Why We Love to Hate TV Bad Boys

August 15, 2014

From Game of Thrones to Mad Men, it’s a love-hate relationship with these “best worst” male characters.

It’s becoming more obvious with every show I watch that the most interesting men on television are also some of the worst behaved. Don’t get me wrong: I adore Cam, Mitch, and Phil and couldn’t get enough of Michael, Dwight, and Jim for years. And there’s nothing wrong with a chivalrous doctor, relatively honest lawyer, or overworked detective. But, oh, the misfits. From the success of their respective shows, it seems I’m not the only one who can’t get enough of the wicked.

Tyrion and Joffrey in Game of Thrones, courtesy of Square Space.Take Game of Thrones, which has no shortage of debauchery. Joffrey Baratheon exudes evil from every blond hair, taunting viewers to reach through the screen and slap his face. We keep watching, waiting and hoping for him to get his. (Even though I’m a season behind on Netflix, a series of joyful posts on Facebook alerted me to his fate.) His uncle, Tyrion Lannister, comes with a ledger filled with unscrupulous deeds. Somehow it’s hard to not feel sympathy for him, due to his misfortune with women or the way his family treats him as less than a man. He is one of the best worst characters on television, thanks to George R.R. Martin’s imagination, along with Peter Dinklage’s talent.

For a more modern example of corruptness, we have Frank Underwood. Though there are very few characters that I like on House of Cards, it’s like a twelve-car pileup I can’t help but crane my neck to see. What despicable thing will Francis do next to advance his political career? Who will he throw to the wolves? Whatever or whomever, I know he’ll make my skin crawl and I’ll keep coming back for more.

Walter in Breaking Bad, courtesy of Messeries TVThen there’s Walter White, the chemistry teacher diagnosed with a cancer he can’t afford on Breaking Bad. Sure, he starts making and selling meth to provide for his family. But then greed takes hold and things get out of hand and the bodies start piling up. I have to admit the mister and I stopped watching during the third season because we had too many violent shows in our rotation at the time. But maybe one day we’ll go back to see how it ends, and if all the fuss was worth it.

On a less bloody side of the street, there’s Don Draper in the style of Mad Men. In comparison, his misdeeds don’t seem so bad. But the real crime is how good he makes them look: the ease with which he cheats on his wives and effortlessly lies about his past. Always coming up with the right thing to say, accentuated by the clink of ice and/or the inhale of smoke.

The list could go on. Dexter (another show that got to be too much for us). Sawyer on Lost, Tony Soprano and his entourage, Jax, Opie, Juice, and the gang on Sons, Spike on Buffy. Despite their flaws, most of them have some semblance of good hidden below the surface. They do what they do because they think they have to and often have a justification, however warped. Loving a woman, protecting their children, freeing the world of other killers.

We get caught up in their lives to escape our own reality, to live vicariously through theirs. Whether it’s a world of crime, fantasy, or romance, I wouldn’t want to stay too long, but it sure is fun to visit.

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