The Best Baddies in TV…
There has been a huge shift in television content of recent years. Something happened; something almost unheard of prior to this period which changed television forever. That ‘something’ being the rise in popularity of intelligent writing in television along with the increasing use of the ‘Anti-Hero’. This idea of character driven shows and writing made for an audience to actually have to put some thought into, it all started in 1997 when David Chase (writer, director & producer) filmed the pilot for a new series, ‘The Sopranos’. Nobody knew it would be a success… But, it was. The success was HUGE and came fast to the stars of the series which changed television forever. This was the series that set an incredibly high bar in terms of quality TV. This was the series that started what is now known as the ‘Golden Age’ of television. Now, in 2015, sixteen years on from the pilot of this show airing on HBO, it’s clear of the monumental impact that the show has had on everyone around and it’s clear to see that all of the critics favourites today have taken something from The Sopranos. 20. So without further ado, here is the countdown of the top 20 baddies in television. To kick off this star studded list of villains is slimy corrupt Lawyer and attorney Saul Goodman played by Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad). Although he doesn’t ever kill anybody like many others featuring on this list, he does greatly assist Walt and Jesse’s attempts by gaining them much needed contacts (recall their distributor throughout season 3 and 4?), and he also assists Walt and Skyler’s money laundering ploy. Who knows, Walt might have actually been behind bars or caught out sooner if he’d never met Saul. Known throughout for his eccentric dress sense and quirky personality to match, Saul was the go-to lawyer for criminals in Albuquerque who would help to get the worst of the worst criminals and low life’s back onto the streets of New Mexico. Goodman’s services as a lawyer give clients unbelievable access to his contacts, as no matter what situation may arise, he’s always at hand with a guy who knows a guy that can help. Saul has local notoriety as a “criminal lawyer”, and also for his extremely low budget tacky tv commercials. Saul Is however despite this, a good guy at heart and with a fantastic portrayal by Odenkirk who has the comic timing of pro, is mainly featured on this list due to his amazingly interesting and charming character rather than for him being a real bad guy.
19. Featuring at number nineteen on this countdown is Mad Men’s Don Draper (portrayed by Jon Hamm). The suave businessman who worked as Creative Director at the advertising firm ‘Sterling Cooper’ in Manhattan, is not your conventional villain, and is more of an intriguing character than a traditional bad guy. His dapper appearance along with his natural wit and charm make him a character that the audience can’t help but enjoy watching despite it’s obviousness that everything he says is as polished as his exterior. He’s an adulterer extraordinaire – if he wants someone he gets them, except if they’re from the workplace of course. He does live by his own moral code which dismisses any chance of a complex office romance, come on, he’s still got some tact, at least! As well as this he’s got a wife and children who are his only real family, and even this was a somewhat calculated decision on his part. Unfortunately when I view Mad Men, I mainly see a man with very few genuine human qualities, which doesn’t give him the overall likability factor many other characters on this list possess. Overall, Don Draper doesn’t kill anybody, he doesn’t end up in jail, and he doesn’t actually do too much wrong (well not in comparison to the rest of the list anyway) however he’s an extremely calculated and manipulative character, plus having to sit through unbearable scenes involving Betty Draper (especially the first season) give reason for him to be named a bad guy!
18. At eighteen in our countdown is Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) the addict turned dealer, turned murderer turned police/DEA informant. Despite his many criminal offences I don’t see him as much of an actual villain (otherwise he’d be closer to the No. 1 spot), as he is a vulnerable character, often looking for a fatherly figure and a friend in Mr White, who railroads him and manipulates him until the final season, when the tables are finally turned when Jesse begins to talk to agt. Hank Schrader about his partner’s deceptive nature and criminal activity. The character of Jesse Pinkman also brought the fabulous acting talents of Mr Aaron Paul to the forefront of the show, and by default also to the attention of millions. Paul showed a clear abundance of acting talent throughout the series, with great capabilities of acting through emotionally challenging scenes and storylines, I.e. the death of his girlfriend Jane that saw Jesse left devastated, something only to be worsened by the revelation later that Walt could have in fact saved her but chose not to. Jesse is so high up the countdown due to him being more of a ‘wannabe’ bad guy, than an actual bad guy.
17. At seventeen is yet another baddie from Breaking Bad, this time it’s Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) taking the No. 17 slot, what can we say? Vince Gilligan and his crew write bad guy characters incredibly well! Mike, once a police officer, got into a little trouble and then one thing led to another and suddenly he’s cleaning up Jesse’s apartment after the demise of his girlfriend Jane; oh it’s funny how things change. Classic good guy, turned bad guy type story, what matters most is that he’s involved with Heisenberg and co. That’s not a very good thing to get yourself involved with of course, as he says “you know when they say it’s been a pleasure? Well it hasn’t.” Involvement with ‘Heisenberg’ is good for nobody, even Walt. Mike works security for Los Pollos Hermanos, he also assists Gus Fring in an occasional dealing with the cartel. Mike is a real tough guy. Not just a ‘wannabe’ tough guy, he’s probably one of the few real tough guys on that show. However, behind this there’s also his absolute adoration for his granddaughter. Everything he does is for her. I know what you’re thinking, now where have we heard this before? But unlike Walt, Mike actually means it. He intends to give all of his earnings to his granddaughter who he obviously cares a great deal for. A true bad guy, but for good reason at least, it appears.
16. Coming in at No. 16 is the first of three females to feature on the countdown; Janice Soprano as portrayed by the brilliant Aida Turturro in the ground-breaking series The Sopranos. From her first appearance in the show to her last, something that’s always clear is that she’s related to mobster Tony Soprano. She shares his temper, and she has a desire for his success and his huge amounts of cash. Janice is constantly up to something or trying to get something from someone. She’s notorious for jumping in and out of relationships, and even had an affair with dirt-bag Ralph Cifaretto, the affair in question begun in a bathroom whilst his girlfriend was sitting downstairs, oh life can be so cruel… as can Janice. Her relationship with Ralph ends when she throws him down a flight of stairs, she also shares Tony’s violent streak. With fights at school football matches, murder a day before her wedding, and possessing the skills of a master manipulator all to add to her profile it’s really no wonder she’s made the list. Janice Soprano is a real bitch who will do almost anything for money and is one of the most manipulative and conniving baddies to make the list, she’d give most of these guys a run for their money, literally.
15. Securing the No. fifteen spot are Marco & Leonel Salamanca (A.K.A. The Cousins) played by Luis & Daniel Moncada. These two bad boys who work as hit men for the cartel really know how to add tension to a scene. Pretty much all they need to do is walk (and on one occasion crawl) slowly (very slowly) and everybody freaks out, because when they’re in town they really do mean business. They arrived in Albuquerque wearing shiny grey, almost silver, suits, and they donned silver skull capped boots. They really did look the part. This unique killer pair arrived in Walt’s bedroom waiting to take his life, but instead took their chances at murdering DEA agent Hank with an axe. This was a sticky end for this threatening duo as one received a hollow point bullet to the skull courtesy of Hank Schrader, and the other after losing his legs was poisoned and finished off by Mike.
14. At fourteen it’s grimacing, cynical Livia Soprano (Nancy Marchand) mother of Tony, in The Sopranos. Her inability to accept that anything is good, to trust anybody, or to do much of anything on her own led to the creation of one of the series biggest baddies. After all, how many other mothers do you know who’ve put a hit out on their own son? She worked with her brother in law Junior Soprano, and decided that getting rid of her son might be for the best. Strangely as soon as Tony (her son) became aware of this, she experienced some coincidental memory loss which prevented her from commenting on her actions. Unfortunately Nancy Marchand’s brilliant portrayal wasn’t as lasting as we’d all hoped as she died midway through season 2, leading to major script changes in season 3. We unfortunately never will know just how bad Livia Soprano got!
13. Taking the No. thirteen slot is Corrado Soprano Jr. (Dominic Chianese), once again a character from the multi award winning HBO success; The Sopranos. Don’t be fooled by this old guy’s age or appearance, he may be the joker of the show, always at hand with a pun or two, but remember, he’s also always at hand with a gun, as I’m sure is something his nephew would rather forget. This old school, no nonsense Mafia boss despite his age outlived most others around him, and continued his plotting and scheming until the very end when it was brought to light that he had Alzheimer’s. This diagnosis however did not stop his torment as it even led to the eventual shooting of his nephew (the new boss of the family) leaving him in a critical state. …Most viewers will however remember that this was not the first attempt on Tony’s life at the hands of Junior, as he was of course also involved with the plot with his sister in law in season one, oh how I love a conventional family. To me despite all of his criminal activity, Junior’s most bad-ass moment has to be in season one when he slams a pie In his girlfriends face, now that. THAT was a real tough guy! Like Tony said at the end of this series “Cunnilingus and psychiatry brought us to this!”
12. The scheming husband Frank Underwood behind ‘House of Cards’ would be nothing without his conniving partner in crime, wife Claire Underwood. With Robin Wright’s extraordinary portrayal it really is difficult to imagine the show home to anyone else. As the saying goes, ‘behind every great man is an even greater women’, or in this case more along the lines of ‘behind every great man is a women with blood on her hands’, either way, this idea really comes into play and is put into context throughout House of Cards. No matter what Frank does she forgives him, hell she even gave her approval for him to sleep with another women, who just happened to also be a reporter who they then used to gain positive limelight. Her absolute devotion to Francis is what makes them one of the most powerful and manipulative pairs to make this list as they will do literally anything for one another and even more for themselves. A power couple with the same malignant chemistry as a pair of serial killers, each requiring the other in order to become lethal. With Claire’s absolute devotion to Frank, including everything she helps him with, it’s difficult to picture where his career would be without her.
11. Silvio Dante at number eleven here on our countdown, played by Steven Van Zandt who was perhaps more well known for his long lived rock career and position as guitarist and life long friend of rock star Bruce Springsteen prior to this role. We are of course talking about his role as consigliere for Tony, the title character In the now cult show ‘The Sopranos’. Van Zandt chosen by Chase to star as one of the leading characters in his newest show was a huge risk on Chase’s part being that it was Van Zandt’s first acting role. Of course, it was quickly clear that the risk paid off. Regarded as the joker of the pack in the North Jersey DiMeo crime family, Silvio Dante appearing in every single episode of the show quickly became a favourite amongst fans for his charming personality, sense of humour, and also for being one of the few reasonable gangsters in the show. That being said, he did go on to murder a primary character in the fourth season, but we won’t go into that… Silvio was actually a decent enough guy, but he does have a number of deaths on his hands (as with most in the show) and that along with his overall likability despite this makes him one of the shows most loveable baddies.
10. At ten is Brian Moser (Christian Camargo), although, he’s actually more commonly known by another name; ‘The Ice Truck Killer’. Yep, this is ‘Dexter’s serial killer renowned for his creativity and clue leaving in all of his murders, he was the main antagonist throughout the first season. Of course later that season there was also the shocking revelation that he was in fact Dexter’s brother. This was an extremely unexpected twist to the tail that led to most fans naming this their favourite season of Dexter. He is of course just like Dexter in the fact that he’s a killer, they just happen to have very different ways of doing things. Unfortunately Brian Moser’s interesting and complex relationship with Dexter was short lived as Dexter of course, being Dexter had to kill him, sad how things turn out, especially as the dynamic he added kept things in the show fresh and different. Nicely enough for fans though, he does make a brief comeback during season six taking up the role usually assigned to Harry as the person Dexter turned to in times of need, of course, it was never to be and even this was short lived.
9. At No. nine is Miami Metro Homicide’s finest, expert forensic and blood spatter analyst Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) from the Showtime hit; Dexter. Charming, mild mannered nice-guy Dexter Morgan who would do literally anything for his son and his sister Deb… Oh did I forget to mention that he’s a serial killer? Blood splatter analyst by day, and blood slide collecting by night, this character always has a trick or two up his sleeve. Born in blood, he feels it’s his duty to the world to rid it of all the murderers. Like some super-hero like character he goes about Miami in search for his next victim, what makes us as viewers love Dexter so much is that he’s actually doing the world a favour. He lives by a special ‘code’, to only kill baddies (except on special occasions of course when he’s had the occasional slip up). He pretty much lives by his father’s word who’s one of the few to have known of Dexter’s nasty habit. Of course he couldn’t live with it and ended his own life because of it… again, who cares about the details? He goes years without anybody suspecting a thing due to him genuinely not ever seeming like the type, he’s too polite and neat and tidy to be capable of murder right? We actually believe it too, even after we’ve seen what he does, we still can’t get out head’s around it.
8. Kevin Spacey’s award winning portrayal of power hungry politician Frank Underwood gains him the number eight spot on the countdown. Underwood has everything, but wants, needs more. He’s got an adoring wife (who also makes the list), a job he’s got a real passion for, and a bit on the side who is willing to publish whatever story he gives her; lets just say that life is good to be Underwood. However, on the other hand, he’s also got the lying and manipulation skills of well, a politician, at least two murders he’s accountable for, every single aspect of his life is calculated. Everything he does is planned, everything he plans is to benefit himself, and everything that benefits himself is at the downfall of somebody else. Suave suit wearing Frank Underwood might have just gotten himself the deal of a lifetime, he’s manipulated and worked at everyone around him for so long, he’s finally gotten to the top, without a single vote, as his famous quote goes “democracy is so overrated”… how long it will last, well that’s a mystery, but we all know what happens to cards…how long will it be before the House of Cards he’s so carefully built up, eventually comes tumbling down?
7. Coming in at number seven on our countdown is Johnny Sack played by the ever talented Vincent Curatola. I believe that this guy is literally made for playing bad guys because he’s so brilliant at it! Johnny Sack, the overall very cool, chain smoking Mafioso from New York,his utter devotion to his wife Ginny made fans fall in love with him, especially for him showing this softer side to his tough guy personality. Once he was boss nobody could get in his way. He eliminated anybody who had potential to pose a threat to him, and was partial to stirring up trouble amongst others too. Unusually for such a powerful man, he stayed ever faithful to his wife Ginny who he had a clear abundance of respect and admiration for. Curatola’s astounding acting talent is worth definite recognition for this role, unlike some who may think of this sort of character as an aggressive and shouting type, Curatola played him in a very modest and understated way, a way in which made him come across to the viewers as one of the more threatening characters. He would just whisper. He spoke quietly, and when he shouted, it meant he really did mean business. He depicted the character of Johnny Sack as a ticking time-bomb type man who would be calm and quiet, but who however could flip at any moment. He enjoyed lavish living; he drove expensive cars and wore stylish clothing, Johnny Sack is one of the most memorable no nonsense characters to come out of the show that changed television forever! This ruthlessly calm and calculated gangster unfortunately met his demise in the final season after losing his battle with lung cancer.
6. Yet another entry to the countdown from The Sopranos, lets face it, they’re all baddies on that show. This time it’s New York’s Phil Leotardo (Frank Vincent) taking the slot. The main reason for his presence on the countdown is that he’s the one responsible for putting a hit out on Tony, Silvio and Bobby, and how many others can say they were partly responsible for possibly the most talked about TV finale ever? This guy was finally released from prison after twenty years in 2004, just in time for season five. Phil got into more trouble once released from jail, by getting into a financial dispute with Tony Soprano, not something recommended for any sane person. Phil openly hated to see any effeminate qualities, especially in made men, and his excessive homophobia, worsened even by his cousin’s husband (Vito) being revealed as to be gay only added to his tough guy exterior and he was presented as being an ‘old-school’ type gangster who liked to keep things very traditional. Phil’s exit to the show was also particularly memorable as he is shot in the head by a member of the DiMeo crime family, and his car then proceeds to roll over and crush his skull. A very sticky ending for the man who got Bobby killed, and left Silvio in a coma only the episode prior to this.
5. At five it’s Arthur Mitchell/More commonly known as “The Trinity Killer” (John Lithgow), polled by fans of the hit Showtime series ‘Dexter’ as one of the all time greatest antagonists of the entire series. His eventual kill count amassed to more than any other single character in the show (although with Dexter definitely catching up). One of his most memorable and evil deeds committed throughout the series was when he viciously murdered a main character in the show, who just so happened to also be Dexter’s wife Rita. His cycle of murders which spans over three decades was unearthed by special Agt. Frank Lundy who paid the price for his discovery, as he was soon shot dead by Mitchell (something highly disapproved of by myself, especially with Lundy being one of my favourite and most genuinely likable characters in the series). Mitchell constantly terrorized his own family, something which eventually led to their being placed into witness protection, however this move did not help his family in the long run as his son Jonah was evidently shown to be a killer just like his father too. Overall Lithgow’s superb portrayal of possibly the deadliest and most dangerous killer in the entire series won him both an Emmy and a Golden Globe award for his astounding work during the fourth series, as well as a positioning within the top ten TV baddies to feature on this countdown.
4. At No. four on the countdown is Ralph Cifaretto portrayed by the fantastic Joe Pantoliano, yet another entry to the countdown from the HBO cult classic, The Sopranos. Ralphie Cifaretto is one of my all time favourite characters from both TV & film. Ralph is the ultimate sleaze bag, he’s got a unique and eccentric dress sense that would give even Saul Goodman a run for his money, he was once uncovered as a bit of a sexual deviant, he has been known for excessive cocaine use, and oh, did I mention that he’s also in the Mafia? After returning to New Jersey to resume his work for Tony Soprano in the DiMeo crime family, he was eventually promoted to Caporegime (capo) to Tony Soprano’s dismay. Known throughout New Jersey for his terrible timing especially when concerning inappropriate comments, bad taste in terms of jokes (recall his beef with Johnny Sack anybody?), his obsession with the film Gladiator (which he used to incessantly quote on frequent occasions), his obnoxious personality, perhaps the most memorable death on his hands was that of a stripper he was sleeping with, and his famously terrible choice in women (*cough* anybody recall his brief but surreptitious relationship with Janice Soprano?), he unfortunately came to his premature demise in season four when he got on the wrong side of Mr. Soprano for a final time, a disagreement which memorably resulted in Ralphie’s head (lacking his blonde lock of hair after a humorous revelation) being placed into a bowling ball carrier. Ralph’s conniving and speculating days were over (in my opinion far too soon), however, hate him or love him, Joey Pants’ impressive portrayal of the slimy character of Ralph will always be remembered by fans of the series as one of it’s greatest and also funniest bad guys.
3. Finally, we’re down to the top 3 and Walter White, known by many in the drug trade under the pseudonym ‘Heisenberg’ is taking the number three slot. Bryan Cranston’s genius portrayal of this chemistry teacher turned drug manufacturer gained him along with the show huge recognition and countless nominations and wins dominating almost every award ceremony, and it was for good reason. Vince Gilligan (creator of Breaking Bad) has claimed that he initially when trying to sell the idea of the show described Walter White as “Mr Chips meets Scarface”, and he wasn’t too far off there… Murderous Walter White gains notoriety and fame throughout the drug trade as one of the best crystal meth cooks in existence, this status of course doesn’t come without it’s occasional occupational hazard. He’s got deaths on his hands; too many to count, he’s lost his family; the reason he started all of this in the first instance, meaning that without them he can finally admit why he continues his work, the best way of explaining this is in one sentence. The answer he gives to a simple question from Jesse (his accomplice). Jesse asks “Are we in the Meth business or the money business?”, Walt replies “Neither, we’re in the empire business…”, it’s no longer about doing right by his family, he just wants to be successful, not only successful, he needs to be the BEST, nothing else will be good enough for him. Due to the many deaths on his hands, his other illegal deeds committed, and also the overall likability factor that Cranston brings to his character, Walter Hartwell White is ranked among the top baddies ever to have graced our screens.
2. One of only two characters to make the list, who’re ranked to be bigger baddies than Walter White, it’s his one time boss, Gustavo ‘Gus’ Fring portrayed by the fabulously talented Giancarlo Esposito. Gus Fring, owner of popular chicken restaurant ‘Los Pollos Hermanos’ as well as a drug empire to match sits Gus probably as the wealthiest character to make the list. He ran the most successful drug empire in history without ever getting caught; well that was of course until Walter White caught up with him. He would hardly ever partake in his own criminal deeds (such as killing or cooking meth), as he ran a tight ship he’d always have somebody lower down in the ranks to take care of business for him. He was known to the inner circle at the DEA, as he worked closely with them in support of their work, this move was done with obvious ulterior motives and worked as an attempt to keep their suspicions aimed elsewhere. When Fring eventually met his match in the season four finale when Walt memorably uses an explosion to blow half of his face off in one of the fan favourite season finales, this occurs prior to knowledge of his drug empire and involvement with Heisenberg comes to light with the DEA and the rest of Albuquerque. Gus Fring; killer, drug lord, and overall perfectionist, this list wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of the man who helped to create one of the best dramas of recent years.most dynamic and thought provoking show in TV history.
1. Finally, at No. 1 for being in our opinion THE greatest bad guy ever it’s Mr Tony Soprano. If it wasn’t for James Gandolfini’s fantastically breath-taking portrayal of this lovable bad guy this whole list wouldn’t even exist as neither would any of these unforgettable shows mentioned. None more unforgettable than this one of course, it’s The Sopranos; it ran for a decade and has left a lifelong legacy behind. It’s often regarded as the most dynamic and thought provoking show in television history. It ran for six seasons, and a huge eighty six episodes in total, it’s been named “the greatest show in TV history” by Vanity Fair, an opinion shared by many.
But what makes Tony Soprano the greatest bad guy in TV history? He’s an emotional guy, don’t get us wrong he’s a real tough guy, but he’s got emotions. He cares about his family (both of them), he gets upset, he gets angry, he gets frustrated, he gets hurt. All of these characteristics are humanly qualities. We don’t want to watch an actor portray a character like stone, Gandolfini has the outstanding ability to bring his characters to life, with his emotion-filled eyes that can give or take anything from an entire scene. He doesn’t even need to speak, all he does is looks at the camera and you know what he’s thinking. This emotional side to Tony Soprano makes his vulnerabilities show, this is the side to him that we want to see. This is the side to his personality that we can absolutely relate to. This is why we love him and feel so in touch with him as a character.
Mob boss of the DiMeo crime family of North Jersey,Tony Soprano didn’t just get hurt, he did the hurting too. He viciously murdered many, and had hits put out on others, he was a compulsive liar, he was a womaniser who always had a girlfriend on the side, despite his obvious love for his wife Carmela. He was a devoted family man, and cared equally for both families. His crew were blood to him, and he’d do anything for them. After nearly being killed twice, being on the run numerous times, years spent dodging the FBI, time spent fighting racketeering charges, multiple arrests and frequent home raids Tony Soprano’s life finally came to an abrupt end (well the documented part of his life did at least) in 2007 when the final episode of the Sopranos aired and left the world shocked and devastated about the surprise cut to black ending of the Show leaving the actual occurrences of the final scene up to the imagination of the viewer. Some say he lived, some say he died, no matter what actually happened to him, it got people’s imagination, it got people talking, and people will always remember his iconic character and the brilliant Mr Jim Gandolfini who brought him to life on the screen, and for this lasting impression he’s left on the world of TV and film, who else could possibly be named the greatest bad guy in television history?