Has there ever been a more fundamentally loathsome character on television than Joffrey Baratheon? The wretched boy-King from Game Of Thrones generally makes only fleeting appearances, but each time is more vile and detestable than the last, and when his uppance comes (and it surely will) it will be so very sweet.
Almost all TV shows have antagonists, whether they are outright 'bad guys' or more subtly-drawn characters of ill-repute, depending on the type of show. There are those we love to hate and those we hate to love, some with more charisma than the 'heroes' and some who are just deadly, with weapons or just their tongues.
But there's a separate level of TV hell reserved for those characters who are completely irredeemably despicable. One of the best examples was 24's Sherry Palmer, who we first saw as wife of the most noble Presidential candidate the world has ever known. Scheming and manipulative and hugely annoying, desperation drove her to some horrific deeds.
When her end came, it was probably even more rewarding for the audience than when Nina Myers finally met justice at Jack Bauer's hands. Unfortunately, some of that relief came from the feeling that she'd been over-used and had ended up being just that bit too OTT to remain believable, even in a show as totally bonkers as 24.
Connivance and cowardice go hand in hand for some of TV's most loathsome characters, and another nemesis of Bauer's to have these 'talents' in spades was Charles Logan. His list of crimes is almost too long to recall, but happily (for us, at least) he ended the last series shooting himself in the head and leaving himself brain damaged at the very least. Still, you wouldn't have bet against him popping up again in any 24 movie.
The X-Files had its fair share of cretinous creeps, working at the behest of Cigarette-Smoking Man, not least Alex Krycek and Jeffrey Spender. Even shows of the quality of The Sopranos and Six Feet Under had antagonists with no redeeming features, with the bitter and venemous mob boss Phil Leotardo and capitalist funeral tycoons Kroehners, represented by Matt Gilardi and Mitzi Dalton-Huntley. Slimeballs...
Stretch your scope into sitcoms and there's the lowlife Frank Burns from M*A*S*H* or Boycie from Only Fools And Horses. Or even Red Dwarf's Rimmer or Blackadder. We may laugh at their antics, but would we actually want to know any of them, never mind go out for a drink with them?
But have any of them been more horrendous than Joffrey Baratheon? From his first scowling appearance at Winterfell in the pilot, it was obvious that he was an entitled little bastard (literally), and the second season has seen his levels of evil go through the roof. Think of his treatment of his fiancee. Think of what he did with those prostitutes. Just look at his face!
It's a credit to actor Jack Gleeson that he's been able to use his often brief appearances to create such a hideous performance, and a credit to the show's writers that they've limited our exposure to him. Short, sharp bursts of Joffrey are more powerful than if we saw a lot of him. Plus it's better for our blood pressure.
At the moment, the season is building up to a big battle for King's Landing, and you sense that Joffrey's total lack of nous or humility will see him come to a sticky end soon. After all, if the enemy and your own people all want to kill you, the odds aren't in your favour. As Jerome Flynn said: "There's no cure for being a cunt." Well, there is one...