Celebrating the Anti-Hero
The golden age of television that we are currently enjoying began with wonderful anti-heroes like Tony Soprano, Walter White, Don Draper and Stringer Bell. Every week, we watched them evade discovery or capture, wondering if, when and where they might answer for their crimes. Since all their stories have come to an end, the industry keeps giving us new variations on the folks you love to hate. Some of the newest anti-hero protagonists are definitely worth your time.
The 19th century era drama Taboo premiered on FX in January and stars former Oscar nominee Tom Hardy. Hardy, who had a hand in creating the show, plays James Delaney, a man recently returned to London 15 years after disappearing in Africa. Delaney, believed dead after a slave ship sank, returns to society abruptly on the day of his rich, crazy father’s funeral. This resurrection causes all sorts of trouble, for he was the designated heir of all his father’s property. Delaney immediately becomes a villain to his sister, the East India Tea Company and perhaps all of England, who want the land in America he now owns. Meanwhile, Delaney has his own secrets and agenda, including plans to avenge his father’s murder. Taboo is a beautiful-looking show, though 19th century London seems like a disgusting, unwashed and immoral place.
THE YOUNG Pope (HBO)
In The Young Pope star Jude Law portrays the recently elected Pope Pius XIII, the first American pontiff and, at age 47 a very young one. Cardinals in the Vatican believe his inexperience will make him easy to manipulate. But viewers are shown that this is not the case. The new pope was once a streetwise orphan named Lenny, and he is cold, calculating and defensive. His dreams suggest he has very forward ideas about sin, divorce, masturbation and suicide. Also, he may not even believe in God. It remains uncertain if he wants to save the Church, use it to his own advantage or destroy it. Law, though not at all a convincing American, is at his most compelling when he is sneaky. Diane Keaton brings a wariness to her role as a matronly nun and adviser. The politics of the Vatican are unfamiliar territory for TV; it is hard to tell where this show might go.
SNEAKY PETE (Amazon)
Amazon recently released the full first season of its new series Sneaky Pete, starring Giovanni Ribisi, Margo Martindale and Bryan Cranston. Though its tale of a small-time con artist released from prison and on the run from a crime boss has smaller stakes than the other shows mentioned, Sneaky Pete is damn fun. Under showrunner Graham Yost (Justified), Ribisi’s character Marius steals his old cellmate’s identity and goes to stay with that man’s grandparents until he can pay all his old debts. Cranston, who co-created this show, plays the Big Bad. But the best part of this show is Martindale, playing Pete’s grandmother - who runs a bail bond agency, suffers no fools and does not trust this stranger in her house. Sneaky Pete is highly binge-worthy, filled with humor and suspense. Its con game should last for years.