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Top 10 TV Anti-Heroes

VO: Rebecca Brayton
They make bad look oh-so-good. The anti-hero walks a thin line between hero and villain – and often crosses well over into devilish territory. In the last few years, television has fully embraced the anti-hero, building several hugely successful shows around the bad-guy-good-guy. In honor of the return of "Breaking Bad" for the second half of its final season on August 11th, 2013, counts down our picks for the top 10 TV anti-heroes. For this list, we’ve chosen unethical TV show protagonists who make bad choices and do bad things – usually with selfish motives – but somehow, we cheer them on time and time again. Special thanks to our users offbeat08 and Mike Bissig for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page!

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Top 10 TV Anti-Heroes

They make bad look oh-so-good. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 antiheroes from television.

For this list, we’ve chosen unethical TV show protagonists who make bad choices and do bad things – usually with selfish motives – but somehow, we cheer them on time and time again.

#10 – Jackson “Jax” Teller: “Sons of Anarchy” (2008-)

Haunted by his late father’s plans for the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original, Jax advances from vice- to president of the Charming, California branch. To keep his SAMCRO family safe, he plays by his own rules – but struggles with the moral implications of his ruthless actions. Maybe it’s fathering skills, his twisted vigilante justice, or his biker clothes; but Jax is a guy we can root for.

#9 – Jack Bauer: “24” (2001-2010, 2014-)

What this CTU agent hasn’t endured in the name of justice. Consistently painted as the best weapon in the U.S. government’s arsenal, Bauer isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty – whether that means murdering a coworker, doing drugs or torturing prisoners. We may not always agree with his methods, but Jack Bauer will always do what it takes to keep America safe. He gives you his word.

#8 – Nicholas Brody: “Homeland” (2011-)

Kept for years as an al-Qaeda prisoner, this Marine earns a hero’s welcome upon his return to America. It’s easy to empathize with Brody’s fight for normalcy – that is, until it’s revealed he may or may not have been turned by the terrorists and convinced to attack his homeland. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his bad deeds. Villain? Hero? Antihero? Who knows?

#7 – Enoch “Nucky” Thompson: “Boardwalk Empire” (2010-)

His title may be treasurer of Atlantic County, New Jersey, but Nucky’s the boss. Based on an actual Prohibition era historical figure, Thompson is both a sharp, charismatic Republican politician and a ruthless gangster who uses his power for his own benefit, and eliminates those who get in his way. With crimes like voter fraud, murder and bootlegging littering his resume, he’s the archetype corrupt politicians aspire to.

#6 – Nancy Botwin: “Weeds” (2005-2012)

Widow, mother, drug dealer: Nancy’s done everything and everyone. Once her breadwinning husband unexpectedly dies, she starts dealing pot to keep up with the Joneses. However, as she delves deeper into the drug trade, things get messy: this suburban mom tries to set a good example for her kids, but the Mexican cartels, jail and assassination attempts make it tough for us to call her a good parent.

#5 – Omar Little: “The Wire” (2002-2008)

Omar’s got two distinct sides: on the one hand, he lives by a strict moral code, takes his grandma to church, doesn’t curse, is good to his boyfriends and refuses to harm those not involved in “the game.” On the other, he’s bizarro-world Robin Hood, intimidating and stealing from street-dealers with his trademark scar, sawed-off shotgun and ultra-quotable dialogue. But watch out: when you hear him whistling, y’better run.

#4 – Don Draper: “Mad Men” (2007-)

He drinks like a fish, smokes like a chimney, and wears a suit like nobody else. Don’s cool, and he’s not all bad. But mostly, he’s an unmitigated asshole acting purely out of self-interest. The more we learn about Don Draper’s – sorry, Dick Whitman’s – backstory, the more we understand his treatment of his subordinates, friends and many, many lovers. But that doesn’t make him any less of an antihero.

#3 – Tony Soprano: “The Sopranos” (1999-2007)

This goomba reignited TV’s antihero trend. Like many bad-guy-good-guys, Tony struggles to keep his lives as a loving, supportive father and a brutal mob boss separate. Ultimately, Tony thinks he’s a good guy, and his panic attacks, existential crisis and sense of humor make him a protagonist you can get behind. But it’s his vicious crimes, philandering and anger-management issues that make you question your judgment when you do.

#2 – Walter White: “Breaking Bad” (2008-2013)

Who knew “the danger” would be a high-school chem teacher? When Mr. White is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he uses his skills to ensure his family’s financial safety, and that means cooking up boat-loads of the best meth in New Mexico. Pretty soon, Heisenberg morphs from an everyday guy into a murderer and drug kingpin when greed gets the better of him. Honestly though, it could happen to anyone.

#1 – Dexter Morgan: “Dexter” (2006-2013)

After witnessing his mother’s murder, Dexter’s “dark passenger” emerges and can only be satisfied one way. With Harry’s Code as protection, Dex works as a mild-mannered Miami Metro blood-spatter analyst by day, and by night he hunts criminals who’ve escaped justice and sentences them to death. While we applaud Dexter for ridding the world of bad dudes; ultimately, he kills because he likes it. And that ruins everyone he loves.

Do you agree with our list? Who do you think is the most badass TV antihero? For more top 10s about your favorite shows, be sure to subscribe to

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