Where Did TV's Villains Go? Monsters, Anti-Heroes And Alexis Colby Carrington TV has a bad guy problem. The rise of morally ambiguous anti-heroes like Tony Soprano has pushed chewier, more melodramatic villains aside. What we gained in nuance, we lost in sheer, hiss-worthy fun.
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Where Did TV's Villains Go? Monsters, Anti-Heroes And Alexis Colby Carrington

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Where Did TV's Villains Go? Monsters, Anti-Heroes And Alexis Colby Carrington

Where Did TV's Villains Go? Monsters, Anti-Heroes And Alexis Colby Carrington

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Glen Weldon of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast says TV has a bad guy problem. A lot of shows seem reluctant to let their villains be villains. But Glen sees signs of a new age of TV villainy.

GLEN WELDON, BYLINE: Where did TV's villains go? I don't mean monsters. Monsters haven't gone anywhere. Ghosts and demons haunt shows like "Grimm" and "Supernatural" every week. The old series "Twin Peaks" featured what was, for my money, the most terrifying monster in TV history, Killer BOB.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TWIN PEAKS")

FRANK SILVA: (As Killer BOB) I promise I will kill again.

WELDON: BOB, it turned out, was a sort of murderous, forest spirit like the werewolves and vampires all over TV today. He was a boogie man, a metaphor, a larger-than-life symbol. True villains are entirely human with understandably human motivations. What's more? They have a plan. TV's best villains play the long game. Episode after episode, season after season, they plot and scheme, tenting their fingers like "The Simpsons" Mr. Burns.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SIMPSONS")

HARRY SHEARER: (As Mr. Burns) Excellent.

WELDON: Not only do they have a plan, they are only too happy to share it with anyone in earshot. Take Alexis Colby. Technically, Alexis Carrington-Colby-Dexter-Rowan of the '80s nighttime soap "Dynasty" played with scenery-chomping relish by Joan Collins.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DYNASTY")

JOAN COLLINS: (As Alexis Colby) In a very short time, this faultless family is going to be hearing from me including you. And you especially are going to cringe at what you hear.

WELDON: TV used to be lousy with villains like Alexis, villains who sat at the center of the spider web, spinning plans within plans. But then something happened. Tony Soprano happened...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SOPRANOS")

JAMES GANDOLFINI: (As Tony Soprano) It's business, soldiers. We follow codes.

WELDON: ...And "Breaking Bad's" Walter White...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BREAKING BAD")

BRYAN CRANSTON: (As Walter White) I am the one who knocks.

WELDON: ...And "Mad Men's" Don Draper.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MAD MEN")

ELISABETH MOSS: (As Peggy Olson) And you never say thank you.

JON HAMM: (As Don Draper) That's what the money is for.

WELDON: Anti-heroes happened. The bad guys became our good guys. We started building shows around ruthless mobsters, drug kingpins, womanizing cads. They do lots of villainous things. Tony Soprano murdered his own nephew for Pete's sake, but writers are careful to show these anti-heroes struggling with their actions, and even in Tony's case confiding in his shrink.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SOPRANOS")

GANDOLFINI: (As Tony Soprano) He was a tremendous drag on my emotions, on my thoughts about the future.

WELDON: True villains don't struggle with the evil that they do. They bask in it. Here's Alexis again.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DYNASTY")

COLLINS: (As Alexis Colby) I will personally attach tiny hand grenades to each of the wheels on her roller skates, watch her do one of the ever-loving pirouettes and applaud as she explodes into a thousand smithereens.

WELDON: Evil is her bubble bath, and she luxuriates in it. Granted, the many anti-hero shows we have today are a lot more nuanced and wise about the human condition than a show like "Dynasty" ever was. But they're also a lot less fun. That's because we empathize with anti-heroes, but we love villains.

It's why shows like "The Walking Dead" and "Game Of Thrones" are two of the most watched programs today. Again, not because of the zombies and fire-breathing dragons. Those are gimmicks. No, I think it's because both feature old-fashioned villains - men and women with elaborate plans who were fun to watch.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAMIN DJAWADI SONG, "GAME OF THRONES MAIN THEME)"

WELDON: For two seasons on "The Walking Dead," a character called the Governor was a nasty villain to the show's main characters, and when it returns in October, look for a character called Negan to fill that slot in a particularly brutal fashion.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE WALKING DEAD")

JEFFREY DEAN MORGAN: (As Negan) You can breathe. You can blink. You can cry. Hell, you're all going to be doing that.

WELDON: On "Game Of Thrones," Cersei Lannister, queen of the seven kingdoms, revels in scheming self-satisfied unapologetic villainy.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GAME OF THRONES")

LENA HEADEY: (As Cersei Lannister) The only way to keep the small folk loyal is to make certain they fear you more than they do the enemy. Remember that if you ever hope to become a queen.

WELDON: See, that's more like it. I should point out that as she says this, she is swirling a goblet of red wine. Alexis would be proud. I'm Glen Weldon.

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