We’re so used to instantly recognizing our heroes on television: that do-good attitude, those all-American good looks. Even an initially prickly nature is usually smoothed out in the first few episodes, leaving us with a hero or heroine we will always root for. But what about those characters who never quite get redeemed? The ones who will destroy anyone in order to protect themselves?
In this golden age of television we’re running into more and more antiheroes who we simply love to hate. I call them likeable jerks: those characters who are just a little smarter, more cutting and definitely more ruthless than anyone else around them. They use those smarts to succeed in business and relationships, and they don’t let a silly little thing like a conscience stand in their way. There have been some great likeable jerks over the years — Dr. Gregory House, Walter White, Tony Soprano — but here are my three current favorites:
In his very first scene, Frank calmly and smoothly addresses the audience while he casually breaks the neck of a dog. That should tell you everything you need to know right there. Underwood is manipulative, cruel, yet weirdly loving. It’s hard not to root for him, even as he’s destroying lives and clawing his way to the top of the political food chain. Even if you hate his guts (and you will at times, trust me), Frank is still compulsively watchable.
He started out as the bad guy on Vampire Diaries, but even then fans were drawn to the handsome, secretly romantic, insanely powerful vampire. Now that he’s on his own show, Klaus is still just as powerful, and prone to some major vampire-tantrums. He’s volatile, immortal, and just might lock you up in a coffin for centuries if you wrong him. He also has a crazy compelling love story with Caroline. It’s just a shame they’re no longer on the same show!
Annalise is the professor you love to hate: smart, ruthless, great at what she does. She might seem like she has it all together in the beginning of this addictive Shonda Rhimes drama, but we quickly see the cracks in Annalise’s many lies. From there, it just gets more nuts. Affairs, murder, and betrayal — Annalise is one of the most complicated and compelling characters on TV right now.
The Rose Society by Marie Lu (G.P. Putnam & Sons Books for Young Readers; October 2015)
Some of my favorite books have complicated heroes and heroines as main characters, and Lu’s The Rose Society is no exception. I can’t stop thinking about Adelina’s story of revenge. After years of abuse, she’s set on destroying those who wronged her—even at the expense of her new friends. Her hatred and fear only feed into her powers, which are quickly getting out of control. When she finds other Young Elites while trying to find allies in her thirst for vengeance, she finally has to confront the darkness inside her. This book is a must-read for anyone who likes their heroines a little on the disturbed side.