6 Reasons Why Evil TV Characters Appeal To Good Viewers

evil characters that we love

My worldview consists of the belief that humanity is basically good.

No, I am not so naïve as to be blind to the latent evil in some people, but I think that constitutes the minority, not the majority. And, I count myself among the good. Sure, I have my evil moments – just ask my family. But in general, I strive to contribute in a positive way to this planet.

So, with that background, I was wondering why I seem to be drawn to certain evil characters on TV. By drawn to, I mean I look forward to when they are on a given show, and enjoy watching them as their evil plans unfurl, usually with a smirk!

I have come up with six reasons that resonate for me, and hope that perhaps they might do the same for you, or if not, maybe you have other reasons if you are drawn to certain evil characters.

1. Danger

I am, in general, a cautious person. I don’t take a lot of daring chances. Instead, I like to watch others take the chances I’m too afraid to take on myself. So, while our heroes can also fill that need in me, hanging out with the bad guy is just plain dangerous and thrilling.

Certainly, most people that stay around evil characters for any length of time usually end up dead, but they sure look like they are enjoying it, up to the point when the evil character turns on them and ends their relationship. In fact, it seems that this is a common occurrence, where the bad guys turn on each other and start shooting, or the main bad guy uses the henchmen as fodder to allow his/her escape. Who would not want to visit a pub with Badger (Mark Sheppard) from Firefly, and share a pint or two?

2. Back Stories

If the evil character is recurring, then for many of them we have an opportunity to learn some of their history and the influences in their lives. This leads to a grayness to their evil, making them sometimes a sympathetic character and completely changing our view of them.

For me, one of my favorite evil characters that turned into a sympathetic character was Victor (Michael Shanks) in Burn Notice. When we first met him, he was a cold blooded, demented maniac, who seemed to look forward to killing someone. But, as his story arc played out we learned why he behaved as he did, and by the time he died, I was in tears watching it.

3. Looks

Ok, so let’s just admit it – looks do play a part. When the person with that evil leer is visually stunning, it is hard to not find something, anything, to like. I think this makes the visceral reaction to gorgeous evil understandable.

There are so many good examples of this. For instance, there is Ba’al (Cliff Simon) in Stargate SG-1. Not only is he gorgeous, but his wardrobe is amazing in an over-the-top sort of way. With his understated evil smirk, and his fluidity of movement, he is impossible to resist.

4. Honest Dialogue

They frequently make observations about humanity, and about our hero or heroes, that no one else is willing to say. I’m not against politeness, but sometimes you just want to blurt out the truth, consequences be darned. Evil characters don’t care about etiquette, so can speak with impunity.

Consider the character Q (John de Lancie), from Star Trek: The Next Generation. While he sometimes ended up helping, he certainly did not mince words in his criticisms of humanity, and in particular of the officers and crew of the Enterprise-D. He could always be counted on for brutally honest assessments.

5. Funny.

An evil character with a sense of humor or irony is just, well, a good source of comic relief. There can be mayhem one moment, and the next you are laughing out loud at the things they say.

I always look forward to an appearance by Nikola Tesla (Jonathon Young) on Sanctuary. Amid all the chaos that seems to accompany him, he still finds time for snarky comments that just plain make me laugh.

6. They just don’t care.

Truly, they do not care about anything beyond their evil plot or whatever they are doing. They don’t care about collateral damage, innocents being killed, or the earth being destroyed. Speaking as someone that does care about most everything, that seems to be a pretty freeing concept, to not have to worry about others.

I think this trait fits Sylar (Zachary Quinto) from Heroes very well. In his early quest to gain super human powers from other, he coldly slaughtered them without showing any feeling at all.

For all of these reasons I find myself drawn to characters that defy my view of myself. I still love the heroes, and relish watching them triumph over the evil perpetrated, but what a fun ride it is watching the bad guys!

Please let me know in the comments below if you have some other examples or even different reasons for liking evil characters.