- Jack Bauer (24)-defender of the greater good
Whether stopping a bomb, saving the president, or averting a nuclear doomsday, there’s always one man you can count on to do whatever it takes. That would be none other than 24’s protagonist, Jack Bauer, an agent of the CTU (Counter Terrorist Unit). He’s been tried and tested through various crises and at times gone to dark measures to secure the public safety. Some of these include torture, shooting your boss, dismemberment (he actually cut someone’s head off at the beginning of Season 2), and becoming a heroin addict just to infiltrate a drug cartel. You can only wonder how much one man can handle, or how many skeletons are in the closet of CTU’s most valuable weapon. But it’s a weapon that fights for America, battling terrorist threats, and helping us all to sleep a little safer at night. With Jack Bauer the ends always justify the means.
- Tony Soprano (The Sopranos)-the tight-fisted negotiator
In every crime ring there’s the boss: the guy you absolutely DO NOT cross, and the head honcho you go to to “handle” your situation. The Corleones had Vito and Michael. The Sopranos have Tony. If you’ve got a grievance of any kind, count on him to settle the score. Maybe with a few bullets and broken bones. But he’s the master: the glue that keeps it all together. When two sides are on the verge of blasting each other to smithereens he’s always the mediator. Or the instigator, in some cases. But if you’re in his clique you can always count on him to protect you, with an iron fist. Problems with the law: go to Tony. He’s likely got a few cops in his pocket. Got a nasty co-worker? Go to Tony. Your boss simply won’t have any choice but to fire them, if you get my whole “offer you can’t refuse” drift.
- Walter White (Breaking Bad)-the “bad guy” who starts out good
This one is actually somewhat rare, adding to the credit of Breaking Bad’s reputation as a show that pushed the boundaries. He’s a high school chemistry teacher who discovers he has cancer. What does he decide to do to pay for treatment: cook crystal meth. And sell it. Sometimes the average middle-class guy gets tired of being life’s “loser” and decides to break bad. And Walt did it in every way: blowing up drug lords, letting his partner’s girlfriend OD, and poisoning a kid. We can’t help but think that this is a far cry from the high school teacher we met back in Season 1. Walter White bears the anti-hero label of not only going from good to bad, but bad to worse. He becomes more and more reprehensible as the show goes on. What’s so shocking about his transformation is the fact that it forces us to watch him slowly descend into Heisenberg: his criminal alias. He loses almost every element of sympathy, in spite of his illness, with deeds that place him among TV’s most villainous characters.
- Dexter Morgan (Dexter)-the psychopath
He’s the craziest of the bunch: a pathological killer who kills other killers and works a daytime job at the Miami Police Department. He’s always collecting samples, obsessing over blood and DNA, and having late-night excursions that usually end up with a murder or two. Dexter has a dark passenger. And he vindicates it by preying on other murderers. It’s the only way to channel his rage. Otherwise he would be killing innocent people. And throughout all this he manages to hold a stable job and relationship. Well, at least for a time (spoilers). His “hobby” makes him initially hard to like, but the question is: do we feel better knowing that he metes out punishment on Miami’s worst offenders? Does it even cause us to root for him at times? My guess is, yes.
- Francis Underwood (House of Cards)-the Machiavellian
He’s at the seat of power. And runs it often through cons and clever guiles. And murder. So far, twice. The worst was pushing a girl in front of a speeding metro. But that’s not what makes him so sharp. What makes him sharp is that he’s the puppet master of Washington, pulling strings over every US congressman and moving them like chess pieces in his game for power. If Frank wants to climb the ladder, he’ll climb it. And cut down every rung behind him so you can’t come close. He’s ruthless and rather indifferent about it. If it’s Washington, it’s Washington. Frank won’t change the rules; he’ll just master them for his own sake and nobody else’s. And he often speaks by breaking the fourth wall, almost as if he’s confessing his sins to the audience and our job is to judge them right or wrong. But whether we like them or not, Frank is just going to continue to keep scheming. And that’s exactly what we love about him. And hate.
- Tyrion Lannister (Game of Thrones)-the hated one
Or hated son. The “monster born to Tywin Lannister.” He spends as much time getting into trouble as does getting out of it. He’s been through whores, heartbreak, a few trials by combat, and near death on many excursions. Just the life of an average Westerosi: especially one who’s linked to the Lannisters, one of the richest houses on “Game of Thrones.” The show, like House of Cards is one of nonstop political intrigue, except much more brutal and messy. One could only wonder how such a small character makes his way without losing his head. He has everything going against him, making him somewhat of the underdog of the show, but not quite the biggest loser. Sure he bears the shame of being a dwarf and the ridicule of his entire family. But to compensate he has a singular wit that puts him on par with some of TV’s best characters. He keeps his tongue handy when he needs it. And when he can’t smooth talk his way out of a rut, he’ll certainly settle his way with a crossbow.
- Eric Cartman (South Park)-little hellraiser extraordinaire
He’s the bully of South Park: the bad kid in school, who’s always causing trouble. But a tad bit worse when you consider how many other things he’s done: make a kid eat his parents, start a Hitler movement, infect someone with AIDS, and pretty much everything else gross and repugnant. Eric Cartman thrives on the chaos theory. There doesn’t seem much method to his madness, except for the pleasure he gets from watching it happen. And that he likes to see people suffer, a lot. He’s a devil in a red jacket. He’s also one of the most iconic characters in TV canon. We can always count on him to do the worst things and also be incredibly funny in the process. Respect his “authoritaaaaaaaaa.”
- Don Draper (Mad Men)-the suave salesman
He’s a pretty terrible husband. But an excellent ad man. He’s the creative director at Sterling Cooper who can take a pitch and make it just right for your average housewife, twelve-year old kid, teenage love lust, or other consumer. He makes a wheel sound like a carousel. He’s a huckster in a flannel suit, the kind that will smile right as he’s reaching into your pocket. But you can’t help but be mesmerized by the words he puts on products. Women certainly can’t resist him, and Don has had quite his share throughout the seasons. He’s done this shamelessly at the expense of two marriages. And he’s not likely to stop anytime soon. You either like him or love him, because he’s simply too much of a charmer to hate. But even if you hate him, you’ll still buy his pitch.
- Benjamin Linus (Lost)-divider and conqueror
Otherwise known as the creepy, bug-eyed “Other” from Lost. He also happens to be their leader, although we don’t figure that out until later on. He spends much of his time planting seeds of discord, turning one castaway against another. The method to his madness is to make any enemy as weak as possible by playing mind games. He’s the kind of guy who knows you in and out and can make you do just about anything through the power of suggestion. He’s done his fair share of bad things: stealing a woman’s daughter, gassing his own father, and offing several prominent characters throughout the series. And who could ever forget that wide-eyed, beguiling stare? Or that eerie, soft-spoken tone. Without a doubt this makes Benjamin Linus of the island’s creepiest and most cunning inhabitants.
- Stringer Bell (The Wire)-the reformer
Who could forget West Baltimore’s most notorious kingpin. Masterfully played by Idris Elba, Stringer Bell served as the right hand of Avon Barksdale, head of the drug cartel. In many ways he was different from his boss. While Avon was a gangster, Stringer was more of a businessman. Avon wanted to kill the competition; Stringer wanted collaboration, since he saw a mutual venture in the drug trade. He wanted to legitimize the trade, ending the violence and starting a new market that would thrive on commerce, rather than turf wars. Stringer was the sharpest of the Barksdale crew and one of its most ruthless, as the show proved. He expanded himself through political connections and several investing ventures in the housing market. But even this was not enough to accomplish his grand vision, as control of the trade passed from Avon Barksdale to Marlo Stanfield, a much more ruthless drug lord. Eventually Stringer met his end after conflicts with several of the Barksdale crew. His ideas of unity and conciliation just simply weren’t enough for guns of West Baltimore. And in the end Barksdale’s sharpest enforcer died with a vision lost.