The professor in the series Professor T, now on SBS On Demand, is in some fine company - the contrary, sometimes amoral or immoral protagonists, the ones who do the wrong things for the right reasons or the wrong things for the wrong reasons. They’re the ones we cheer for one moment and are shocked and disgusted by the next.
Here’s our pick of the baddest antiheroes on TV...
Patty Hewes – Damages
Patty (Glenn Close) will fight the idealistic fight for the wronged - media face time always sweetens the deal. But cross her and this New York queen bee of litigation will burn you with her fearsome rage, or may just attempt to have you killed.
Jaime Lannister - Game of Thrones
A kingslayer in an incestuous relationship with his sister, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) casually tossed young Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) off a tower for discovering his scandalous secret. Jaime is two sides of a handsome Valyrian sword - loyal and occasionally chivalrous, but he’ll turn nasty on a whim if necessity warrants it.
Dexter Morgan – Dexter
Dexter (Michael C. Hall) is the Robin Hood of serial killers - his code is to only off serial killers. Quietly charming and handsome as he is, noble as his motives may be, Dexter is still nonetheless, one deceptive, disturbed serial killer.
Jackie Peyton - Nurse Jackie
Nurse Jackie’s (Edie Falco) addiction to painkillers and her innate drive to provide just care for her patients means she’s a frustrating mix of deception, kindness and recklessness. She’s despicable but oddly heartwarming all at once.
Ray Donovan - Ray Donovan
A fixer in Hollywood’s grimy underbelly and its surrounds, Bostonian Ray (Liev Schreiber) is a force to be reckoned with, getting the job done by force or wit. He’s loyal and deeply wounded which makes him sympathetic but his self-destructive behaviour also makes him tragic and at times, unlikable.
Don Draper - Mad Men
Don (Jon Hamm) is the slickest, most aesthetically pleasing of the bunch, an advertising gun of the 1960’s brimming with arrogance, charm, deception and personal scars. He drinks like a thousand fishes, sleeps with anything in a skirt and can be searingly unlikable, the epitome of the love-hate antihero.
Tony Soprano – The Sopranos
The original antihero of TV’s Golden Age, Tony Soprano as embodied by the late, great James Gandolfini was as well-rounded a protagonist as they come. Don to a violent New Jersey mafia outfit, he was also a family man who had anxiety attacks, his most vulnerable moments often revealed in therapy sessions with Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco).
Rachel Goldberg – UnREAL
Rachel (Shiri Appleby) famously had an on screen meltdown in season one where she compared her job as a reality show producer to the “devil’s arse hole”. She’s suffered mental health issues because of her job but with more power, promoted to executive producer, she manipulates contestants and suitors on the Bacheloresque-style show Everlasting and morality loses out. Rachel becomes nothing less than despicable, though her recently revealed past makes for a sympathetic counterpoint.
Walter White – Breaking Bad
Arguably the successor to Tony Soprano, the transformation of Walter White (Bryan Cranston) from meek and mild high school chemistry teacher to hard-boiled meth kingpin over five seasons of Breaking Bad was simply mesmerising. It’s amazing what a cancer diagnosis and a Bunsen burner (not to mention an amazing performance from Cranston) can do to kick-start one of TVs baddest – and greatest – antiheroes.
Nancy Botwin – Weeds
The spiritual sister to Walter White, except funnier and less growly, stay at home suburban mum Nancy Botwin (Mary Louise-Parker) turned to dealing pot after the death of her husband, eventually through misadventure becoming quite the deplorable pot maven. After eight seasons (a few two many), Nancy gives up the pot game that has seriously screwed up her family but made her stinking rich.
Omar Little - The Wire
It wasn’t an overstatement, at least for the time, when in 2008 The Guardian described this iconic and much-loved scarred antihero as “meaner, funnier, cooler and braver than any other character you've ever seen on TV.” Played with all the nuance deserving of a character that smashed stereotypes - a gay, morally questionable Robin Hood who steals from drug dealers - the role took its toll on actor Michael K. Williams who sought help for drug addiction during filming.
Spike - Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The punk style and oh the sass, Spike is one slayer of slayers who knows how to make an entrance. The bad-boy vamp of the Buffy-verse, Spike (James Marsters) is the ultimate contradiction; capable of violent villainy only to become an ally and lover to supposed mortal enemy Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar). Unlike most of his kind, he’s not devoid of fondness for the human world with its “billions of people walking around like Happy Meals with legs."
Francis ‘Frank’ Underwood - House of Cards
There’s only a hairline that separates duplicitous House Majority Whip turned POTUS Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) from villain and antihero. Often the fourth wall breaker is both. He’s in best antiheroic mode when he’s pushing legislation for the good of his country - and when it suits his power-hungry M.O of manipulation. His initials aren’t F.U for nothing.
The entire cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Upping the ante on Seinfeld’s misanthropic quartet, this daring pitch black comedy has reached some outrageous depths with its misbehaving quintet of characters. Take the opening episode of Season 4 titled Mac and Dennis: Manhunters as an example, where Dennis (Glenn Howerton) and Mac (Rob McElhenney) stalk a man for sport and Dee (Kaitlin Olson) and Charlie (Charlie Day) believe they’re hankering for human flesh after being duped by Frank (Danny DeVito) for stealing his venison. Dark indeed.
Professor T is available on SBS On Demand. Watch the first episode right here: