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The 13 best antihero dramas available to stream in Australia
Television has blessed us with a plethora of incredibly compelling antiheroes. Here’s how to catch up with some of the best.
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Antihero dramas are nothing new. In fact, the trend is starting to wind down. There was a time, however, when every network and streaming platform in sight was coming up with a show centred on a complex and not necessarily nice character. Audiences seemed to embrace heroes who were flawed; their questionable morals and dubious motives only gave them more depth. After all, a touch of evil makes things much more interesting.
The popularity of struggling antiheroes is simple to understand – they’re easier to relate to. We’re all imperfect humans who screw up every now and then, so it’s comforting to see our heroes screwing up even worse. It also emphasises that bad behaviour comes with a cost, often a steep one.
Nowadays, the focus seems to be on more traditional heroes. They’re still flawed, but their intentions are good. They grow and learn as episodes go by, giving us something to aspire to. Rest assured, though – for those days when you’re craving a side of darkness with your regular dose of drama, streaming services have quite the generous selection on display. Here are some of the best antihero dramas currently available to binge in Australia.
1. The Sopranos
There’s never a wrong time to watch The Sopranos. However, if you haven’t seen it yet, sooner is recommended. The series follows Italian American mobster Tony, who is experiencing some trouble managing both his family and criminal organisation.
The show is highly regarded as one of the most influential of all time; and for good reason. Tony Soprano paved the way for TV antiheroes, which is a testament to the genius of the late James Gandolfini. He played the struggling Tony perfectly, balancing his darker side with his more redeeming qualities. Tony was both ruthless killer and devoted father, wise man and tough mobster. He did some horrible things, but fans cheered for him anyway.
Gandolfini made the unlikeable likeable, proving that a character doesn’t need to have a heart of gold to appeal to a large audience. He was the quintessential charismatic bad guy. Without The Sopranos, we wouldn’t have many of the shows listed below. With a prequel movie also on its way in September 2021, The Many Saints of Newark, it could be time to re-watch the original all over again.
WandaVision isn't a straightforward drama. It's more a mix of genres. However, based on the complex themes it explores – grief, love, family, mental health – it falls into the dramatic category, despite the classic sitcoms it takes inspiration from.
The show is set in the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame and sees Wanda and Vision living a cosy life in the suburbs. As you might expect, not everything is as it seems. Saying more would be a spoiler, so we'll just mention that there's a mystery lurking underneath this idealised existence.
At the centre of it we have Wanda, whose grief pushes her to do bad things we wouldn't normally associate with a hero. Despite that, you can't help but feel for her, which is testament to Elizabeth Olsen's dedicated performance. Wanda has the potential to turn into a full-on villain. For now, though, she's an antihero struggling to deal with unimaginable loss, which makes WandaVision a compelling (and addictive) watch.
3. The Americans
A complex tale of marriage and espionage, The Americans follows Soviet KGB officers posing as a married couple in 1980s America. Their devotion to bringing down the US technically makes them villains, but their struggles to maintain their arranged marriage as their connection deepens also makes them ridiculously relatable.
Moreover, The Americans wins bonus points for making the woman the primary antihero. Elizabeth, portrayed flawlessly by Keri Russell, is more ideologically dedicated than her husband. While he starts to feel the appeal of American prosperity, she’s keen to keep fighting for her cause. She’s a ruthless KGB agent who kills and lies whenever necessary, while also freely disobeying orders she finds unfair. To say she’s fascinating would be an understatement.
4. Sons of Anarchy
Sons of Anarchy follows an outlaw motorcycle club, with a focus on Jax, one of the club’s leaders. It’s gritty and harsh, with frequent themes involving loyalty and brotherhood. That’s what makes Jax such an interesting antihero. While he has to perform violent acts on a regular basis, he does so for the good of the club, whether to protect their territory or exact revenge. In his and in the club members' eyes, what he does is necessary. At one point, viewers get that feeling as well.
Jax is also experiencing somewhat of an internal struggle, often feeling conflicted between doing the right thing versus following the outlaw code. As we mentioned in the introduction, consequences are real. Sons of Anarchy doesn’t let you forget that.
5. Game of Thrones
HBO’s biggest hit comes with its fair share of antiheroes. With multiple figures battling for the coveted Iron Throne, morality is overrated. In Westeros, idealism and courage often take second stage to greed and ambition. Plenty of characters perform unspeakable acts in the name of the greater good. As a result, with the exception of maybe pure and precious Sam Tarly, there’s no shortage of antiheroes to choose from.
From Jaime to Varys and from Arya to Tyrion, each character on Game of Thrones has done at least one morally grey act. Even noble Jon Snow forged an allegiance with the Wildlings against the wish of his Night's Watch brothers, and Daenerys burned down a roomful of Khals with a giddy smile on her face – and that's just for starters. You don’t become a great ruler without spilling some enemy blood. And yet, all of them have redeeming qualities that make viewers cheer for them. Who would want to see Tarly on the Iron Throne?
6. Breaking Bad
Breaking Bad follows high school chemistry teacher Walter White as he starts to sell meth after finding out he has terminal cancer. He does so in order to avoid financially ruining his family, although this means he has to make some morally grey choices along the way. As the series progresses, we see Walter embracing his darker side and becoming even more alienated from the family he wanted to protect in the first place.
Sure, Walter makes a tough choice under dire circumstances. But once he breaks bad, if you will, he discovers there’s little he’s unwilling to do in his pursuit of power. In a way, Breaking Bad gifted us with the ultimate antihero, who goes from good to bad and from sad-sack teacher to drug kingpin over the course of 5 near-perfect seasons. It’s a journey that's both thrilling and intoxicating to watch.
7. Better Call Saul
A prequel to Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul revolves around the character Jimmy McGill. The series chronicles his slow transformation into the alter ego Saul Goodman, the morally challenged criminal lawyer we met in the original and an antihero on his own.
Similarly to Walter White's shift from chemistry teacher to ruthless crime mastermind, Jimmy undergoes his own metamorphosis here. We learn more about his family, his relationships and his dealings with the legal system. Along the way, we can't help but sympathise, even when he does questionable things.
Jimmy is ultimately a tragic figure, which makes Better Call Saul more than a fitting companion piece to Breaking Bad. It's a show that successfully stands on its own, even if we know what will happen to Saul eventually.
UnREAL centres on what goes on behind the scenes of a reality show called Everlasting – basically a fictionalised version of The Bachelor, where several women compete for the affections of a single man. We follow the producers as they do all sorts of questionable things to manipulate the contestants in order to obtain shocking footage. It’s fun, but it’s also thought-provoking as smart writing and dark themes elevate the soapy nature of the series.
The first season of UnREAL took TV land by storm, dazzling critics and viewers alike. Subsequent seasons haven’t quite risen to the high bar set by the show’s freshman run, but UnREAL remains a fascinating tale of deceit and manipulation. Mainly responsible for this are Quinn and Rachel, the quintessential antiheroes who compromise their integrity for the sake of Everlasting’s success, all while battling their own personal demons. You’ll love them, but you’ll also love to hate them as they never shy away from choosing ambition over likeability. Most importantly, you’ll never get bored.
9. Mad Men
Mad Men centres on Don Draper, who struggles to stay on top of the high-pressure world of advertising in 1960s New York. He’s brilliant and charming. He’s also a selfish, womanising drunk. As seasons of Mad Men progress, we see Draper reinventing himself time after time, but his core remains the same. His bad traits always seem to make it back to the surface.
One hell of a narcissist, Don Draper had a sad childhood he managed to overcome, which means there can be hope of greatness for us all. Maybe that’s why we’re so eager to let his transgressions slide. Or maybe it’s because of Jon Hamm’s subtle performance and his devilish good looks. Regardless of how many awful things he does, men want to be him and women want to be with him. He’s unable to find happiness, but he keeps looking for it instead of becoming content with bitterness. Which is enough to be considered redeemable in our book.
10. House of Cards
Frank and Claire Underwood, the main characters from House of Cards, are willing to do anything to come out on top. They’re clever and manipulative, power-hungry to the extreme, cunning and merciless. The Netflix show redefined just how bad a television antihero can be, since one can easily argue that Frank more resembles a villain, especially as the show progresses.
With Claire, however, we get a fully-realised female antihero. She’s just as ruthless as her husband, but she has a certain vulnerability that suggests she may still have a heart. However, at the end of the day, this couple functions as one unit. And as the last season proved, Claire isn't afraid to go the villain route either.
11. How to Get Away with Murder
This legal drama follows Annalise Keating, a brilliant law professor and defence attorney who selects a group of students to assist with cases at her firm. When they become involved in a twisted murder case, dark truths come out and everyone’s limits are tested. Twisty and addictive, How to Get Away with Murder has a lot to offer, including a complex antihero brilliantly portrayed by the talented Viola Davis.
Annalise is passionate and fiery as well as dedicated and ruthless when defending her clients. She’s also a mess, dealing with infidelity, alcoholism and a whole lot of issues in her personal life. In short, Annalise is one of the most magnetic TV characters to stand out in recent years. If you’re not indulging in this outrageous drama, you’re missing out.
12. House M.D.
House MD follows an eccentric physician who is interested in puzzles, not patients. Doctor House isn’t a particularly compassionate man, which some might argue is a crucial trait in his line of business. He’s addicted to painkillers, treats patients disrespectfully, is difficult to work with and has little regard for authority.
On the other hand, he’s in constant pain and has the ability to help patients no-one else can, so it’s easy to overlook his rudeness. Plus, who doesn’t have a soft spot for the misunderstood genius? With House, you can sense his pain bubbling just under the surface. That’s enough to make you care.
Year of release: 2017
Cast: Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Sofia Hublitz, Skylar Gaertner
A captivating crime series, Ozark follows a financial advisor, Marty, who relocates his family to the Lake of the Ozarks to launder money after a scheme goes wrong. As the family becomes more comfortable with their new surroundings, they also become entangled with local criminals.
Jason Bateman shines as an antihero, but Laura Linney is also a highlight as Marty's wife Wendy. Marty starts off as an accountant desperate to keep his family alive and struggling to find a way to make this new arrangement work. As he keeps making bad choices, he'll be on a downward spiral in no time. Not only that, Wendy will embark on a destructive path of her own. All in all, there's a good chance Ozark will satisfy your need for gritty crime dramas featuring morally ambiguous characters.
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