A Jerkass is essentially a subset of asshole: An character so obnoxious that only on television would someone willingly interact with that person. A Jerkass has a certain element of sneering prickitude. He’s condescending and arrogant, and his air of superiority is reflected in the way in which he treats others around him. Two of the best ensembles of Jerkasses in television history return tonight on FX: “The League” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” which are populated almost exclusively with jerkasses. Inspired by their return, I’ve compiled a list of the 10 Greatest Jerkasses in Television history (for diversity’s sake, only one jerkass character per show).
10. Dennis Reynolds (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) — Obviously everyone on this show is a huge pr*ck, but no one more so than Dennis, who is both narcissistic and insecure, which provokes him to demean everyone around him, poking at their physical flaws in order to make himself feel better about his own shortcomings. His friends call Dennis a “piece of sh*t,” but Dennis is so delusional that he usually accepts it as a compliment.
9. Ruxin (“The League”) — Like a lot of jerkasses on both television and in real life, Ruxin is an attorney, and like most Jerkasses, he’s incredibly sarcastic (a characteristic he inherited from his father) and likewise is constantly demeaning to his friends. He’s also incredibly paranoid (rightly so, it turns out), which causes him to be suspicious of all of his friends, all of which he treats like sh*t while lording his hot wife over them.
8. Pierce Hawthorne (“Community”) — Pierce’s jerkass attitude is also a byproduct of his insecurity: He’s lonely, but he also feels that his wealth makes him better than everyone else, especially gays, blacks, and women. Notwithstanding his occasional moments of redemption, Pierce is intolerable to be around, so much so that he was once booted from the study group.
7. Cliff Clavin (“Cheers”) — One of “Cheers” resident barflies, Clavin is an unusually endearing jerkass, a know-it-all postal worker and almost winner of “Jeopardy.” Also unlike most jerkasses, Cliff knows he’s an asshole, and even at one point attempted electroshock therapy to help him become a nicer person. It didn’t work.
6. Larry David (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) — In my opinion, while Larry David may not be the best jerkass in all of television, he is the biggest jerkass, a thoughtless, egocentric, and unredeemable character. There is almost nothing nice one can say about Larry David, and that’s precisely why he’s such a successful character. He’s unlikable, yet he says and does offensive things with which we can relate, which makes us feel almost too uncomfortable about ourselves to laugh. But we do, all the same.
5. Bill McNeal (“Newsradio”) — McNeal is an unbelievably arrogant jackass, a narcissistic blowhard who doesn’t realize he’s missing huge gaps of knowledge. As a human being, he would’ve been impossible to be around, but as a character on “Newsradio,” he was hilarious, brilliant, and can’t even be mentioned without provoking sadness at the thought of Phil Hartman’s tragic murder.
4. George Costanza (“Seinfeld”) — A more broadly funny, slightly more redeeming version of Larry David (with whom Costanza was modeled), George’s jerk-assness is slightly offset by his own self-pity. Unlike most of the characters on this list, George feels superior to others despite the fact that he knows he’s ultimately a failure as a person. He’s perfectly content, however, to be a failure.
3. Dan Fielding (“Nightcourt”) — One of television’s pioneers of the Jerkass, Dan Fielding was a brilliant, sneering, self-absorbed, greedy and sex-obsessed prosecutor who thought nothing of abusing his position of power for his own personal gain. He is given to frequent moments of cruelty to both his friends and those he is prosecuting, although that cruelty is sometimes tempered by a compassion that occasionally made Dan an almost likable Jerkass, especially in his relationship to Phil, the homeless guy Dan abused/adored.
2. Malcolm Tucker (“The Thick of It”) — Malcolm Tucker is the British representative on the list, although it could just as easily been David Brent from “The Office,” but I thought a third Larry David character would be overkill. Tucker is also slightly unusual in the Jerkass department because his demeaning cruelty is not a product of insecurity or narcissism, but a requirement of his job. He keeps people in line through fear, which means using brutally inappropriate strings of profanities that would likely reduce real people to tears. Just ask Harvey Weinstein, the real person for whom the Malcolm Tucker character is based.
1. Dr. Perry Cox (“Scrubs”) — More than just the greatest Jerkass in television history, Dr. Cox is also one of the greatest characters. More than any other jerkass on the list, Dr. Cox excellently blends assholery with compassion. Yes, he was self-absorbed, sneering, and narcissistic, but those characteristics served a noble purpose: To save lives, and to make the doctors around them better at their job. More than any other Jerkass on this list, Dr. Cox commanded and earned respect, and he was able to be cruel in funny ways that were not very often uncomfortable. It’s one thing to be a Jerkass who is funny, but to be a Jerkass that you admire is a rarity in television.