9 Pop Culture Nice Guys Who Probably Weren't All That Nice to Begin With
Social media can be a dumpster fire of horrendous behavior. From the Russian bots to the President’s Twitter account (and, this week, the endless “30-50 feral hog” memes) it can often feel like humanity is doomed. One of the upsides, though, has been people from all walks of life having access to shared discussions of common experiences, which in turn has popularized a new lexicon of words that define human behavior—and not all of them are positive. From mansplaining to gaslighting, we're finally ready to critique men on a deeper level than ever before.
For years, most people weren’t as clued into how behavior that might not immediately seem harmful can actually be wrong, and even toxic. This is rarely clearer than when watching old TV shows and movies, set long before social media enabled more widespread discussion of these behaviors. Countless “nice guys” from TV shows and films actually aren’t all that nice at all when you look at them through a 2019 lens. It turns out that, in lots of pop culture moments that we love(d), some of the male characters were more problematic than they seemed at the time (and no, we’re not just talking about Friends).
Nate (The Devil Wears Prada)
The Devil Wears Prada might have a fairly standard feel-good plot, but you know what doesn’t feel good? Andy’s boyfriend, Nate, who is one of the most horrendous fake “nice guys” that modern cinema has ever seen. With his “wounded puppy” expressions, pre-Bernie-bro superiority complex, and infuriatingly good hair, Nate is the epitome of a male character that few people questioned in 2006, but who comes off far less favorably in 2019. In fact, every few months, it legally becomes someone’s turn to tweet about how awful he is and be rewarded with thousands of dopamine-hit-heavy retweets.
Nate undermines Andy’s career from the beginning, when he belittles her by asking if her interview for Runway Magazine was a phone interview. He hates fashion too, at one point asking: “Why do women need so many bags?” Eugh! Finally, After Andy and Nate break up, they appear to reconcile towards the end. Nate tells Andy he is moving away to pursue his dream of being a chef, while she tells him he was “right about everything”. Get away from him, sweetie!
Seth Cohen (The OC)
To those of you who love Seth Cohen—teen drama The OC’s seemingly adorable protagonist—I ask you this: has Seth Cohen ever uttered a sentence that wasn’t about Seth Cohen? Teenagers can be self-obsessed, but Seth takes things to an entirely new level. Remember when he played Anna and Summer off against each other like it was an incel special of The Bachelor? He made them both the same gift, and if that wasn’t bad enough, it was the Seth Cohen Starter Pack—a box full of gifts about him because, really, no one else seemed to matter. After eventually choosing Anna, he then backtracks and makes a public declaration of love for Summer right in front of her, making her move to Pittsburgh. She. Literally. Left. The. City. To. Escape. Him.
Then there’s his treatment of Summer. Seth treats her some sort of trophy girlfriend for the entire show, despite the fact that she’s clearly very clever. When she gets near-perfect SATs (a better score than his), he throws a temper tantrum and tries to brush it aside saying he wants to be “better than her at something.” Anyone who says this should be immediately dumped.
Ned Schneebly (School of Rock)
Everyone’s (second) favorite substitute teacher might seem like an odd or even misguided choice, but I promise he’s not as nice as he seems. Ned (Mike White) is a kind man who’s a good friend —which are, after all, great qualities— but he’s incapable of taking his girlfriend’s side in her power struggle with Dewey Finn, played by Jack Black. Throughout the film, Ned’s girlfriend Patti (Sarah Silverman) is portrayed as domineering and unreasonable for not wanting an unemployed, overweight, overgrown, failed wannabe rockstar sleeping on her floor rent free. But can we really blame her? Even when Ned finds out Dewy has been stealing his identity to teach (and eventually kidnap) a bunch of private school kids—potentially trashing his reputation and ruining his career—he still takes his side. Sorry fellas, but these days we stick up for our partners over exploitative so-called “friends.”
Aaron Samuels (Mean Girls)
Mean Girls heartthrob Aaron Samuels was dreamt up by Tina Fey in 2004, but 15 years later he’s the stuff of nightmares. Aaron knowingly kisses Regina George even though he knows Cady likes him, and willingly lets Regina parade him in front of her like a piece of meat. Then, when Cady drunkenly admits to him that she tried to change herself so he’d like her, he goes crazy on her. Despite rejecting her earlier in the film in favor of queen plastic Regina, whose awful behavior he’s validated for the entire film? Not fetch.
Tom Hansen ((500) Days of Summer)
(500) Days of Summer unfurls the love story of Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel). *Spoiler alert* Summer isn’t into Tom and ends up getting married to another man. The film chronicles various moments of his infatuation, heartbreak and anguish. (Un)surprisingly, Tom is generally portrayed as the more innocent party while Summer is seen as cold, distant, and cut-throat. This is despite the fact that Summer created clear boundaries and expectations for the relationship and made clear from the start that she could not match his. As debate over Tom’s portion of the blame has rumbled online since the film’s release, Gordon-Levitt himself admitted that Tom is not a great guy, tweeting: “He’s projecting. He’s not listening. He’s selfish.” He later told Playboy: “The (500) Days Of Summer attitude of ‘He wants you so bad’ seems attractive to some women and men, especially younger ones. But I would encourage anyone who has a crush on my character to watch it again and examine how selfish he is.”
Xander Harris (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
There’s plenty of awful characters in Buffy —Dawn, Kennedy, Riley and evil incel Warren and company for starters. But quite honestly, these are all angels compared to Xander Harris, the show’s secret villain who seems to exist to give irresponsible, selfish men someone to look up to. Xander is commonly referred to by professional world-saver Buffy and superwitch Willow as a “hero,” but all he ever seems to do is cause trouble. Every single Xander-centric episode of the show was awful. “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” is a classic example, where he makes a love potion to spite his ex Cordelia and ends up putting every woman in Sunnydale in danger. Oh, then in the ever iconic “Once More With Feeling” he summoned a demon just because he thought it would lighten the mood, and he happily lets Buffy’s fifteen year-old sister take the blame for it.
Then there’s his love life. Xander spends the first two seasons of the show sulking that Buffy has “friend-zoned him” while discarding Willow, who is clearly besotted with him. When he ends up with Anya —a demon who’s entire purpose is exacting revenge on men, who decided to become mortal to spend her life with him— Xander leaves her at the altar. What did it take for him to come to this momentous decision? A demon masquerading as his future self was like: “Dude, don’t do it.” Seems legit.
Michael O’Neal (My Best Friend’s Wedding)
In his prime, Michael O’Neal (Dermot Mulroney) might be one of the top ten best looking men ever, but many of his actions certainly aren’t a good look. Michael wastes no time making his new fiancée Kimmy (Cameron Diaz) feel inferior to his former-flame-turned-best-friend Jules (Julia Roberts). Kimmy has given up on her college education to follow Michael around America as he works as a sports journalist. But when a devious scheme by saboteur Jules makes Kimmy consider the idea of not giving up her education, Michael goes crazy and calls off the wedding. Instead of being understanding and thinking that it might be difficult for her to sacrifice her college education, Michael only thinks of his own needs to be the male “provider.” After all this, when Jules finally reveals her love for Michael, he kisses her as his fiancée looks on. He then blames Jules wholly for him kissing her when, as a man about to be married, he—I don’t know—should have turned her advances down?
Noah Calhoun (The Notebook)
The Notebook is regarded as one of the most romantic films ever. This is all well and good, but the way Noah Calhoun (Ryan Gosling) courts “out-of-his-league rich girl” Allie (Rachel McAdams) is baseline creepy and borderline stalker-y. To ask her out for a date, Noah climbs a ferris wheel that Allie is riding at the local carnival, bringing it to a standstill while she’s suspended hundreds of feet in the air. Noah hangs in front of her, saying he’ll intentionally fall to his death if she doesn’t agree to go on a date with him. Out of panic, Allie agrees. The pair eventually falls in love, but juuuuuuust in case anyone’s in any doubt: This is not ok!
Tom Scavo (Desperate Housewives)
Oh yes, we’ve saved the very worst faux “nice guy” until last. Throughout Desperate Housewives, Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman) is portrayed as a ball-busting dragon for not approving of every single ludicrous life idea her infantile husband Tom wants to pursue. And when she dares to have a career? Tom goes in a permanent sulk for about three seasons. Tom has such an obsession with being the “man” of the house that he make his wife feel bad being successful, while making the family bet their future on stupid pipe dreams like a pizzeria, while buying himself midlife crisis sports cars.
Poor Lynette literally takes in Tom’s demonic secret daughter, battles cancer, saves the family financially by going back to work and indulges his dreams of being in a band and opening a pizza restaurant. Oh, and she forgives him for an affair. How does Tom repay her? By painting her as the bad guy and walking out on her in the final season to start a new relationship. The Scavos eventually reconciled, but perhaps Lynette would have been better without Tom, who in 2019 somehow manages to come off as Wisteria Lane’s most toxic male resident.