Don't tell my kids, but I genuinely enjoy some of their favorite animated shows. In terms of plot, interesting characters and sheer laughs, PBS Kids fare ("Arthur") trumps trying-too-hard tween sitcoms ("The Suite Life of Zack and Cody") every time.
I've noticed that the younger-skewing shows make liberal use of their stock asshole characters, who serve as examples of what not to do. They're easy to hate, but much like Veronica Lodge and Reggie Mantle, they bring a healthy dose of edge and conflict to the proceedings. In no particular order, here are my top five Animated Series Jerks:
Jetta: "Clifford the Big Red Dog"
On Birdwell Island, where "Clifford the Big Red Dog" takes place, Jetta is the resident rich girl and imperious brat. Even her purebred dog, Mac, has a superiority complex. Jetta is always overstating her accomplishments and lording her possessions over Emily Elizabeth, Clifford's saintly owner. I realize Emily Elizabeth is modeling appropriate behavior for impressionable preschoolers, but just once, why can't she tell Jetta to go to hell? When Jetta repeatedly accused Emily Elizabeth of stealing her spelling-bee medal, the innocent EE offered to help her find it instead of threatening to sic Clifford on her. Why? The truth eventually came out (a seagull was the culprit), but Jetta's whiny harassment warranted, at the very least, a verbal beatdown. Stop being a doormat, Emily Elizabeth!
Mac: "Clifford the Big Red Dog"
Though he is a male greyhound, Mac (short for Macchiavelli) is an all-around bitch. Like his owner, Jetta, Mac spends a lot of time declaring his own awesomeness. A dog-show champion and a snob, he is particularly unkind to T. Bone, Clifford's sweet, dim-witted sidekick. Entire episodes have been devoted to Mac's poor treatment of T. Bone, like the time he refused to invite him to join an "exclusive" dog club. Mac frequently speaks of T. Bone with a derisive emphasis on the "T," as if the poor thing were a rabid, flea-infested stray instead of the Birdwell Island Sheriff's pet. My theory is that Mac's meanness stems from the stress of being deeply closeted. My husband says Mac's hostility is classic racism, as T. Bone's voice is supplied by African-American actor Kel Mitchell.
Muffy Crosswire: "Arthur"
Yes, Muffy is rich and spoiled. She's not above using money as a weapon (like the time she tried to bribe the school science-fair judges) or playing hardball (insisting that her friends boycott Arthur's birthday party because it was on the same day as hers). She's also fond of reminding people that she could buy and sell them before lunch time and offering unsolicited makeover advice. However, Muffy is also a brilliant self-promoter who has learned the principles of capitalism at the feet of her businessman father. She was also feisty enough to stare down the playground bullies who complained about her recess photo shoots on their turf.
Cindy Vortex: "Jimmy Neutron"
I feel Cindy's pain. As smart as she is, she's always in the shadow of boy genius and fellow classmate Jimmy Neutron. It's like being second chair flute and having no hope of ascending to first — even though you practice your ass off and win medals at solo and ensemble competitions — because the first chair is a flute prodigy with a fancy ... ahem. Anyway, Cindy berates Jimmy because he is her intellectual rival and because she has a secret, white-hot crush on him. (By the way, I am creeped out by the fact that when I Googled "Cindy Vortex and Jimmy Neutron," a link to a fan fiction site popped up.)
Squilliam Fancyson: "Spongebob Squarepants"
I love Squilliam, who embodies our deepest fears about professional and artistic failure. This is totally lost on my children — whose dreams have yet to be crushed — and who see him as merely an even bitchier version of Squidward Tentacles, the Krusty Krab cashier with a passion for interpretive dance and the clarinet. Squilliam, Squidward's rival from band class, is wealthy and successful, and he lives to remind Squidward that his life sucks comparatively. This has been the setup for some of the the show's most hilarious moments, including this one.