The 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.
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. However, a good antihero drama doesn’t just highlight the character’s bad choices. It also emphasises that bad behaviour comes with a cost, often a steep one. From alienated relationships to ruined careers, antiheroes eventually have to deal with severe consequences for their morally wrong actions. That’s why newer shows like Gypsy fail. The stakes were never really high enough for viewers to care.
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. With the world seemingly more insane than ever, it’s natural to seek comfort and hope when turning to a series for distraction. 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 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 when it comes to 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 rooted 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.
2. The Americans
The Americans just wrapped up its final season, which means now’s the perfect time to bask in the show’s glory. A complex tale of marriage and espionage, the series follows two Soviet KGB officers posing as a married couple in 80's 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 the one who is more ideologically dedicated than her husband. While he eventually 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.
3. 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 a compelling 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. Eventually, viewers get that feeling as well.
Furthermore, Jax is 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.
4. 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 Jamie to Varys and from Arya to Tyrion, each character on Game of Thrones has done at least one unspeakable or morally grey act. Even noble Jon Snow forged an allegiance with the Wildlings against the wish of his Night Watch brothers, and Daenerys burned down a roomful of Khals with a giddy smile on her face. 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?
5. 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 five near-perfect seasons. It’s a journey both thrilling and intoxicating to watch.
Dexter follows its titular character, a forensic guy specialising in blood spatter pattern analysis by day. By night, Dexter is a serial killer, hunting down criminals and ending their life to satisfy his own psychopathic tendencies. Who would have thought there would be a time when audiences will root for the killer? It’s a testament to how well-written some of these antiheroes can be.
See, Dexter doesn’t kill just anyone. He follows a code and only murders other psychopaths, arguably ridding the world of numerous threats along the way. But here’s the kicker – Dexter doesn’t kill to make the world a safer place. He kills because he likes it. Yet, add in his delicious dark humour, and the fact that he is decent to his family and co-workers, and it’s natural for fans to want Dexter to succeed in all his dark endeavours. Or maybe there’s just something wrong with us all.
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7. Nurse Jackie
Although technically classified as a comedy, Nurse Jackie is darker than your typical laugh-out-loud show, which prompted us to include it on this list. Just think of the premise: a dedicated ER nurse does everything she can for the good of her patients, while also dealing with a heartbreaking painkiller addiction. Even Edie Falco, the star of the show, famously said "I'm not funny" when accepting an Emmy award back in 2000. She was right. Addiction rarely is.
Nurse Jackie gave us one of the most honest portrayals of addiction ever to be seen on TV, with the (anti)heroine doing all sorts of despicable things to get her fix, including manipulating people she cares about. She hits rock bottom over and over again, which gives the show authenticity, since re-lapses are part of a lot of addicts’ journey in real life. Jackie is flawed, yet ultimately lovable.
8. Ray Donovan
One of the few pure antihero shows still on the air, Ray Donovan follows the titular character, who works as a fixer. He is hired by the rich and famous to take care of all sorts of issues – mainly in unorthodox ways, like offering bribes, arranging payoffs or threatening violence. However, he’s dealing with a complicated family life, especially after his father is unexpectedly released from prison.
At first sight, Ray Donovan looks like your typical antihero tale. But thanks to great writing and nuanced performances, the end result is stylish and slick. A bit slow-paced at times, the series takes its time to pull you in. Once it does, you won’t be able to look away.
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UnREAL centres on what goes on behind the scenes at a reality show called Everlasting – basically a fictionalised version of The Bachelor, where several women compete for the affections of one 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 two 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.
10. Mad Men
Mad Men centres on Don Draper, who struggles to stay on top of the high-pressure world of advertising in 60's 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.
11. 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, these two function as one unit. It will be interesting to see how Claire fairs the political climate on her own as Kevin Spacey won’t return for the show’s final season.
12. 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 it comes to 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.
13. 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.
14. The Shield
Year of release: 2002
Cast: Michael Chiklis, Catherine Dent, Walter Goggins, Michael Jace
This gritty crime drama centres on Vic Mackey, a cop willing to sink to the same level as the criminals to bring them down. He’s a dirty detective with tons of street smarts, but barely any moral code. His captain describes him as "Al Capone with a badge". Everyone is at least as morally ambiguous in The Shield, so it’s understandable.
Besides, Mackey may be corrupt, but he’s also effective. You will have to watch closely to catch glimpses of his humanity, but Michael Chiklis’s hypnotic performance more than makes up for that. Vic Mackey is a force of nature, capable of unimaginable destruction. Who would want to miss that?
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