Why is it that when people think of anti-heroes, no one looks to comedy for any great characters? Perhaps it’s because when we think of anti-heroes, the idea of such characters [consistently] making us laugh seems contradictory. After all, anti-heroes are supposed to be those characters that are the good bad guys, characters who are in the gray zone and don’t follow a clear moral path. But who says comedic television hasn’t given us such entertaining ambiguity? Here are five characters that prove comedic anti-heroes do exist.
While he is, by no means, a character you can ever take seriously, Aziz Ansari’s Tom Haverford is the anti-hero of the Pawnee Parks and Recreation Department. Some may think of Ron Swanson as a better candidate, but Ron is not nearly as self-centered as Tom. Not only does Tom not care about his government job, but he’s always coming up with get-rich-quick schemes, which all inevitably fail (i.e. Entertainment 720, Tommy Fresh cologne, Talking Tissues and Rent-a-Swag, just to name a few). There’s a soft spot within Tom that keeps him from ever becoming too terrible of a person, and his co-workers consistently show support for him, even though he abuses what little amount of public power he has for his own benefit.
Jane Krakoswki’s Jenna sees herself as THE A-lister everyone should love. She’ll do just about anything if it will get her attention, from locking herself in her dressing room to flashing the audience at an awards show. This is a woman who’s initially attracted to her husband because he’s a Jenna Maroney impersonator, giving her the opportunity to be in a relationship with “herself.” Not only does she crave attention, but she’s constantly jealous of everyone around her, whether it’s her co-star Tracy Morgan or even her best (tolerating) friend Liz Lemon. Jenna is in a perpetual state of want and self-worship—which makes it easy to abhor her, and simultaneously adore her.
A good bad guy if there ever was one, even his own friends sometimes think of him as a terrible person. Barney (played by Neil Patrick Harris) claims to have slept with over 200 women and rarely views them as anything other than sex objects. At one point in the series, his best friend Ted even temporarily ends their friendship because he slept with Ted’s ex-girlfriend. He lies to most of the women he hits on, making up stories and/or aliases to get them to sleep with him, and throughout the series, Barney struggles with the idea of commitment versus a promiscuous lifestyle. It’s only when he has a baby daughter that he changes for the better, but it took nine seasons to get him to that point.
While Selina may not murder her way to the presidency, she’s basically the comedic alternative to Frank Underwood’s power-hungry politician. She has a terrible relationship with her daughter, and she treats most of her underling workers with little regard, even though they bend over backwards to serve her. When she does seem to care about other people, it’s almost exclusively because it’s beneficial to her—it’s all a mask as she merely pretends to be an upstanding politician. The reality of Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s character is that, while she puts on the public persona of a for-the-people, wonderful leader, she only cares about her legacy as a politician.
Will Arnett perfectly captures the classic anti-hero character stuck in a comedy series. Gob is consistently jealous of his younger brother Michael, and seeks their father’s approval as the better son. He feels misunderstood as a magician performing tricks (illusions) and believes he should (be asked to) lead the family. Every now and then, Gob is presented with an opportunity to do the right thing, and while he contemplates doing just that, he ultimately ends up going the other way, believing it will better serve himself. Even though most members of the Bluth family are selfish, self-righteous and deprecating, Gob is by far the most antagonistic of them all, and we love/hate him for it.