Isle Of Geek’s Greatest TV Anti-Heroes
The TV shows we spend so much time binging on nowadays would be nothing without the strength of their main characters. The countless hours we all spend (oh come on, you know you do it) glued to Netflix or any streaming site, our eyes fixed on the exploits of Rick Grimes or Tyrion Lannister are valuable hours that probably could have been spent doing something important, but I digress. Bottom line is, we’ve all happily wasted time viewing these characters heroic endeavours against the villainous men and women that make their lives hell, or at least try to.
But what of those characters that walk the line between good and evil, sometimes leaning more towards one of the two, but ultimately never straying from their goals, which they will achieve through fair means or foul?
We at Isle of Geek are big fans of these types of characters, and often pay them more attention that the outright good or bad guys in our favourite shows, so here’s a little rundown off my personal favourite TV anti-heroes, in no particular order (well, maybe one is saved for last for….reasons). Be warned though – spoilers lie ahead.
Oh, and the names on this list are names of characters that have only appeared in live-action TV so far, not comics, video games or animated series. Sorry, Deadpool – we’re big fans of you, but you’re out of this one.
5) Omar Little, The Wire
Known for his trademark duster (under which he hides his favourite shotgun), facial scar, and ominous habit of whistling The Farmer In The Dell, Omar Little is one of the most widely-recognized anti-heroes in modern television. Operating as a drug dealer who also robs other drug dealers, Omar became known among fans of The Wire as the Robin Hood of Baltimore, with his marksmanship, stick-up proficiency and array of hugely quotable lines that mix street tough with Shakespeare. Omar went about his business with a strict moral code – he refused to harm, rob or kill anybody who wasn’t associated with the drug trade. His one rule kept him interesting in a world where everyone else will happily put a bullet in their best friend if it means more of the green.
4) Don Draper, Mad Men
He’s the son of a 22-year-old prostitute who died in childbirth and an abusive, alcoholic father who got kicked in the face by a horse and killed. He was taken in by his stepmother’s sister and her husband (who ran a brothel), and subjected to physical abuse from his step-aunt and raped by a prostitute at the brothel who was nursing him back to health while he had croup. By all accounts, you’d expect Don Draper to become a supervillain, wouldn’t you? Well, in some senses of the world, he did – he spends his work days either drunk or sleeping on the job (or leaves early in order to drink and sleep around), he has never been faithful to either of his wives and he has a distant and sometimes neglectful relationship with his three children. So why do audiences love him so much? For one thing, there’s his incredible charisma – Don Draper could take Barack Obama down a few pegs with a single rousing speech and Obama would applaud him for doing so. As well as that, Don’s a character with a sympathetic backstory who shows genuine care for his subordinates, viciously berating several employees who mock Freddy Rumsen’s urinary incontinence. Above all else though, Don is a ruthless advertising magnate who ultimately only cares about one person – Don Draper.
3) Tony Soprano, The Sopranos
On the surface, Tony Soprano might seem like the average Italian-American mob boss; a ruthless, aggressive gangster with no patience for anyone who crosses him—but unlike other depictions of mob bosses, the audience is allowed inside Tony’s head. We get glimpses of his depression, panic attacks and burning desire to please both his crime family and his actual family, which makes Tony the man to root for. Loosely based on real-life mobster Vincent “Vinny Ocean” Palermo, Tony often displays violent sociopathic tendencies, but the audience are granted insights into his fragile mental state and genuine concern that he’s not living up to his own reputation. This kind of vulnerability is exactly why we love Tony so much – beneath all the sturm and drang he’s almost helpless, attending therapy sessions from the first episode of season 1 to the penultimate episode of the entire series so he can better himself for the sake of the families he loves above all else.
2) Frank Underwood, House Of Cards
It takes some serious kahoneys to introduce the main character of a series by having him kill a dog, then break the fourth wall by telling the audience he has no patience for useless things. Granted, the dog was suffering and it was off-screen, but in the first five minutes of House Of Cards, we got a glimpse into the ruthless pragmatist that is Frank Underwood. Cold, calculating and breaking every law he can think of to ensure his own rise to power, Frank seems to be the complete opposite of a hero in every sense of the word – he’s been called manipulative, cunning, Machiavellian and even evil, but the audience simply love him. And why? Because he’s so damn good at what he does. Not a second goes by when a viewer isn’t kept on the edge of their seat, eyes wide as they even try to imagine what our favourite Congressman-turned-Vice-President-turned-President will do next, whether it’s murdering someone to get them out of his way, or if it’s simply another nightly cigarette with his wife, Claire, who is just as ruthless and cold as her husband. Frank is the most unpredictable character in TV today, and despite being someone you’d be terrified of in real life (I know I would), you just can’t help but love him.
1) Walter White, Breaking Bad
If you found out that you had terminal lung cancer and your family would be up a financial creek without a paddle after you were gone, what would you do? Set up a fund? Get a second job? Start cooking crystal meth with an ex-student of yours and don the moniker of Heisenberg as you slowly descended deeper and deeper into the drug trade as your empire formed around you? Personally, I’d have gone with the job option, but for Walter White, he saw a way to make a lot of money fast and he took it, slowly changing over the course of two years (the span of Breaking Bad’s timeline) from a meek- well-mannered family man into a methamphetamine kingpin whose only concerns are making money and providing for his family. While Walt may have committed numerous atrocities during Breaking Bad’s five seasons, including poisoning an eight-year old kid with ricin, allowing Jesse’s girlfriend to choke on her own vomit and die in her sleep and indirectly being responsible for the infamous plane crash, we can’t help but like him. Besides being an unbelievable bad-ass with a great beard to his name, Walt was ultimately only thinking of his family the whole time, wanting to make sure they had enough to survive after he was gone. His methods may have been questionable, but his motive was good-hearted, and despite Skyler and Walt Jr. despising him by the end of the series, he had a deep-seated love for his family that almost outshines his love for his signature blue meth.
Have I left anyone out?*shouts to the side* Okay, yes, Rian, I KNOW I LEFT DEADPOOL OUT! HE’S NOT A TV CHARACTER, GET OVER IT! *returns* Sorry about that. Anyway, if you prefer Dexter to Draper or Nucky to Heisenberg, don’t be afraid to leave us a comment! Peace.
-Luke “Shnakebite” O’Connor.