The role of the protagonist used to be relatively straightforward. We used to root for, rigorously follow and hope for the best for the characters that we watched, whether they were on the movie screen or our televisions. Main characters used to be at least affable and sympathetic enough that we could understand their flaws, but in recent years the tides have turned and left us with a whole new crop of deeply flawed, hardly-likable-on-a-good-day characters. While the old virtues still remain, the magnetism of the so-called antihero has been an interesting new development that is gaining popularity on the small screen.
Whether it happens to be a mysterious past, a self-destructive pattern or someone who has enough negligible traits that we can’t quite forget about them, many of the characters popping up on televisions represent a new kind of hero that we follow with the intensity we once reserved for the protagonists we loved. Instead of their innate goodness or appeal, we are drawn in by the character traits we would wholeheartedly despise in real life that give us a character that channels our own urge towards rebellion and seems to feed our need for an appropriate redemption.
While The Sopranos Tony Soprano was born into the brutality of the family business and is considered one of the original purveyors of the anti-hero, Hannah Horvath of Girls has given us a girlfriend we halfway despise but are still drawn to for her uncanny, ugly-edged honesty. Though there can be no true measure for how much of our fascination with the following is dictated by love or hate, it’s just fact now that we’ve become fascinated with them, despite ourselves, for the keen view they’ve given us into the workings of the anti-hero.
5 Hannah Horvath – Girls
4 Don Draper – Mad Men
3 Olivia Pope - Scandal
2 Tony Soprano - The Sopranos
1 Walter White – Breaking Bad
January 20th, 2008 marked the day that the viewing public was first introduced to the rather timid character of Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston of Malcolm In the Middle fame. Instead of following a man who was already deep in the throes of his own destruction, however, Breaking Bad updated the formula and took us through the devolution of a relatively decent man into a drug kingpin monster. Created by Vince Gilligan, the story starts outs simple enough, following the life of chemistry teacher Walter White as he works two jobs to make ends meet to take care of his handicapped son Walter Jr. and his pregnant wife Skyler. It’s when Walter is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer that the switch is flipped, and upon running into former high school student and all around punk Jessie Pinkman, Walter and Pinkman start making meth to raise funds for the family White will be leaving behind. Unfortunately for White but fortunately for the viewers, it doesn’t take long before Walter is pulled full scale into the violent, every man for himself world of drug production and becomes a person the old Walter would have despised. For portraying one of the most enticingly complicated of television characters, Cranston won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series at the Emmy Awards three consecutive times.
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