There was a time when it was easy to tell heroes from villains on television. Good guys had white hats. Bad guys had black hats. Good guys always wanted to save the world. Bad guys wanted to run it. Good guys got the cute girl. Bad guys got the scary henchman. However, the times aren’t so good for good guys these days. Instead of giving us heroes, television seems determined to give us more of their questionable counterparts, the anti-heroes.
These are the guys (and, occasionally, women) who you still root for, although you’re not quite sure why. They are more often than not angry, morally questionable, vaguely sociopathic individuals who cheat on their spouses and consider the law more of a guideline than a rule. When you’re drawing up the guest list for a dinner party, odds are they wouldn’t be on it because you know they’d break something (from dishes to everyone’s spirits) by the end of the evening. Still, you want to know more about them. That’s how they work, annoying you and attracting you at the same time.
With that in mind, here’s a list of some recent heroes who seem to be very good at being bad:
Walter White, “Breaking Bad,” AMC
At one point, Walter (Bryan Cranston) was probably a good man. But those days of him being a high school chemistry teacher and loving family man went out the window right around the time he started making methamphetamine and becoming a party to the murder of victims both innocent and not-so-innocent.
Tommy Gavin, “Rescue Me,” FX
He’s an alcoholic. He cheated on his wife by sleeping with his deceased cousin’s spouse. He has been in so many fights he might start thinking about boxing as a career. At every turn, Tommy (Denis Leary) seems like he’s in the midst of a contest to see how many people he can get to hate him on any given day. And yet….he does it all with such a sense of humor, you can’t help but be captivated by him.
Patty Hewes, “Damages,” Audience Network
It’s easy to see why people want Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) as their attorney. She is completely ruthless and will stop at nothing to get what she wants, no matter who gets hurt or destroyed. It’s also easy to see why people don’t want her as a friend. She is completely ruthless and will stop at nothing to get what she wants, no matter who gets hurt or destroyed.
Dr. Gregory House, “House,” Fox
There are worse things to encounter when you check into a hospital. Cold bedpans, for instance. And sure, Dr. House (Hugh Laurie) does seem like the one guy who can eventually diagnose whatever ails you. However, if you happen to be a co-worker or a friend who ends up sleeping with him (Cuddy, you knew better than that…), having your appendix removed without anesthesia would be slightly less painful than dealing with him.
Dexter Morgan, “Dexter,” Showtime
To be fair, Dexter (Michael C. Hall) is certainly well intentioned. He’s a serial killer, but only offs those who deserve that particular fate. And he is certainly devoted to his father, or at least the ghost of his father, while trying to be a doting dad himself. It’s just that pretty much once you break one of the commandments, especially that one about not killing, you quickly drop from hero status to anti-hero.
“Nucky” Thompson, “Boardwalk Empire,” HBO
Tough times call for tough men, so you have to forgive Nucky (Steve Buscemi) for doing unto others before they can do unto him. As the treasurer of Atlantic City during Prohibition, that’s just part of the job description. Besides, he’s clearly lots of fun to have around at parties because he’ll know how to get the best booze.
Don Draper, “Mad Men,” AMC
Don’s (Jon Hamm) an ad man, so naturally it’s going to be a bit difficult to trust a single word that he says. In fact, he’s a lot like the sort of advertisements he has helped to create: a very attractive package but once you look inside, there are all sorts of complications and contradictions that make you wonder what you saw in him in the first place.
Tony Soprano, “The Sopranos,” HBO
He is the godfather, literally and figuratively, of all TV anti-heroes. Tony’s (James Gandolfini) show may sleep with the fishes now, but any man who can manage to take his daughter on a trip to look for colleges while also hunting down a man he wants dead…..it doesn’t get any better or scarier than that.