If there's been one staple in this golden age of television, it's the concept of the antihero protagonist.
It's no coincidence that most of the shows that end up on the top of 'best ever' lists all have an antihero as their central protagonist. The modern TV viewer has the appetite for the flawed character that leads an extraordinary life (whether through crime or otherwise) and yet has enough moments of relatability to help you overlook some of the unspeakable acts they commit.
Here's our list of the five best that have defined the archetype.
1. Tony Soprano
What better place to start than with the man that defined the modern day TV antihero, Tony Soprano. TV viewers had rarely before seen a show where the central protagonist was a career criminal. James Gandolfini's mob boss was a terrible man who did terrible things and yet audiences couldn't help but root for him. A lot this had to do with Gandolfini's charisma and charm but the main thing that made Tony Soprano so disarming was seeing the family man alongside the mob boss, seeing him deal with the struggles of being a father to teenagers by day while carrying out ruthless killings at night. Soprano would do whatever was necessary to keep himself wealthy and out of prison and we become so fascinated by him that we ignored the fact that rather than being a gangster that's forced into this life because of circumstances, he chose this life as crime so as to avoid dealing with the mental issues that stemmed from his relationship with his mother.
2. Pablo Escobar
The only real life character on this list. The majority of people who tuned in to watch Narcos on Netflix would have had some knowledge of the story of Pablo Escobar. Before even watching a single frame they would have had a preconceived opinion of him being an evil man who did bad things on his way to amassing an unfathomable fortune. And yet by the end of the first episode, Wagner Moura's incarnation of the Columbian drug lord had already won us over with his charm, wit and ambition. He's a ruthless killer, is completely reckless with the lives of the men that work for him and won't let anyone stop him from achieving his dreams. It's Moura's performance along with Boyd Holbrook's narration that gives us an insight into Escobar that we'd never seen before and a slight degree of empathy if not quite sympathy for the man.
Narcos - Season 2 is now streaming on Netflix.
3. Walter White
What Vince Gilligan and Bryan Cranston did with Walter White had never before been done in the history of television. Starting out with a character who was as straight laced as they come and then transforming them into a criminal mastermind who does awful things before the series ends was a concept every network said would never work. Yet it's now spoken of as one of the greatest TV shows of all time. Breaking Bad wasn't an overnight success. It wasn't until season 3, when the show was available to stream on Netflix that it gained the phenomenal following it acquired. The show had so much going for it. Superb writing from Gilligan, a gorgeous look established by DP Michael Slovis and terrific performances from the main cast. Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Giancarlo Esposito, Bob Odenkirk and Dean Norris were all given the opportunity to show off their talents and boy did they deliver. At the centre of it all though is Cranston. Before Breaking Bad, he was best known as Hal from Malcolm in the Middle where he had established himself as a gifted comedic actor. Walter White was the role of a lifetime but in Cranston's hands it became so much more. It's hard to imagine any other actor that has enough likability and relatability to make us care about him until the show's conclusion despite the unspeakably horrible acts he committed along the way.
4. Patty Hewes
Glenn Close had already been nominated for an Academy Award on five occasions before taking on the lead role in Damages and yet it's hard to argue against the fact that Patty Hewes will be the character that defines her as one of the greatest actors of her generation. it could be argued that Hewes is more of an out and out villain than an antihero. Throughout the series we see her destroy so many lives with her legal expertise, all to get what she wants. It's regularly made clear that her primary concern in life is herself. However there are then little story arcs dropped in to humanise her. She takes on noble causes (suing a billionaire for insider trading and a lawless military contractor for all his human collateral) and we get an insight into the harsh upbringing that forged her into the woman she is today. However at the end of the day, Patty Hewes is a ruthless woman that does what she wants and is unapologetic about it which is a real breath of fresh air in the antihero genre.
5. Frank Underwood
The concept of the antihero was nothing new by the time Frank Underwood came along in 2013. At that stage the likes of Tony Soprano, Walter White and Don Draper had already graced our screens and yet still, Underwood felt fresh. Unlike Soprano, Frank Underwood wasn't a career criminal, he was a public representative. It's clear from the beginning of the series that Underwood is a master of manipulation and an expert when it comes to formulating schemes to his gain and the manifest disadvantage of others. However it's not until we reach the end of the show's first season that we realise there is no line that he isn't prepared to cross when it comes to seizing that which he craves most - power. What really makes Underwood different is the show's structure, which sees the character break the fourth wall. By having Underwood speak to us, it almost feels like we're in on it with him, despite the fact that he's usually one step ahead of us. It helps us get us on side despite our knowledge of his wrongdoings. The fact that he also has the charisma of Kevin Spacey doesn't hurt either.
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