This is the golden age of television. Scriptwriters, producers, directors and actors are creating the best drama, horror and comedy on the box throughout a variety of platforms and the audience is truly spoiled. Unlike the majority of pictures that hit the big screen on a weekly basis, series on the smaller screen continue to deliver layered and complex characters that go on a journey of change and discovery. But it takes a special type of protagonist to set the stage, a creep of terrifying proportions and in the current day, there are plenty of good ones to choose from.
Specialized Netflix programs like House of Cards, Bloodline, Narcos, Daredevil and Jessica Jones use their own unique brand of creep to keep viewers on the edge of their seat. In one case they are a brash, ruthless drug kingpin in the heart of Medellin, the other will be a not-so-common superhero villain who believes his course of swift justice is the right thing for his beloved city. These are not scary concoctions hell-bent on world destruction, rather the sociopathic types that fail to distinguish good from evil and in doing so, end up the villain of the piece.
Some of the modern day television creeps only need to give the camera a glinting look to demonstrate their madness. The subtlety of a blood chilling line delivered to perfection is all it takes to turn a character from sympathetic or indifferent to enemy number one. A great creep also makes the difference between good TV and great TV, as the following list will illustrate.
Please be warned if you are not up to date with these series, the following will contain spoilers. Certain shows are still ongoing but others have reached a satisfactory, or not so satisfactory conclusion. Either way, these are the 15 creepiest television characters from modern shows.
15 Cigarette Smoking Man – The X Files
As the reboot came to a close in 2016, arguably the biggest talking point of the return of the X Files was the shock reintroduction of The Smoking Man, a vulgar, sinister character all viewers thought had perished in the 90s from a giant explosion. The ultimate finale episode My Struggle II failed to give closure on Mulder and Scully’s quest to prevent The Smoking Man’s spread of a deadly disease that breaks down the immune systems of citizens around the world. What makes this evil protagonist so disturbing is that hole in the neck that satisfies his nicotine habit. Disgusting, but perfect for a television creep.
14 Frank Dunning – 11.22.63
11.22.63 achieves the unusual feat of transforming a Hollywood heartthrob like Josh Duhamel into the murderous parent Frank Dunning. The series new to 2016 follows James Franco’s character Jake Epping, adapted from the Stephen King novel, who goes back in time from a local American dinner to try and prevent the assassination of John F Kennedy. But traveling back three years prior to that fateful day in Texas, he encounters the soon-to-be-slain family of one of his older pupils, all butchered at the hands of Dunning. Duhamel plays the creepy dad to a tea, portraying the brashness of a 1960s father figure who is battling personal demons and a severe drinking problem. A brutal scene featuring a baby cow and a sledgehammer quickly follows his introduction.
13 Merle Dixon – The Walking Dead
Deciding which character in The Walking Dead is the creepiest is a difficult task, but Michael Rooker pulls it off better than anyone could have imagined. Whereas other villains like The Governor outline their plan in a very direct fashion, Merle Dixon is an erratic man filled with hatred and violence in a world of chaos. The end result is a man on a warpath and although his brother Daryl finally put him out of his misery, Merle remains one of the best creeps the show has produced. In a series featuring nothing but zombies and people on the run, that is saying something!
12 Ed Cochran – Ray Donovan
Hank Azaria is best known for providing numerous voices on The Simpsons, but the actor decided to take on something completely out-of-the-box with his portrayal of corrupt FBI agent Ed Cochran. The character is introduced to the audience in the second season as he attempts to bring down the uncompromisable and seemingly indestructible Ray Donovan, using all types of dirty and salacious tricks possible. However, Donovan is canny enough to turn the tables and use Cochran’s desire for lust against him. A far removal for Azaria from playing Chief Wiggum, being as sleazy as he is creepy.
11 Danny Rayburn – Bloodline
In years gone by, a wonderfully gifted character actor like Australian Ben Mendelsohn would not consider a role on television like this. His take on Danny Rayburn in the Netflix series Bloodline, playing the hated black sheep of the Rayburn family, provided the right amount of unpredictable chaos in the beautiful tropical surrounds of Florida. What makes Danny a brilliant character, a conflicted man with a condition verging on multiple-personality disorder, is that the audience is positioned to feel either sympathy, anger or fear towards him during any given episode. His seeming demise in season one might not be the end for Danny though, as Mendelsohn refused to rule in or out whether he will be cast for season two.
10 Kilgrave – Jessica Jones
The success of the new Netflix and Marvel television series Jessica Jones is largely on the back of the central protagonist, played superbly by Krysten Ritter. Her dry wit mixed with a haunted past sets the stage for a powerful superhero that appears vulnerable to her own faults. Enter Kilgrave, the lead season one villain whose mind control powers are used for evil and self gain. The casting of Englishman and former Doctor Who actor David Tennant raised many eyebrows on first take, mostly due to his campiness and eccentric personality. But it didn’t take long for him to settle into the maniacal role, giving the audience an insight into a mad man hell-bent on pursuing Jones at whatever human cost necessary. If a comic book bad guy was portrayed as a glorified stalker, then Tennant’s Kilgrave is that bad guy.
9 Pablo Escobar – Narcos
Any version of Colombia’s greatest drug lord, Pablo Escobar, has to be downright evil. But his love for family and national pride makes Escobar a conflicted character, illustrating that there is method to his madness. The Netflix series Narcos provides Brazilian actor Wagner Moura with the ideal platform to demonstrate how cunning and cold Escobar really was, looking his foes straight in their eye before twisting the knife or pulling the trigger. What makes a character truly creepy is their ability to snap at any moment and for Escobar, that moment was never more than a few scenes away.
8 Lorne Malvo – Fargo
Billy Bob Thorton might want to think twice before driving through Minnesota on his own again. The reason? His portrayal of hired gun and drifter Lorne Malvo in the first season of Fargo was one of the creepiest performances in modern television history. His not-so-helpful interference in Lester Nygaard’s affairs turned him from a passive observer to serial killer on the loose. The worst part about Malvo was that nobody suspected him, a grey-haired middle-aged man driving around town, drinking some coffee in the local diner and minding his own business. The bloodshed that ensued demonstrated that this traveller was not to be trifled with. Lorne Malvo would be an ideal character for Quentin Tarantino to work with, going on long philosophical diatribes before slowly putting his victim to death.
7 Clay Morrow – Sons of Anarchy
Kurt Sutter’s modern Shakespearean bikie drama Sons of Anarchy had it all – a broken family, jealousy, sex, violence, death, war. The brotherhood of the Sons were always on the verge of falling apart as Jax Teller, played by Englishman Charlie Hunnam, ultimately sacrificed himself for the greater good. But throughout all of the loss of life and carnage, one character remained a thaw in Jax’s side - his step father Clay Morrow. When it was revealed to the leader that he had in fact murdered his actual father, the writing was on the wall for Clay. Over the course of the series he went from group leader to unhinged outcast and like most characters on the show, he came to a gruesome end.
6 Jack Welker – Breaking Bad
When young tag-along Todd comes into the picture to help Walt and Jesse with their drug operations in New Mexico, few would expect how influential his uncle would be during the mash hit series Breaking Bad. White supremacist gang leader Jack Welker leads a coalition of tattooed vigilantes and hit men, culminating in Welker murdering detective and Walt’s brother-in-law Hank Schrader. As well as capturing Jesse Pinkman, Welker’s destructive and violent nature escalates the finale of the show towards an ending worthy of the hype. Welker never lurks above the shadows and when he decides to cross Walt, the tables are forever turned.
5 Alice Morgan – Luther
A series that is breaking out of the British landscape is Luther, a crime drama set in the heart of London and starring Idris Elba (pictured), a heralded actor since his portrayal of Stringer Bell of The Wire fame, and rumored to be in contention for the next James Bond film. While John Luther is the central character that the show revolves itself around, it is the surprise packet of Alice Morgan that really steals the show. Played by Ruth Wilson, Morgan’s obsessive-compulsive disorder and murderous streak always has Luther on edge. Throw in her cunning ability to seduce and manipulate Luther, Morgan really is a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing.
4 Errol Childress – True Detective
Whereas the second instalment of True Detective failed to follow a winning formula, the inaugural bad guy in the first series hit the creepy mark to perfection. Glen Fleshler’s take on serial killer Errol Childress, a member of the Tuttle cult hiding away as a local gardener by trade in Louisiana, demonstrated how less is more when it comes to playing a vicious murder. Complete with scarred skin and a plain workers outfit, no one ever suspected Childress until it was too late.
3 Wilson Fisk – Daredevil
Few would have anticipated Vincent D’Onofrio stealing the show when he was cast as Kingpin, aka Wilson Fisk, in season one of the Netflix 2015 Marvel series, Daredevil. His larger than life persona illustrates how diabolical and unrelenting the villain is, running the city of Hell’s Kitchen with an iron first. But unlike most other evil creeps, Fisk has a conscious. Not only does he fall for a love interest, but he values family and people that are close to him. That makes D’Onofrio’s character even more determined to bring down Daredevil and the citizens that stand in his way.
2 Ramsay Bolton – Game of Thrones
In a world of one-on-one combat, sword battles, poisons, dragons, disease and warring factions, one character stands above the fray to be truly evil. Iwan Rheon’s Ramsay Bolton tortures, manipulates and acts entirely on his own agenda. The Heir to the North from the House of Bolton committed one heinous act in particular, cutting off an important part of Theon Greyjoy’s anatomy before taunting and intimidating the man into subservience. Of all the characters to be killed off in the series, few will be shedding tears for Ramsay’s demise. While the majority of the participants in Game of Thrones try and survive or conquer, Ramsay is at his absolute creepiest when left to his own devices.
1 Frank Underwood – House of Cards
Under most circumstances, a television series depicting Kevin Spacey running for major office wouldn’t raise alarms for a creepy character. But Frank Underwood is not a normal character. His dealings, underhanded tactics and relentless approach to succeeding at all costs cuts very close to the bone in the context of a current US election in 2016. Not only does Underwood know where the bodies are buried, but in most cases he’s put them there himself. And if the word of the critics is any guide, season 4 is set to go up a further notch and who knows which characters will feel the wrath of the President? A terrifying thought.