The List: Top 10 TV anti-heroes

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From the September 9, 2012 edition

The anti-hero facilitated some of the most rich, complex and compelling stories in TV history, and with “Breaking Bad’s” Walter White (Bryan Cranston) further pushing the boundaries of the archetype this season, we look back at TV’s best morally complicated protagonists.

10. Ben Linus, “Lost”

The lines of good and bad were always a bit blurred on “Lost,” but we have Linus edging out John Locke in the anti-hero category. Michael Emerson was amazing in the role.

9. Vic Mackey, “The Shield”

Andy Sipowicz may have brought the bad cop with a heart of gold to the masses on “NYPD Blue, but Michael Chiklis’ Vic Mackey revolutionized the concept. Mackey was as bad and corrupt as they come, but sometimes we all agreed with his moral code.

8. A.C. Slater, “Saved by the Bell”

He was kind of a prick when he came to Bayside — the quintessential jock who dismissively called Zach Morris “Preppie” — but his heart was in the right place. Eventually, everyone became friends.

7. Nancy Botwin, “Weeds”

The sexy suburban mom played by Mary-Louise Parker was morally conflicted about selling pot to support her family … then got over it, in a big amoral way.

6. Dexter Morgan, “Dexter”

Wrestle with this: Dexter is a murderer-murderer, but he still kills because he wants to/has to. The entire premise of the series is anti-heroic.

5. Omar Little, “The Wire”

A modern-day Robin Hood, except that he didn’t rob to give to the poor. Omar jacked Baltimore’s most dangerous drug dealers because it was just part of the game.

4. Tony Soprano, “The Sopranos”

Many people rooted for Tony Soprano because he was kind of likable (and funny) and seemed like a good family man, most of the time. They missed that he was an absolute sociopath.

3. Archie Bunker, “All in the Family”

As the original anti-hero, Archie is one of the most important television characters of all-time. When “All in the Family” premiered in 1968, Archie’s bigoted goon behavior unfortunately represented much of white America’s views on the Civil Rights movement. Yet we still laughed and found excuses to like him.

2. Don Draper, “Mad Men”

Oh, Don! Such angst! Such conflict! Such an amazing character! But a nice guy? No so much.

1. Walter White, “Breaking Bad”

No anti-hero has required the audience to overlook more evil deeds than Walter White. The strange thing is that, as Walt has gone from devoted family man (and de facto father figure for the wayward Jesse Pinkman) to empire-maker Heisenberg, he’s become even more captivating.