Shows That Had Overly Offensive Characters

Television history is full of offensive stuff, whether it's racist, sexist, homophobic, or just really, really bad writing and acting. In the golden age of television, viewers weren't so outspoken about material they found troubling, and some people just weren't troubled by the things we find really outrageous today. But it seems that after several decades of television history, some writers and producers still haven't figured out that offensive characters just aren't funny, and even our favorite shows aren't always immune to racist and sexist stereotypes or just plain deplorable people. Whether they're offensive just for the sake of being offensive, offensive to prove a point, or offensive for reasons that no one really understands, here are some of the worst.

Looney Tunes

The creators of Looney Tunes, for reasons unknown to anyone, decided one day that it would be funny to have a horny male skunk sexually assault a female cat. Because rape makes great humor for kids between the ages of 3 and 7. These particular cartoons even featured the hilarity of attempted suicide — once when Pepe Le Pew was snubbed by his victim and threatened to shoot himself in the head, and again when his victim tried to jump out a window to get away from him. Do you suppose there's anything to be said for modeling appropriate behavior in children's television, or did turning sexual assault into a joke for kids maybe have something to do with the boys of yesterday who grew up to the just-got-fired-for-sexual-harassment men of today?


When Sugar Motta first showed up on Glee and declared that she had "self-diagnosed" Asperger's syndrome, the internet went a little nuts. It appeared as if Sugar was using her self-diagnosed Asperger's as an excuse to behave despicably, which is especially uncool when there are vanishingly few Asperger's characters on television and a real need for positive representation. Now there is some question as to whether Sugar really has Asperger's or simply says she does so she can act like a brat and say offensive things (which, oh yeah, is not even a characteristic of Asperger's), but that's not the point. Whether the character's Asperger's is real or imagined, she still paints an incredibly negative and unfair image of real people with Asperger's.

The Simpsons

Let's face it, we could really fill an entire article with nothing but the offensive characters that have populated The Simpsons over it's long, long, long (etc.) history. The Simpsons offends without prejudice. Pick an ethnic group, age group, gender, or religion and The Simpsons either has offended it or probably plans to do so soon. But some of the characters on the Simpsons really do cross a line when it comes to being totally offensive. Even Homer Simpson is offensive, though we've gotten so used to him that we seem to have totally forgotten that overweight people are not all foolish idiots who eat like hyenas and drool because thinking is haaaaard. 

But perhaps the worst and longest-running is Apu. If introduced today, Apu would be considered so over the top that he'd never make it out of the Kwik-E-Mart and onto the small screen. Here's the deal with Apu: he's got a heavy Indian accent, he runs a corner store, and he has eight kids in an arranged marriage. He's every Indian stereotype rolled up into a neat little racist packet, and as a bonus he's played by a white guy. But he's still on TV anyway.

Gilmore Girls

For some reason Americans seem to think that stereotyping Asians is not as bad as stereotyping other ethnic groups. Remember Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles? How many people do you know who watched that movie and then went, "Hey, wait a minute, that's not cool?" (Hint: most of them were Asian.) And 20 years later, Gilmore Girls proved that not much has changed. Sure, it made the then-unconventional choice to make one of the lead characters a Korean-American, but then it went and ruined everything by giving that Korean-American character a stereotypical Asian "tiger mom." 

Mrs. Kim had everything an Asian mom stereotype needed, from a grating, nagging voice to a habit of unrelentingly demanding that her daughter should find herself a nice Korean boy to settle down with. And for some reason, there weren't very many people who watched that show and went, "Hey, wait a minute, that's not cool," either. Progress.

How I Met Your Mother

Neil Patrick Harris might be a brilliant actor, but his Barney Stinson character on How I Met Your Mother was pretty darned despicable. Barney spent most of his time using and demeaning women, and then spent the rest of his time fat-shaming the women he couldn't be bothered to use and demean. He flaunted his "playbook" to his friends, which was an actual book full of clever ways to get women into bed, most of which relied almost completely on the assumption that most women are stupid enough to be tricked into sleeping with a guy if he can successfully pretend to be someone really interesting. And no one ever called him out or questioned him, at least not seriously, which was really just the showrunners' way of saying, "We think using and demeaning women is funny and Barney should be able to do as much of it as he likes, because cheap laughs at the expense of others are just so much easier to write than smart, sophisticated humor."

2 Broke Girls

So Gilmore Girls was more than 15 years ago, which is not really much of an excuse but still, we like to think that a lot of enlightening can happen over a decade and a half. Not so, as it turns out. Today there's 2 Broke Girls, a program that debuted in 2011 and somehow lasted six years. In that show, we had yet another Asian stereotype: Han Lee, the tiny Asian man who has an accent that exists only to be laughed at, is a bad driver and a workaholic who expects everyone else to be a workaholic, too, and is frequently the butt of jokes like, "You can't tell an Asian he made a mistake. He'll go in back and throw himself on a sword." 

The New Yorker once called the show "so racist it is less offensive than baffling," and the Han Lee character isn't the only reason why — there's also the 75-year-old black man who works as a cashier and is only interested in sleeping with white women, a Polish immigrant who runs a housekeeping service, and an Eastern-European cook who says things like "Once you go Ukraine, you will scream with sex-pain."

The Big Bang Theory

Because Asian tiger moms are so overdone, sometimes showrunners like to mix it up with Jewish moms, who are equally tyrannical, also want their daughters to settle down and marry a nice [insert ethnicity] boy (preferably a doctor), and are shameless nags with grating voices. That's exactly what The Big Bang Theory gave us with Mrs. Wolowitz, a character we mostly never saw but who still managed to be a larger-than-life stereotype. Mrs. Wolowitz isn't the only stereotype in the show, but the others are at least directed at nerds, and poking fun at nerds is still socially acceptable because they can science their way out of feeling offended, or something. So yeah, scientists never have sex and don't actually like sex anyway because it can't be lab-tested and proven via the scientific method, and that's hilarious. Also, Jewish mothers.

The Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger, beloved by 1950s children, also had one of the most offensive Native American characters of all time. For a start, the name "Tonto" actually means "fool" in Spanish, so there's that. The writers also gave him really meaningful and insightful dialogue, like "Um, that right, Kemosabe," and "Me go now," which he delivered in that same monotone voice that white people have been using to degrade indigenous people for generations. 

And despite the fact that for eight years he was forced to keep the company of a guy who pontificated about everything from horses to firewood, he never honed his English skills to the point where he knew the difference between an object pronoun and a subject pronoun, even though most toddlers have figured that out by the time they can speak complete sentences. (Tonto never really did that, either.) He was played by an actual Mohawk, though, so at least the producers got that right. (Ironically, a 2013 version of Tonto was played by the very non-indigenous Johnny Depp, so we really haven't come very far.)

Family Guy

Some shows seem to exist only for the purpose of pissing people off, and one of the most notorious examples of this is Family Guy. Pick a character and with only a few exceptions you'll probably be able to pinpoint something offensive in 30 seconds or less. But let's talk about the worst offender: Quagmire, who began his life as a sleazy playboy and pretty rapidly decomposed into a serial rapist because who doesn't love a wholesome rape joke? Sexual violence is so damn funny, ha ha ha. 

Let's take a look at some of the show's Quagmire-inspired hilarity: in one episode, he rapes Marge Simpson. In another episode, he gets maced by the woman he's trying to rape but doesn't feel a thing, implying that he's built up a tolerance to mace over his years of raping women. In another episode he drugs a woman and tries to drag her off set, presumably to rape her. And in another episode the bartender asks if he'd like his usual drink and one with a roofie in it for his date. But wait, Quagmire isn't the only source of rape humor in the series. In one episode, Peter Griffin gets raped by a bull. Stewie, the 1-year-old, prank calls someone with a rape joke. And so on. Truly, top-tier humor for the modern world.

Married with Children

It's hard to believe that the same decade that brought us uber-strong female characters like Sarah Connor and Buffy Summers also brought us the empty-headed boobs-on-a-stick female characters that populated the social trainwreck that was Married with Children. The show was unapologetically sexist, with lead character Al Bundy saying things like "Women should have three breasts — two in front and one in the back for dancing," and "Pretty women make us buy beer; ugly women make us drink beer." Yes, Al Bundy was a misogynistic jerk and his wife, Peg, helped perpetuate the stereotype of gold-digging women who don't deserve to have any ambitions beyond being as sexy as possible for as long as possible. Pretty much everything about Married with Children was overly offensive, and if the show premiered today it's doubtful it would have lasted 11 weeks, let alone 11 years.

WWE Wrestling

Most modern shows (with a few notable exceptions) are at least smart enough to know that they shouldn't be overtly and obviously offensive — today, offensive stuff is usually subtle or in a form that can be defended as a "harmless" stereotypes. The WWE somehow failed to get that memo. In 2005 it debuted a tag team that called itself "The Mexicools" and entered the arena in matching coveralls, riding on a lawn tractor under the brand name "Juan Deer." That was in 2005, like 40 years after Cesar Chavez when humans really ought to know better. But wait, there's more ... there was also "Akeem the African Dream" (who spoke with a heavy, stereotypical black accent but was actually a white guy), a Native American "chief" called Tatanka (who came complete with a feathered headdress and war cry), and a terrorist called Muhammed Hassan. A terrorist. Classy.

All in the Family

This is a different kind of offensive because the Archie Bunker character on All in the Family did not exist simply for the sake of shocking the audience or propagating "innocent" or "lovable" stereotypes, like so many other offensive characters. Rather, Archie Bunker existed so that bigotry and misogyny could be called out and challenged.

The character was deliberately, deplorably racist, freely using slurs that would make most modern people feel hideously uncomfortable. At the time, there was a lot of question about whether the show was really reaching audiences in the way it was intended or if it was actually validating racist attitudes instead. According to Salon, the show did have a small group of bigoted fans who identified with Archie and another small group who already had progressive attitudes, but studies showed that the larger audience in the middle — those who had attitudes that were "in flux" — did get something positive out of the experience of watching the show. So maybe Archie Bunker was offensive in a good way. Maybe.

The Amanda Show

Making fun of white, working-class rural America is still a-okay as far as most people are concerned. After all, there's practically no one left that you can make fun of now that fat-shaming is off the table and obesity is on the rise. And we have to make fun of someone, right? How else can we express our own sense of insecurity and limited self-worth to the rest of the world? But not everyone agrees that poverty is funny, even if it's white poverty. Nickelodeon's The Amanda Show (a program for tweens) begged to differ. It featured a regular bit called a "Hillbilly Moment" when two country bumpkins would tell stupid knock-knock jokes and then beat each other over the head with beavers, bowling pins, and other "redneck" paraphernalia. Because poor white folks are funny, especially if they're dumb and have bad teeth.


In yet another example of just how far we haven't come, the 2013 Fox show Dads was unapologetically racist, which is really not surprising since it shared a lot of staff with Family Guy, home of hilarious sexual predator Quagmire. But for some reason, cartoon characters can get away saying and doing things humans cannot, even though it's all fiction. So when Family Guy-esque humor started coming out of the mouths of the human characters on Dads, it pissed a lot of people off, so much so that The Media Action Network for Asian Americans asked Fox to reshoot the pilot (but not ax it altogether, which is frankly a little baffling). Among Dads' transgressions: a stereotypical Latina maid and a boss who asked his Asian assistant to dress like a "sexy Asian schoolgirl." 

The show touted itself as a modern All in the Family but it failed rather spectacularly to call out and challenge racial stereotypes the way its predecessor did. Most of the racist jokes were left to linger without commentary, thus legitimizing them in a pretty ugly way. The show didn't live to see a second season, so maybe that says something about how far audiences have come, if not how far television entertainment hasn't come.

South Park

South Park is a bit of a conundrum because it doesn't really fit into any of the same categories as the other shows here do. Sometimes it's offensive just for the sake of offending, like Family Guy. Sometimes it's offensive just so it can point out the stupidity of people who are blatantly offensive, like All in the Family. But one thing is absolutely, irrefutably certain about South Park: it's offensive. Pretty much every character and every episode has offensive undertones, overtones, or everywhere-tones

Like that one episode where Steve Irwin showed up at a Halloween party with a giant stingray sticking out of his chest, just seven weeks after the death of the real Steve Irwin, which was so offensive that even the show's characters were offended. And that other episode where they almost broadcast an image of the prophet Muhammad but didn't because Comedy Central wouldn't let them. And then there was the whole Lemmiwinks thing, which you can Google if you're really desperate. Of all the offensive shows on TV now or on TV in the past, South Park has got to be up there at the top, although the real impact of its offensive storylines are hard to quantify because everyone takes it in a little differently.