Likeable Anti-Heroes

written by Sarah McLean

Selena Meyer is the worst. So is Frank Gallagher. And Michael Scott. Archie Bunker. Sue Sylvester. Charlie Harper. The main cast of Seinfeld and Arrested Development. In real life these people would arguably be the most despicable human beings ever. And we’d hate everything about who they are and even cross the street to avoid their paths. In sitcoms, however, we love them. We relish in their self-involved, take-no-prisoners, racist ways. We don’t even love to hate them. We just love them. We love them for being the worst possible human beings imaginable.

As any actor knows, even if you’re playing a true, dramatic villain, you have to find the likeability and humanity of that character. They’re not really evil (in their own mind), they’re simply misunderstood. Our sitcom “villains”, aka anti-heroes, do the same thing: they bring likeability and humanity to their characters but in an endearing and funny way so we consciously overlook their gigantic, gaping flaws.

On the surface it may seem like we should dislike a certain character because when you think about it, they’re racist, frauds, embezzlers, egotistical, but actually, because it’s specifically not real life we let it slide. We simply get annoyed with them. Frustrated. Fed up. We cringe at their behavior and lack of tact. We yell at our screens for how stupid they’re being. Why do we do this?

Because there’s no hate in sitcoms. It’s never written into a script. It’s never an emotion we see from any character. It’s never an emotion we feel when watching.

These characters, even though they are simply the worst, no matter how awful they are to one another, are not hateful. Archie Bunker was not hateful; he was ignorant. Selena Meyer doesn’t hate her staff, she’s too self-involved to truly care about their feelings unless it’s self-beneficial. They both have compassion, albeit very misguided. They’re misunderstood. But in a funny, entertaining way.

Sure, we may be absolutely disgusted by the actor for whatever arbitrary, or perhaps justifiable, reasons we choose. But if we’re really being honest with ourselves, we don’t actually hate the character they play, even if they closely resemble the actor in real life.

That’s simply because hate is not enjoyable to watch. We watch sitcoms to be entertained, to laugh, sometimes to think. If we actually hated any character we wouldn’t watch them week after week. Where’s the fun in that? We watch them because they say the things we only think but are too afraid to vocalize. They do the things we would never dare do. They surprise and shock us with how far they’ll go to be self-serving. We watch them because we want to see what they’ll do next.

That is way too much effort to put into someone we hate.

What disreputable characters do you love to watch? Why? Can you relate to them in any way? Leave a comment below!

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