Anti-heroes are dark, flawed characters that do not have the conventional qualities of the hero. Anti-heroes face moral dilemmas and struggle with what’s right or wrong. Unlike the hero, anti-heroes may not always do the right thing. Television has some of the greatest Anti-heroes who blur the line between good and bad. Often times, viewers find themselves rooting for a character to pull off a crime, commit a murder or root for their villainous ways. Several of the characters spark a passionate debate amongst viewers over their debatable actions. Ratings and media attention goes through the roof with controversy and praise for both the series and the actor. Here is a look of some of the greatest and most memorable television anti-heroes.
11) Nucky Thompson – Boardwalk Empire HBO
Boardwalk Empire is a drama that is set during the prohibition era, revolving around corrupt politician/gangster, Nucky Thompson. He struggles with both careers and becomes more ruthless as the series progresses. He will stop at nothing to become the most powerful man in Atlantic City, including killing his own friend, Jimmy Darmondy (Michael Pitt). In the first season he falls in love with Margraet Schrooder (Kelly Macdonald) and begins to treat her kids as his own. Although he appears to be loving and caring, he constantly cheats on her. Steve Buscmi’s portrayal of Nucky has received much praise, including winning a Golden Globe for best actor.
10) Vic Mackey – The Shield FX
The Shield was about a police task force that was full of corrupt cops, specifically Vic Mackey. Vic considered himself to be a good father and a worthy family man. He cared deeply about his autistic son and did everything he could to provide for him. Despite that, Mackay was a brutal cop that would beat suspects and plant evidence. He also murdered a fellow cop that was investigating him. In the end, he loses the two things he cares about the most: his family and his job. Michael Chiklis was praised for his portrayal of the feared police officer. He won a Prime time Emmy Award for Best Lead Male Actor in 2002.
9) Dexter Morgan – Dexter Showtime
Dexter Morgan works for the Miami Police Department as a blood splatter analyst, but also has a secret life as a serial killer. He follows a strict moral code established by his adopted father, Harry. Dexter only kills criminals when he has proper evidence of their horrendous crimes, and does not harm innocent people or children. Dexter struggles trying to balance his normal life of being a husband, father, and brother while also trying to fulfill his urge to kill. Michael C. Hall won a Golden Globe in 2010 for his role.
8) Omar Little – The Wire HBO
Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor, well Omar Little was not very different. Omar was a stick up man who would steal drugs from street level drug dealers and sell it back to them at double the price. He was ruthless and violent but had a strict moral code. He wouldn’t hurt innocent people, nor would he swear. Omar is caring to his loved ones, most of all, to his boyfriend, Brandon. After Brandon is murdered in the first season, Omar goes off on a violent quest to gain revenge on the people he holds responsible. He goes after members of the Barksdale gang, specifically, Stinger Bell (Idris Elba). Despite average ratings, the series is considered by critics as one of the greatest. Michael K Williams has been praised for his role as Omar, and it has led to great success for him including a recurring role on Boardwalk Empire.
7) Patty Hews – Damages FX
Patty Hews was a brilliant and ruthless lawyer that would stop at nothing to win her cases. Damages was about Patty and her young protégé, Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), as they took on difficult cases. The personal relationship between the two was just as complicated as the cases. Patty put work before everything, no matter what the cost. Her marriage fell apart and her son ends up despising her. Patty wanted Ellen to do the same by making work the center of her life, but other things were important to her like love and family. In the end, Patty ends up completely alone. Glenn Close’s performance as Patty Hews has been praised by critics and won her two Prime time Emmy awards for Outstanding lead actress in a drama.
6) Don Draper – Mad Men AMC
Set in the 1960’s, Mad Men centers around Don Draper, the creative director of an advertising agency, and later is a co-founder of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Ad agency. Don Draper is depicted as charming, intelligent, and manipulative. He cheats on his wife, neglects his kids emotionally, and lies about his entire identity to everyone. His real name isn’t even Don Draper, it’s Richard Whitman. He tries to be a good man but doesn’t seem to even know what being a good man really means. Jon Hamm has received praise for his portrayal of Don Draper
5) Archie Bunker – All In The Family CBS
All in the Family revolved around World War II Veteran, Archie Bunker who is bad tempered, ignorant, a bigot and prejudiced against anyone not an American or a man. In contrast to this, he was depicted as a caring and loving father/husband who was simply from a different era and had difficulties with the changing times. Despite putting his wife Edith (Jean Stapelton) down, such as telling her to “Stifle”, they were portrayed as a deeply in love couple. All in the Family is still considered one of the greatest TV series and a classic family show. The late Carroll O’Connor has received praise and acclaim for his role as Archie Bunker, and won a Prime time Emmy Award for Outstanding lead actor in a comedy series four times from 1971 to 1978.
4) Jackie Peyton – Nurse Jackie Showtime
Nurse Jackie is about Jackie Peyton, a nurse at All Saints Hospital who struggles with pill addiction, cheating, and compulsive manipulation. Consumed with her addiction early on, Jackie will stop at nothing to get what she wants, and that includes cheating on her husband with a pharmacist to get the pills. However, Jackie is very good at her job and takes being a nurse very seriously. As the series goes, Jackie does attempt to clean herself up and go to rehab. Upon leaving rehab, Jackie struggles with relapsing into her addiction. Edie Falco, who plays Jackie Peyton, won the Prime time Emmy award for Outstanding lead actress in a comedy in 2010.
3) Tony Soprano – The Sopranos HBO
Life was stressful for New Jersey mob boss, Tony Soprano, who struggled to balance his home life with his criminal empire. Understandingly, the stress, anxiety and depression of it all was too much for Tony, leading him to have therapy sessions with Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco). Tony would manipulate, lie, and cheat to get his way. When he didn’t, it usually led to an outburst of violent rage and anger. He also committed many crimes such as extortion, bribery, loan sharking and murder. Although ruthless and greedy, he often showed a very sensitive and caring side through the love of his children, Meadow and AJ. When his son AJ attempts to commit suicide in the final season, Tony expresses to Dr.Melfi that he wishes he could take away AJ’s pain, showing the softer side. He shows love for his wife, Carmella, but mostly through expensive gifts and manipulation. The late James Gandolfni has been praised by critics and fans for his outstanding portrayal of the iconic Tony Soprano, and won the Prime time Emmy award for Outstanding lead actor three times.
2) Nancy Botwin – Weeds Showtime
A recurring theme with several of these characters is that they engage in illegal activities, so they are able to provide for their families. For some, it’s being the head of the mob or selling meth, for Nancy Botwin, it’s selling cannabis. After her husband dies, Nancy is left to raise her two sons with only the help of her sassy nanny and brother-in-law. She begins to sell marijuana and struggles with the business, facing fierce competition, but Nancy is by far her own worst enemy. As the series progresses, Nancy inevitably finds herself caught up in other various forms of illegal activities, such as jail time for accessory to murder, transporting drugs over the border and arson. In the end, Nancy sits on the porch with her men by her side once and for all, still scheming ways in the cannabis trade. Mary-Louise Parker won the Prime time Emmy award for best leading actress in a comedy series three times.
1) Walter White – Breaking Bad AMC
Walter White is one of the most iconic television anti-heroes. Breaking Bad was a critically and commercially successful series about a high school chemistry teacher who finds out he has cancer, then starts cooking and selling meth. Initially, it’s to pay for the cancer therapy and to take care of his family, but soon the money and power is all he craves. Creator, Vince Gilligan stated that he wanted to show a character’s transition from good to bad. A significant moment occurred in the season 2 finale when Walter allows Jesse’s (Aaron Paul) girlfriend Jane (Krysten Ritter) to die from a drug overdose. Although Walter is not directly responsible for her death, he could have saved her. He struggles with his decision, but as the series goes he becomes more and more ruthless. Eventually, he loses everything, including his wife and kids. Walter redeems himself in the end when he sacrifices his own life for Jesse’s. Bryan Cranston has been praised by fans and critics for his portrayal of Walter White, including winning the Prime time Emmy Award for Outstanding Male Lead in a Drama three years in a row from 2008 to 2010.