The 7 Best Bad Girls in Sitcom History
Rachel (Amy James-Kelly) has been having a tough time since we met her, a couple of weeks ago, in the series premiere of Everyone Else Burns on The CW. She’s basically trapped in the Order of the Divine Rod, a fanatically restrictive Christian sect, not only because choosing to leave it would mean estranging herself from the rest of her family in this life and the next, but also because she’s a teenager and kind of has nowhere else to go. The situation was moderately tolerable, but then she met Joshua (Ali Khan), a former member of the Order who’s become her extremely secret boyfriend.
A church workshop on Dating and Courtship from Elder Abijah doesn’t offer much useful guidance (“Sex is for marriage, dating is for marriage, and marriage is to be kept within the order”), but at least Rachel meets Julia (Soph Galustian), another girl her age who seems a lot more pious than Rachel herself. But if Rachel hopes Julia will help her navigate between her feelings for Josh and her duty to her faith, she is immediately corrected: As soon as the two girls are out of sight of the church’s front door, Julia covers her modest blouse and cardigan with a hoodie and a jacket; piles her dark hair up on her head, revealing an orange streak underneath; rolls her skirt up into her waistband to raise the hem several inches; and trades her loafers for sneakers. That’s right: Rachel has made the acquaintance of a CLASSIC BAD GIRL.
If you’ve watched any sitcom, you’ve met bad girls. They smoke, either secretly or defiantly. They treat themselves to a sneaky flask sip, regardless of whether the situation is appropriate or they have reached the legal age. They wear leather — motorcycle jackets, mini skirts, pants, hot pants. They flirt, shamelessly. Actually, they do everything shamelessly. They’re a blast!
Some sitcoms are bold enough to put a bad girl in their opening-credits cast — like Blanche in The Golden Girls, Karen in Will & Grace, Sandra in 227, Edina and Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous. And while we treasure them, the vagaries of sitcom writing tend to sand down their edges, so we’re not focusing on those ladies here. Instead, we’re celebrating the bad girls who pop in to scandalize protagonists with their disgraceful antics, then pop back out — sass intact — once order has been restored.
Tammy, ‘Bob’s Burgers’
Tina (voice of Dan Mintz) is definitely not popular when we initially meet her, but the notion of popularity doesn’t really seem to have been anyone’s concern at Wagstaff School before Tammy (Jenny Slate) enrolls there. Tammy talks fast, coins new slang (“Don’t have a crap attack!”), styles herself asymmetrically — half-up ponytail on the right side of her head, right shoulder open to the breeze — and is basically the picture of middle school glamour; naturally, Tina is drawn to her alpha energy. But she may also be the first bad girl Tina’s ever met, and in “Bad Tina,” we see she has no compunction about blackmailing Tina to misbehave on threat of leaking Tina’s “erotic friend fiction.” (Misbehaving how? There’s a tramp stamp. It’s temporary, but still!)
Tammy gets her comeuppance with an ill-timed gas attack in front of the whole class, which is part of what keeps her at bad girl status as opposed to full-blown villainy. Future episodes find her dipping a toe into sensationalistic journalism, and throwing a chill hang for Valentine’s Day abstainers that evolves into a make-out party. Tammy has a lot of attitude, but very little endurance, which is what lands her in last place on our list, and if she found out she wasn’t as bad a bad girl as she thinks, she would be enraged.
Every run-in J.D. (Zach Braff) has had with the Sullivan family has led to drama. He sleeps with Jordan (Christa Miller) before finding out she was formerly married to his mentor, Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley). When J.D. treats Jordan’s brother Ben (Brendan Fraser) after he nails his hand to a board, J.D. is the one to have to diagnose Ben with leukemia. And J.D. is in the middle of getting over Elliot (Sarah Chalke) — again — when he meets Danni (Tara Reid) by chance; only after they’ve agreed to help each other through recent breakups does he learn she’s Jordan’s sister.
In some ways, J.D. and Danni are a natural match: both obsessively talk to themselves via interior monologue, for example. But even though Danni is ready to move on from her ex, J.D. is still hung up on Elliot and never entirely commits to Danni despite her willingness to be emotionally vulnerable with him. The two are both so needy that they drift back toward each other again, but Danni puts a lot less effort into seeming sweet to J.D. — and rightly so, he jerked her around and doesn’t really deserve better.
J.D. thinks his last time dumping Danni is over her yelling her own name during sex, but no: She’s been cheating on him with a guy named Danny. Cheating is wrong, but that’s a pretty badass move, and it’s not like J.D. doesn’t deserve it given how he’s been emotionally cheating on her with Elliot since he and Danni met.
When Molly Tilden (Danielle Harris) and her family first move in next door to the Conners, she seems like a perfectly nice, if perfectly boring girl. There’s nothing wrong with her, but she’s definitely basic before “basic” was common slang, and was never going to get along with someone like Darlene (Sara Gilbert), by now an aspiring graphic novelist dating her would-be illustrator, David (Johnny Galecki). But the more chances Molly gets to entangle herself in Darlene’s life, the worse their relationship gets. Molly seems like a phony, and her constant flirting with David gives the impression that her seeming attempts to befriend Darlene despite Darlene’s open disdain of her are just so she can spend more time with David.
Darlene isn’t above a little opportunism herself, however, and when Molly tries to ingratiate herself to Darlene by giving her an extra Daisy Chainsaw concert ticket — oblivious to the fact that Molly’s shy sister Charlotte (Mara Hobel) clearly assumed Molly would give it to her — Darlene agrees to debase herself by going with Molly. In “Good Girls, Bad Girls,” written by future Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino (pre-“Palladino”), Darlene finds out the “nicest”-seeming girls can actually be the most devious. Darlene gets home way past curfew, her parents worried sick, and since Darlene is dark and depressive and Molly is a kewpie doll, they assume Darlene has been irresponsible, and don’t believe Darlene when she tells them Molly ditched her to smoke weed with some random guys… until Molly phones and tells Dan and Roseanne she and Darlene are on their way back right now! Molly’s father Ty (Wings Hauser) apologizes to the Conners the next day — Molly’s always forgetting her purse everywhere she goes! — but Roseanne is not so credulous. (Apologies for the poor clip quality.)
Molly has always been a toady to adults, which made her impossible to respect; this is the moment she tips over into malevolence.
Danni and Lulu (tie), ‘Big Mouth’
In Big Mouth’s seventh season, characters we’ve watched learn absolutely everything about their changing bodies — maybe too much, in some cases — are moving on to high school, a place absolutely loaded with peril, including from a couple of very memorable bad girls.
At the Bridgeton kids’ first visit to the high school, the juniors who lead the tours look huge and scary. When Lulu (voice of Stephanie Beatriz) tries to show off her authority in the girls’ bathroom by kicking a girl out mid-poop and snitting, “That little bitch was so rude,” Jessi (Jessi Klein) tries to project confidence by making a joke: “Yeah, I mean, how dare she try to use the bathroom as a bathroom, what a c—.” This turns out to be the worst thing Jessi could do, as other girls who overhear laugh appreciatively and Lulu turns on her: “We should see how funny you really are.”
Jessi’s not sure what that means, but Lola (Nick Kroll), who’s been watching Lulu carefully in the hopes of eventually usurping her, guesses, “I think it means you should get your affairs in order.” Jessi and Lulu’s paths cross a few more times before Jessi starts the ninth grade — there are incidents involving a chocolate syrup attack, violent public barfing, and humiliation at an after-school job — but on the first day of school, Jessi decides her common ground with Lulu will be that they’re both stoners! Jessi even gets an army jacket (an inexpensive but even more intimidating alternative to the leather motorcycle jacket) to denote her new status.
Meanwhile, Nick (Kroll) has been so disobedient that his parents separate him from his friends and send him to the local private school, Cobblestones. On his initial visit, Danni (Zazie Beetz) asks him to grab a neighboring girl’s phone, so that Danni can pull a prank on her — it’s fine, they’re friends! Except, actually, Danni is getting revenge on Theresa (Ayo Edebiri) after finding out they’re hooking up with the guy. When she sends herself threatening messages from Theresa’s phone to try to get her expelled and both girls plus Nick end up in the headmaster’s office, Nick easily corroborates Danni’s claims, because he finds her both beautiful and scary. They continue spending time together over the summer, but unfortunately for Nick, Danni finds Travis (Brian Tyree Henry), the disputed boy, a lot more scary and beautiful than Nick.
In “The Yada Yada,” George (Jason Alexander) is dating Marcy (Suzanne Cryer), whose personality quirk is skipping over details in her anecdotes and filling in the gaps with “yada yada.” Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld) tells George he likes how succinct she is — “It’s like you’re dating USA Today” — but George is less sure when he thinks she’s yada yada-ed sex with her ex-boyfriend.
Even as the yada yada catches on among his friends, George demands that Marcy de-yada-fy some of the stories she’s already told him. When it turns out she got a free massage and facial on 3rd Avenue by skipping out on the bill, stole a Piaget watch from Bloomingdale’s, and very likely did sleep with her ex, George wishes he’d stuck with the abridged version of Marcy’s stories. This bad girl eventually pushes her luck too far, we hear from George: “She went shopping for some shoes for the wedding and, yada yada yada, I’ll see her in six to eight months.”
Jessica Lovejoy, ‘The Simpsons’
Bart (voice of Nancy Cartwright) has been romantically linked to a lot of different girls, all of whom were voiced by high-profile guest stars, but only one gets the titular appellation “Bart’s Girlfriend” and has three Oscars (from a record 21 nominations). Streep plays Jessica Lovejoy, daughter to the Simpsons’ minister, Reverend Lovejoy (Harry Shearer), newly returned from boarding school. Bart is so entranced that he decides to try to be good to impress her, but he can’t keep it up, and because Jessica’s a real Molly Tilden type whose sweet manner is hiding shocking depths of mischief, Bart’s misbehavior is what attracts her to him.
Eventually, Bart realizes that whereas he’s just a common delinquent, Jessica is depraved on a level he does not approach. She not only plans a heist of the collection plate but contrives to frame him for it. (The outraged Springfieldianite who drives past screaming “Stealer of money from the church collection plate,” the end of the attack barely audible as the car departs, is one of the all-time great Simpsons microjokes.) Reverend Lovejoy is finally forced to face reality when the money is found under Jessica’s mattress; Moe (Hank Azaria) recognizes it because it smells like church.
Bart does not face reality, believing he can get Jessica back by taking over her punitive chore of scrubbing the church steps, but doing a poor job. Jessica tops this list not only because of the pure deviance of robbing a church — her father’s church, besides — but because she closes the episode utterly unredeemed and utterly uninterested in redemption. At least Marcy’s going to get some time away from society to ponder why she shouldn’t steal $12,000 watches; Jessica’s never going to have to ponder a thing.