Breaking Good: How Fargo Changed Cable’s Antihero Game

TIME

“I liked it. I was good at it. And really–I was alive.” –Walter White

“Well, the old Lester, now he would’ve just, well, let it slide. But not this guy.” –Lester Nygaard

For the past decade or so, the story of ambitious TV drama has been the story of antiheroes: protagonists (usually though not always men) who complicated the traditional categories of hero and villain. It could be Don Draper–deep-feeling and dedicated at work, insensitive crapball at home. (Or sometimes vice versa.) Rescue Me‘s Tommy Gavin, selfless hero, selfish heel. Captivating mob bosses, corrupt but effective cops, devious but philosophical Old-West crime lords.

The antihero was, among other things, a way of solving a storytelling problem: how do you break from the tired formula of good guys against bad guys while building a narrative around a protagonist people will want to keep watching for years? Those stories have been…

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