The era of the anti-hero

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 8 2013 12:35 p.m. MDT

This image released by AMC shows Bryan Cranston as Walter White, left, and Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman in a scene from the season 5 premiere of "Breaking Bad."

Ursula Coyote/AMC, Associated Press

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With the finale of "Breaking Bad" behind us, there is cause to breathe a sigh of relief and hope to see sunnier characters in the future of television.

"As consumers of the broadest-reaching pop culture offerings, we're having a harder time accepting blankets of good and evil," Kelsea Stahler wrote in Bustle. "And we're far more willing to explore the gray areas. In fact, we need the gray areas. Still, the anti-hero is not new. But the presentation of the anti-hero as the mainstream character du jour is certainly a trend worth noting."

A new shift in entertainment has shined a bright spotlight on anti-heroes, people you would hate if you didn't love them so much. Don Draper, Dexter Morgan, Walter White and Tony Soprano have all committed the deplorable acts of murder, adultery and drug-dealing, and yet their audiences are huge.

"Of the last 14 Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series Primetime Emmy Awards, 12 have been given to actors playing blatant anti-heroes," writes Dan Hajducky at Den of Geek.

These anti-heroes have existed in literature for ages, as Emma Cueto pointed out in Bustle.

"In some ways," Cueto said, "books have a longer history of anti-heroes simply because they’ve had a longer history. Television, after all, has only been around for about 60 years, and it understandably took a while to reach a level of sophistication necessary to do unsympathetic main characters justice."

But although it has a rich history in storytelling, the concept of the anti-hero has had to be altered to keep people coming back for more, week after week, on television.

"The modern conception of an anti-hero is more likely a character whose actions lack any semblance of heroic virtue, but whose justifications (however illegitimate) usually embody some type of virtue," said Adrian Burke of The Quad. "It’s a more complex version of the traditional anti-hero that’s designed to work on a week-to-week basis."

Although it seems there is an insatiable appetite for anti-heroes on our television screens, Margaret Lyons hopes the thirst has been quenched, and that we can say goodbye to them as we say goodbye to Don Draper in the final season of "Mad Men."

"We don't want another scene with someone waking up next to a dead stripper," she writes at Vulture. "Or relying on the sage and salty wisdom of a crusty old street prostitute, or silently but potently resenting a distant spouse and onerous children. We get it already."

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