Anti-heroes have been the new heroes for years now. Characters like Tony Soprano, Dexter Morgan and Don Draper – deeply flawed and capable of terrible things, but still somehow likable.
This is not a list of characters like that. This is a list of characters who aren’t rounded out with redeeming qualities. They’re despicable, deplorable, repugnant… and yet their very un-likability is what makes them so great – even if you end up feeling a bit unclean watching them on TV.
Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), The Fall
Mild-mannered bereavement counsellor by day, messed up serial killer by night, bona fide hottie all the time. We’re supposed to feel conflicted about fancying the Belfast Strangler – why else would a former underwear model have been cast in the role?
The Governor (David Morrissey), The Walking Dead
It’s one thing to kill just to survive, especially when your target is already dead. It’s another entirely to murder in the misguided belief that you’re the saviour of humanity. Brian Blake fell into the latter category – and his delusional behaviour made him one of the series’ most compelling characters.
Snoop (Felicia Pearson), The Wire
Whether or not you could understand a single word that came out of her mouth, there was no mistaking the detached coolness with which the nail gun enthusiast played her murderous part in Marlo Stanfield’s (Jamie Hector) drug organisation.
Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson), Game Of Thrones
In a series filled with nasty pieces of work you hate yourself for loving, the former ruler of the Seven Kingdoms took pettiness, cruelty and unjustified arrogance to new levels. One of those characters that could’ve become tiresome, Joffrey was killed off at the right time – and in just the right way.
T-Bag (Robert Knepper), Prison Break
A deadly monster with the gift of the gab, Theodore Bagwell was the type of prisoner that other inmates despise for their crimes. As sickening as his white supremacist views and paedophilic tendencies were, part of you always wanted T-Bag to give the authorities the slip.
Janice Soprano (Aida Turturro), The Sopranos
For all their violent acts, the members of Tony Soprano’s (James Gandolfini) crew were at least upfront about their crimes. But there was nothing honest about Tony’s sister Janice. A skilled manipulator, she constantly wanted what she couldn’t have, without doing any heavy lifting herself.
Ben Linus (Michael Emerson), Lost
It might have been unclear what was going on in Lost most of the time, but one thing was always clear: Ben was not to be trusted. The cool and calculating leader of The Others would kill someone as soon as look at them if it meant protecting the Island – even his own family members.
The Smoking Man (William B Davis), The X-Files
He’s been called the Darth Vader of The X-Files, but he comes across more like The Emperor – a shadowy, supercilious figure with enormous power that, once wielded, ruins lives forever. He claims to have made tough choices, but it’s funny how those sacrifices managed to better his position.
Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco), Nurse Jackie
At first it seemed like the ER nurse’s good points outweighed her little drug addiction, but it turned out her pill habit was just the tip of the iceberg – Jackie was as good a cheat and liar as she was a nurse. Once that became clear, even the way she tended to patients started to feel self-serving.
Sam Healy (Michael Harney), Orange Is the New Black
Don’t be fooled by the grandfatherly vibe, this corrections officer is a real jerk. Casually racist and homophobic, he’s also weak and pathetic – qualities his mail order bride calls him out on. Just when you think he’s not so bad, he’ll tell an inmate her depression is all in her head and order is restored.
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