Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad

Image: Photo Credit: Skip Bolen/SHOWTIME

Bryan Cranston and the Characters We Hate to Love

Bryan Cranston broke big with “Breaking Bad.” His icon-making depiction of Walter White, a meek family man and chemistry teacher whose descent (or some might call it rise?) to meth-dealing criminal mastermind made Cranston a household name and Walter White one of TV’s most beloved antiheroes. (If you aren’t yet initiated, you can “Breaking Bad” binge on Netflix.)

Now Cranston has returned to the small screen with a new iteration of a good man drawn to do wrong in Showtime’s “Your Honor,” playing Michael Desiato, a big-hearted New Orleans judge and single dad who manipulates the justice system to get his son out of trouble, taking down several innocent folks in the process.

Michael’s anxiety and concern for his beloved boy are palpable in every dripping sweat bead and jaw-clenching grimace, but we also have to marvel at how easily he lies to his friends, abandons his ethics and brilliantly exploits the law he’s upheld his entire career.

So, why do we love them? 

An ego-driven, murdering chem genius? A judge subverting the law for his own kid? Well, they’re just so good at being bad, it’s fun to root for them. And we want to see how far they’ll go.

The Golden Age of TV and prestige drama has given us more than a handful of men (and some women) behaving badly. They’re often underdogs and risk takers if not geniuses at what they do, fueled by a complex mashup of ego and insecurity. If you can’t get enough of Walter White and Michael Desiato, here are a few more antiheroes you’ll hate to love.

Tony Soprano (Obviously)
“The Sopranos”

The OG of antiheroes, Tony shows us that audiences will follow a bad guy protagonist if he has some vulnerabilities. How do you love a mafioso who strangles a guy to death on his kid’s college tour? It helps if he cries when a family of ducks he’s been feeding flies off for the winter—leaving him to ponder his own, inevitable, empty nest.

Where to watch: HBO Max

Don Draper (Brilliant Bad Boy)
“Mad Men”

Handsome, mysterious, the dark poet playboy of Madison Avenue. He’s a cheating, selfish, cynical narcissist, and yet we swoon. We love him for his talent and for the shining moments when he comes through for some women in his office and another from his dark past. It’s just enough to get us past the fact that despite his ability to sell a pitch like no other, you probably wouldn’t want him as your boss (or husband).

Where to watch: Prime Video

Annalise Keating, Esq. (A Zeitgeist-Shaking Force)
“How to Get Away With Murder”

Women don’t often get to play bad, but Viola Davis’ Annalise on the groundbreaking “How to Get Away With Murder” is complex and fascinating: bisexual, alcoholic, unscrupulous and such a fantastic attorney that every episode gives us new insight into her psyche and reaffirms our loyalty. Annalise shows us how bad a good woman can be.

Where to watch: Netflix

Cersei and Jamie Lannister (Not Just Pretty Faces)
“Game of Thrones” 

Twins, lovers, stunning, smirking, selfish, ego-driven megalomaniacs with murderous tendencies, and yet… time and again, they twist our loyalties and shatter our assumptions. Jamie’s heart and nobility shines through his jerkiness as does Cersei’s love for her children and desire to protect them, along with her struggle to be seen as a leader in a kingdom of powerful men.

Where to watch: HBO Max

Dexter (Killer With a Heart of Gold)

Come on, he adores his family and only kills bad guys (many, many, many of them). What’s not to love?

Where to watch: Showtime

Patricia “Patty” Hewes (Because, Glenn Close)

Glenn Close as a ruthless, devious attorney is a relentless antihero. Her cold-hearted skill and willingness to break the law (along with manipulate and murder), mostly for the side of good, make her one of TV’s most daring and complicated characters.

Where to watch: Hulu

Omar Little (Best of the Bad)
“The Wire”

Groundbreaking in so many ways, “The Wire” gives us institutions and characters at their most morally ambiguous and multifaceted, so it’s no surprise that one of TV’s most beloved antiheroes comes from its hallowed streets. Often seen as a Robin Hood type, Omar makes his living through violently—we’ll call it “redistributing”—wealth, subverting Baltimore’s drug market for his own vigilante justice. He lives in a world where good and evil are in the eye of the beholder.

Where to watch: HBO Max

Bobby Axelrod and Chuck Rhoades (Dueling Egos)

These guys. Our sympathies are constantly shifting between these two macho egomaniacs, and it’s hard to know who we hate to love more. Some lean toward Bobby, with his pursed lips, Metallica t-shirts and hedgefund-casual hoodie. Bobby doesn’t pretend he’s doing bad things for good reason. He just wants to make money and be the best. Still, he’s intriguingly authentic and thoughtful in his relationships. Meanwhile, Chuck talks a good game about twisting the law in the name of justice, but really he’s about making his own sad self feel as powerful as possible.

Where to watch: Showtime

Dr. Gregory House (Bad Bedside Manner)

He’s a jerk, but he saves lives. He falls into the brilliant baddies category. We love to watch smart people work their magic at the top of their game, even if they make themselves hard to like by, say, lying, insulting colleagues, putting patients in peril and masking personal problems while candy-popping Vicodin. House is inspired by the character of Sherlock Holmes, but this guy’s genius solving medical mysteries makes him super annoying.

Where to watch: Prime Video

Vic Mackey (The Actual Worst)
“The Shield”

Corrupt and brutal to the bone—he kills a fellow officer in the first episode—Mackey comes pretty close to flat-out villain. So why do we hope he doesn’t go to jail? He knows how to work both sides of the law and he’s equal-opportunity awful to cops, criminals and literally everyone he meets. Plus, there’s no one else to root for on this show, and the close focus on Mackey means we can’t tear our eyes away.

Where to watch: Hulu

Honorable Mentions

Eve and Villanelle (“Killing Eve” – Prime Video)
Frank Gallagher (“Shameless” – Showtime)
Nancy Botwin (“Weeds” – Netflix)
Noah Solloway (“The Affair” – Showtime)
Elliot Alderson (“Mr. Robot” – Prime Video)
Shane Walsh (“The Walking Dead” – Netflix)

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