Family – they’ll always get you into trouble. New French series Spotless (episode one now streaming at SBS On Demand) tells the story of crime-scene cleaner Jean Bastiere, whose otherwise spotless life is turned upside down when his brother turns up, on the run and desperate for cash. What happens next? If you’ve seen any of these shows, you’ll know how easy it is for the pure of heart to accept a little stain...then another one...
Rick Grimes - The Walking Dead
In the pilot of The Walking Dead, Rick rides a horse, carries and shotgun and wears a sheriff’s hat. In short, he looks like the archetypal hero that will lead humanity in the fight against zombie apocalypse. But as the seasons wear on, and the stress of protecting his little group takes its toll, Rick becomes as much of a monster as the brain-eating hordes outside – he becomes a tyrant, and isn’t above torturing other survivors...or slaughtering them as they sleep.
Tony Blundetto - The Sopranos
After a long stint in jail, Tony B came out with a renewed sense of morality and a plan to go straight as a professional massage therapist. But before long, jealousy at his cousin Tony Soprano’s seemingly perfect life (and a spontaneous bashing of his Korean boss, Kim) lead him back into the organised crime life. He takes on a freelance hitman job for Little Carmine, with devastating results that spark a long-simmering feud between families.
Angel - Buffy the Vampire Slayer
As the vampire cursed with a soul, Angel was the perfect brooding love interest for Buffy (and an international army of heart-eyed viewers). Unfortunately, the fine print in that curse meant that having sex with his teenage girlfriend unleashed the monster within – Angel became Angelus, and no one in Sunnydale was safe from his sick, vindictive depredations.
Vanessa Ives - Penny Dreadful
Haunted by demons for a significant proportion of her life, Vanessa was at the centre of a will-she-won’t-she? storyline for the entirety of this show’s run. There was always the possibility her refined facade would fall away and she’d go full-demonic on you. That possibility that came to a head in the third (and final, apparently) season as she was pulled between Dracula and the Devil on the brink of the End of Days.
Michael Lee - The Wire
It took four years for The Wire to show how a normal schoolboy becomes a cold-blooded killer, but Michael’s story seemed emblematic of the desperation and opportunity that turns inner-city kids into professional muscle. When we meet him in season four’s first episode, Michael looks after his friends, little brother and drug-addict mum, but by the end of The Wire, the steel in his eyes has completely replaced that troubled-but-fun-loving boy.
Piper Chapman - Orange is the New Black
She turns herself in for crimes committed when she was much younger, and at first Piper is our entry point into the strange, often scary world of female corrections in America. But as the seasons go on, we see how prison shapes a person – and even though it’s still largely a comedy show, Piper brutally beats a rival inmate, backstabs a lover and, most recently, comes close to inciting race war over an illegal panty-smuggling business.
Bill Compton - True Blood
He was always the friendly face of vampirism, a neighbourly local who was equally happy sharing stories from his Civil War days and getting naked with Sookie Stackhouse. But behind Bill’s genteel manner lurked a monster, as we discovered when he became more and more powerful by drinking faery blood, Lillith’s blood...then everyone else’s blood.
Boomer - Battlestar Galactica
She might protest that she didn’t know she was doing bad things, but the sleeper agent Cylon nevertheless counts as a baddie. First introduced as a vivacious pilot, she was revealed to be one of the beings who annihilated most of humanity – and one who has been actively sabotaging systems on the Galactica (bombing water tanks, for example). Boomer fought her programming, but that didn’t stop her shooting Commander Adama in the chest.
Debra Morgan - Dexter
It’s an impossible choice to make – your beloved brother or the letter of the law? When Deb learns Dexter is the Bayside Butcher, an emotionless serial killer trained by their father to murder bad guys, she is forced to make that decision. Covering up his crimes aren’t the most villainous acts on this list, but for the former white knight of Miami, it was emotionally devastating.
Walter White - Breaking Bad
Yeah, you knew Heisenberg was coming. Unable to provide for his family when cancer riddles his body, science teacher Walter decides to cook some crystal meth to make a few bucks on the side. Across five deeply brutal seasons, he gets deeper into Albuquerque’s underworld, losing everything he holds dear as he grows in power and hubris, morality slipping away decision by decision.