Movies & TV / Columns

Ten Deep 04.04.13: The Top 10 TV Villains

April 4, 2013 | Posted by Mike Gorman

” Top Ten TV Villains”

Some of the best characters in television history have been the absolute worst! By that I of course am referring to those wonderful, scene chewing villains who dog our heroes and give us something to rail against in our often mediocre lives. The season finale of The Walking Dead and the rise of the Governor are what inspired me to take a look at which villains might deserve some recognition as the best amongst their vile peers. Up first a villain who took revenge to a whole new level…

10. The Evil Queen/Regina Mills on Once Upon A Time

As a child, Snow White ruined Regina’s chance for love with her stable boy. In return, Regina killed Snow’s father and then cursed all of the fantasy lands sending everyone to Storybrooke, ME, without their memories. To say she holds a grudge is the understatement of the year. As we have learned, she inherited her wicked ways from her mother but I think Regina is the better villain because just as she shows hope of reforming, she slips again down the dark path. This season I have actually found myself rooting for her at points and hating her at others, a mark of brilliant villainy. In the scene below we see what has recently transpired renewing her evil ways…

9. The Governor on The Walking Dead

It’s funny, when I started this list I had not actually included the Governor on the countdown, I just made mention to him inspiring it, and then we were treated to Sunday night’s season three finale of The Walking Dead and his spot was cemented tight within the best of the villains. This season we have watched the Governor evolve from a well-intentioned albeit crazy man who kept zombie heads in fish tanks and his zombie daughter trapped in a secret room to a full on maniacal villain who violently turns on anyone who shows signs of disloyalty. By the end of Sunday’s bloodshed he had two people left standing beside him, and I am pretty sure it was because of fear not loyalty. In this clip below we see if there is an answer to the question, Who is the Governor?

8. Sideshow Bob on The Simpsons

Portrayed with scene chewing gusto by Kelsey Grammer, Sideshow Bob is one this long running series most long running villains. He is Bart’s nemesis and always seems to pop up with another nefarious scheme just when Bart lets his guard down. He is grandiose in his gestures and certainly underappreciated in his villainy by the citizens of Springfield. His greatest moments came in the episode that mirrored the classic film Cape Fear. “Cape Feare” is one of the series’ most well-constructed episodes and features Sideshow Bob at his best, er, worst. Here it is in 60 seconds.

7. Simon Cowell on American Idol

The American viewing public did not know what to expect from Simon Cowell when American Idol premiered a few years ago but we very soon discovered that reality TV had uncovered a new “villain.” Cowell’s pull no punches, tell it like it is ways were often vilified by viewers while I think many people appreciated him saying the things we were all thinking. This, to me, is a classic mark of media villainy. The villain gives voices to all of those urges and thoughts we suppress to stay within the established social norms. Cowell fit that definition to a T, well he fit it as tightly as his own t-shirts at least. Even though he has since moved on to a new show, his critical voice remains an ever present reminder that most of the people who dream of stardom simply are not good enough. Here are a few of Simon’s original barbs…

6. Angelus on Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The second season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer took a decidedly sharp left turn the evening of Buffy’s 18th birthday when a moment of true happiness (ie. Well, you know) turned Buffy’s love Angel into the soulless Angelus. From that moment on, the show we had grown comfortable with became new territory as it became apparent this turn to the dark side was not going away any time soon. Angelus was a fantastic villain because he knew how to get inside of Buffy and her friends’ heads pushing their buttons in ways only someone who knew them intimately could. There was nothing redeemable about Angelus’ actions and that was what made this arc amazing storytelling in my eyes. There were no moments to suggest that maybe Angel would be coming back so it became easy to see why Buffy would decide she needed to kill him to save the world, and in true Whedon fashion, at the very last minute that scenario was also flipped on its head. He remains my favorite of all the Buffy big bads. The speech in this audio clip is one of the reasons he made this list.

Angelus’ passion speech

5. J.R. Ewing on Dallas

It would be hard to discuss television villains without getting into some of the true classics, the most outstanding of which is J.R. Ewing of Dallas, portrayed by the recently deceased Larry Hagman. J.R. was larger than life and truly evolved as one of the most hated (and therefore beloved) characters on television in the 1980s, so much so that when he was shot it was almost impossible for viewers to narrow down the list of suspects because literally everyone had a motive. He brought greed to life in ways we had not yet seen on the small screen. The video below features some of his best moments.

4. Richard Hatch from Survivor

Richard Hatch won the very first season of CBS’ Survivor and with it he brought a whole new wrinkle to the burgeoning world of reality TV. Hatch proved that there was a place for scheming and game play amongst all the good hearted humanity on the reality competition shows. He clearly laid it out there that he was about winning because at the end of the day Survivor was not about recreating society, or learning about who they were as people, it was about playing a game. His strategy was brilliant and it took everyone, including the viewing public, by surprise ending with him labeled as one of the worst reality TV villains there has ever been. I included Hatch because even back during the first season of the show, I admired his tactics and attitude. It must somehow play into my long held belief that the dark side would be more fun! Hatch used simple manipulation techniques and got people to collapse in upon themselves as the show progressed. By the time the final tribal council vote arrived it was clear Hatch would take home the million because nearly everyone had to admit that he had played them successfully, even if some players took offense to his actions (see Sue’s infamous Rat speech below.)

Sue’s Rat & snake speech

3. The Borg from Star Trek

There is one word that best sums up the villainy of The Borg, and that word is “relentless.” They are of a single minded, emotionless purpose and will do whatever it takes to continue the expansion of their domain. When the Borg first appeared on Star Trek: The Next Generation I do not think anyone could have predicted how big of a threat and presence they would become across many of the properties’ shows. Their crowning moment though was the assimilation of Captain Picard and the creation of Locutus. Picard’s capture dealt a mortal wound to his crew and left viewers wondering how on earth they could come back from this twist. Like a soulless virus, the Borg left their stamp on that universe and drew the interest of many fans. Below is a documentary in two parts that explores their development. I think it is definitely worth a watch.

2. Lex Luthor on Smallville

I am hands down one of the biggest Superman fans that you will ever find, and it therefore makes sense that I have soft spot for Lex Luthor, but I feel completely justified when I include Michael Rosenbaum’s nuanced performance in the number two spot this week. On Smallville we got to see Lex from the beginning and the events that shaped his villainous path. It is his journey from Clark’s friend, with good intentions, to megalomaniacal villain that truly fascinated me. Several times the show posed the question to Clark Kent if he was responsible for Lex’s dark actions, and while often the show’s answer was no, I personally don’t think the answer is so simple. Lex was a creature shaped by the actions of those around him, first his treatment at the hands of his parents, his father in particular, and then the actions of those around him who were supposedly his friends. Their secrecy and mistrust just bred the same in him. I don’t think anyone is responsible for Lex’s actions aside from Lex, but I think it is very interesting how certain moments in his life led him to the places he ended up. Not everything about Rosenbaum’s Luthor was dark and controlling though, check out this blooper reel.

Lex bloopers

And lastly…

1. The Cigarette Smoking Man from The X-Files

When I made my initial brainstorm of this list, I actually did not include The X-Files Cigarette Smoking Man, and then a friend brought him up to me when he heard the topic I was pursuing this week. I immediately thought, “How on earth did I miss him???” The CSM was the master manipulator behind many of the conspiracies that were prevalent throughout the entire X-Files series. Often in the shadows and other times in the spotlight, the CSM became an entrenched part of the show’s woven mythology and even ended up being revealed to be Mulder’s father. In several episodes we were treated to glimpses into his past and we were shown that he was most likely a part of several of the most notable assassinations in American history. What made him truly fantastic as a villain to me was that even when he was not present, his finger prints or presence could be felt throughout many of the shows intricate plots. Like most good villains too, he was driven by a belief that he was doing what was best for humanity; a trait that often leads to a characters downfall as it did in his case as well. The video clip below reflects on this fascinating character.

Did I overlook your favorite bad guy or gal? Perhaps you think Mr. Burns deserved Sideshow Bob’s spot? Let me know in the comments below.

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Mike Gorman

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