sour on it – whether temporarily or permanently. Sometimes it’s all the fault of one unlikable character. It could be a revered comic actor taking a misguided dramatic turn. It could be that production was forced into a corner due to actors’ contract disputes. Or it could be a lunk-headed decision to inject a new dose of “cute” into a show.
Over the last 40 years or so of pop culture, we’ve seen countless examples of these dubious decisions, with producers, especially in television, often going to great lengths to reverse their bad decisions. Now we’ll take a look at some of the worst, from dull doppelgangers to bothersome bad guys, and from bumbling blondes to bumbling amphibians.
Here are 13 Characters Who Were Rejected By Audiences.
13. Admiral General Haffaz Aladeen in The Dictator
We should specify here: American audiences rejected Sacha Baron Cohen’s fourth foray into bringing his unhinged characters to the big screen. The Dictator made just $59,650,222 domestically, which didn’t even make back its $65 million production budget. Foreign audiences loved it, though, to the tune of $119,729,311.
Say what you will about previous characters like Ali G and Borat having more heart and sincerity, in their own unique ways. The problem many American viewers had with Aladeen, the fictional middle eastern despot who gets lost in New York, was that he was a proud sponsor of Al-Qaeda, anti-Semitic, and generally opposed to western culture. Basically, he was the enemy. Sure, he comes around a bit in the end and institutes a pseudo-democracy in his home country, but for most viewers it was too little too late.
12. Cindy Snow in Three’s Company
Did the title Three’s Company refer to the three people who lived in that Santa Monica apartment at any given time, or to the revolving door of blondes who shared Janet’s room? Cindy was Blonde No. 2, appearing in the fifth and sixth seasons, wedged in after the super-popular Chrissy was written out due to Suzanne Somers’ contract dispute. As is often the case with new characters wedged into a show, Cindy (played by Jenilee Harrison) was somebody’s cousin (in this case, Chrissy’s).
Cindy and Chrissy were similar: both stereotypical “dumb blondes.” But the problem here may have been in the casting of Cindy. Though Chrissy was ditzy, Somers injected real heart and sincerity into the role. On the other hand, Cindy was Harrison’s third screen acting credit and first lead role – and it showed. She overplayed the naiveté and clumsiness of the character – and that’s saying a lot for a show that employed the man who made an art of overplaying comedy, Don Knotts. Maybe comedy wasn’t her thing, because she went on to be a successful regular on Dallas.
11. Oliver Trask in The O.C.
Let’s just say Oliver was… troubled. Yeah, that’s an understatement. Introduced in the middle of the first season, his backstory was troubling enough: a rich kid with absentee parents, who became so obsessed with a girl at his old high school that he cut his wrists and was slapped with a restraining order. And then there was his maniacally spiked-up hair. You just can’t trust a guy with hair like that.
Not surprisingly, he reverted to those old ways upon meeting Marissa. He became obsessed with her, and when she rejected him, he pulled a gun on himself and was eventually carted off to a padded cell. Ultimately, almost more annoying than the character himself was the fact that so few other people saw how relentlessly and obviously troubled he was. Thankfully, he lasted just six episodes, but he did leave a lasting legacy of Oliver in-jokes sprinkled through the second and third seasons of The O.C..
10. Scrappy-Doo in various Scooby-Doo TV shows and films
Even cartoon dogs are not immune from being shunned by the audience – even an audience of kids! Hanna-Barbera jumped on the “let’s add a cute kid to the show” bandwagon (that had already failed on shows like The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family) with the introduction of Scrappy-Doo in 1979. He was Scooby’s nephew, and the two Great Danes could not have been more of a study in opposites. Where Scooby was big, thin and scared of everything, Scrappy was small, strong and ready for anything.
And that’s it right there. Scooby is loveable because he’s a big scaredy cat – er, dog. Hanna-Barbera had another small, strong character in The Flintstones’ Bam-Bam. But he was enjoyable because he just did his thing when he had to and that was that. Scrappy, on the other hand, had to tell everybody how ready for action he was, with obnoxious catchphrases like, “Lemme at ‘em!” and “Puppy power!” Scrappy popped up throughout the early 80s and in a few late-80s animated TV films. But he finally got his due in the 2002 live-action film, where he was the bad guy the Scooby gang foiled. He’s been largely unheard from since.
9. Coy and Vance Duke in The Dukes of Hazzard
Back in the early 80s, The Dukes of Hazzard was a weekly dose of southern-fried car chases and deliciously corny humor. It followed the exploits of Bo and Luke Duke, well-meaning cousins who seemed to find trouble with the hilariously corrupt law in Hazzard County, Georgia. All the while, they raced around town, and dirt roads, and over rivers and through barn walls in their 1969 Dodge Charger, dubbed the General Lee.
Good ol’ boys Bo and Luke were played with macho charm by John Schneider and Tom Wopat. But heading into the fifth season, the actors walked due to a contract dispute, and producers hired relatively unknown actors to play their replacements, Coy and Vance, who were said to be another set of Bo and Luke’s Uncle Jesse’s nephews. Production continued with many scripts having been written for Bo and Luke, with their names simply replaced by Coy and Vance. Needless to say, they felt like inferior copies of the originals and ratings began to tank. The newcomers were unceremoniously ushered off the show with Bo and Luke’s return late in season five, but ratings never quite recovered over the final two seasons.
8. Nikki and Paulo in Lost
Rarely in television history has a character, or characters in this case, been as instantaneously reviled as Nikki and Paulo. Thanks to the Internet, Lost’s producers knew immediately that it was a mistake to randomly bring two characters, who had supposedly been wandering around the background, to the forefront. Fans, of course, were used to following the ups and downs (mostly downs) of a select few of the 40-plus survivors of Oceanic Flight 815. But, in response to inquiries about what those unheard-from characters in the background were up to, producers created Nikki and Paulo.
They were unlikable from the start – selfish, greedy con artists. Plus, by this point in season three, fans were already in a foul mood due to the plodding storyline. So giving these two their own flashback in episode 14 (“Exposé”) was a bad idea. In fact, co-creator Damon Lindelof told Variety as much when he said they had a feeling about a month before airing it that it wasn’t going to be well received. That particular episode received mixed reviews – could it be largely because the characters were finally put to rest… by being buried alive?
7. John Doggett in The X-Files
As we saw with The Dukes of Hazzard, replacing beloved characters with new ones, just for the sake of wringing a few more years out of a hit show, can be a big mistake. Bo and Luke (and their car) were The Dukes of Hazzard. And Fox Mulder very much was The X-Files. The whole show centered on his belief that “the truth is out there,” and that unexplained things could be explained by a massive government cover-up. So what would The X-Files be without Mulder?
Unfortunately, fans found out exactly what it would be like when David Duchovny left the show following the seventh season. There was just no winning for producers in this scenario. If he was too much like Mulder, they’d be accused of Coy and Vance Syndrome. If he was too much the opposite of Mulder, suddenly the dynamic of the show would be flipped on its head. And that’s what happened. Suddenly, Doggett (Robert Patrick) took on Skully’s old role of skeptic, even though he was partnered with her. He was hard-nosed and humorless, a bit of an FBI stereotype. Ultimately, you can’t replace an icon, and that’s what Mulder was on that show. Needless to say, David Duchovny is returning for the show’s reboot in January.
6. Dom in Entourage
The dudes on Entourage were riding a tidal wave of success following the release of the movie-within-the-show, Aquaman. But then their spirits – and those of the audience – sunk with the arrival of Dom, played by Domenick Lombardozzi, in the third episode of the third season. He quickly and brashly insinuated himself into the gang, as though he was owed something. And it turned out he was – the only reason Vince was keeping him around was because Dom took the rap for him back in the day on a minor drug bust.
There was really nothing likable about the guy: he was rude, obnoxious, loud, misogynistic and a bully. Oh, and a liar and a thief, as it turned out, and that’s what got him booted out of the group after two draining episodes. Although, much to viewers’ dismay, he did pop up two seasons later, but, mercifully, it was only to send him off to jail for 30 years. The show was long-running, but not long enough for him to do his time and get back in front of the cameras.
5. Pitka in The Love Guru
By 2003, it seemed Mike Myers could do no wrong… except maybe for Wayne’s World 2. He was coming off a third hugely successful Austin Powers movie and was about to jump into the suit of the beloved Cat in the Hat. That was his first misstep, as it was critically panned and not beloved by viewers. For the next few years, he seemed to focus primarily on his vocal talents with the Shrek franchise. Meanwhile, he was quietly inventing a new original character to follow in Wayne and Austin’s footsteps, writing the script for The Love Guru, which hit theaters in 2008.
Let’s just say that script, and its main character, Pitka, stumbled in those substantial footsteps. For starters, there was the racial/religious stereotyping of Hindus. Pitka even recently appeared in a montage of questionable portrayals of Indian people in film and TV on the Netflix series Master of None. The convoluted plot didn’t help, centering on Pitka, the No. 2 guru in the world, wanting to reach No. 1 by appearing on Oprah, and the Toronto Maple Leafs winning the Stanley Cup somehow facilitating that. Myers made “over the top” fun in the Austin Powers films, but Pitka just went too far with the winking at the camera and potty humor.
4. Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation
Eighteen years after the original Star Trek series went off the air, and with the film series featuring the original cast still thriving, Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered in September 1987 with a brand new cast. It was an instant hit, but not everything about the show was beloved by viewers. Case in point, poor Wesley Crusher, son of the new Enterprise’s chief medical officer, played by a young Wil Wheaton.
Fans and critics have accused Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry of using Wesley as a stand-in for himself, an unlikely hero who often saves the day, despite the presence of many more qualified people around him. He didn’t seem to have much purpose other than that. So, as Roddenberry’s influence on the show lessened, so did Wesley’s role – and he was eventually written out during the fourth season.
3. Cousin Oliver in The Brady Bunch
It’s rarely a good thing when a syndrome is named after you. And it’s no different with Cousin Oliver Syndrome. Let’s start with a little backstory here. In what seemed like a last ditch effort to save The Brady Bunch, producers added nine-year-old Robbie Rist to the cast as Cousin Oliver, late in the fifth season. He’d never been mentioned before on the show, but suddenly his parents (his father being Carol’s brother) supposedly had to go away on an archeological dig, so they left their child with the Bradys. As you do.
The fifth season of The Brady Bunch wound up being the last season, and Oliver appeared in each of the final six episodes. But he was a spare part, with very little to do other than cause accidents and hang around with Bobby. So his inexplicable (and dull) existence spawned the TV trope, Cousin Oliver Syndrome, where cute kids appear out of the blue when the older kids get less cute. See Olivia on The Cosby Show, Nicky and Alex on Full House, Chrissy on Growing Pains, and even Joe/Fulgencio on Modern Family. And the phenomenon was brilliantly satirized on Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Dawn arrived on the scene.
2. Young Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
Let’s just start off by addressing the Wampa in the room here: Jake Lloyd was a child actor. He was just a kid. He couldn’t have been expected to be Robert De Niro. It’s not really fair to the kid he was nor the young man he now is to bash his acting skills. He won the job fair and square and did the job. But the unfortunate fact is, the combination of his lackluster acting skills and awkward writing made for a rather annoying portrayal of the boy who would become one of the most dreaded villains in the galaxy.
Remember little Ani during his first time flying a Starfighter, awkwardly saying, to himself, “I’ll try spinning. That’s a good trick!” Who says that? And perhaps his most reviled utterance: “Yippee!” Again, who says that? And he said it twice. Plus, the poor kid only seemed to have two facial expressions and two vocal tones. Unfortunately, it all added up to one annoying character. (Also, side note, is it a coincidence that young Anakin and Cousin Oliver look a lot alike?)
1. Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
Has any character in the history of cinema received more backlash than this floppy-eared, amphibious weirdo? There were just so many things wrong with him. Comic relief was likely George Lucas’ intention with this character, an attempt to inject some levity into the plodding political plotline of the prequels. But audiences found him less funny and more downright annoying. The bungling slapstick felt juvenile – and, sure, there was a little physical comedy in the original trilogy, but it was this pony’s only trick. From a purely visual standpoint, he was computer generated, which set him apart from the flesh-and-blood actors – the visual effects were certainly top notch for 1999, but it was still obvious that he wasn’t really there with Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor.
And then there was the voice. Was it just plain annoyingly silly, or actually an offensive racial stereotype, with its Caribbean tones combined with sheer stupidity? Lucas denied racial implications, but that thought does make Jar Jar uncomfortable to watch. Despite all this, a recent theory put a new spin on the character and made him slightly more watchable: Reddit user “Lumpawarroo” put forward not-unconvincing evidence that Jar Jar was actually an evil Force user meant to have a much larger role in Episodes II and III, before audiences ripped him apart like a Rancor on a Gamorrean Guard.
Can you think of any other characters who were dismissed after a poor reception? Let us know in the comments!