The men behind TV's best bad guys

How the anti-heroes of today's TV mirror the men who wrote them

The Sopranos
The Sopranos
The Wire
The Wire
Mad Men
Mad Men
Breaking Bad
Breaking Bad

We preview American author Brett Martin’s new book Difficult Men, which explores the correlation between some of TV’s biggest protagonists and the writers who created them.

In Difficult Men, first-time US author Brett Martin charts the ongoing golden age of TV drama via the best of the genre’s badly behaving boys, as well as the men who gave birth to them. Here’s what to expect.

The Sopranos

Anti-hero: Tony Soprano
The renaissance started with this neurotic mob boss, a family man plagued by literal life-or-death oedipal issues, unchecked appetites and the perpetual sensation that he ‘came in at the end’ of the good old days. Martin’s kick-off anecdote about the show’s sensitive star disappearing for a few days now takes on an extra level of poignancy with the recent death of James Gandolfini.

The creator: David Chase
Chase could be just as mercurial as his small-screen avatar, with Martin relating a story about the showrunner saying he’d never feel alive unless he killed a man with his bare hands.

The Wire

Anti-hero: Jimmy McNulty
The closest thing this five-season portrait of a modern city had to a lead character was Dominic West’s self-destructive police detective. Pick any random episode and you are likely to see the Irish-American cop disobeying a direct order, alienating his friends and downing alcoholic beverages to excess. That’s not to mention the womanising and violence. It is a surprise he manages to find time for any police work at all.

The creator:
David Simon
Simon may not have been as big a mess as the show’s No. 1 precinct rogue, but this former journalist for the Baltimore Sun could be just as righteous and determined to get his way by any means necessary. He comes across in the book as a man who takes pleasure in arguing – about a script, the show’s direction or even what to have for lunch.

Mad Men

Anti-hero: Don Draper
Sure, the man looks dashing in his suit and tie, a cigarette in one hand and a highball in the other. But make no mistake: The resident genius of this show’s ’60s ad agency hides several lifetimes of dysfunction beneath his smooth surface. Not even the arguably handsomest-actor-ever Jon Hamm can keep folks from cringing whenever this serial adulterer goes to the dark side.

The creator: Matthew Weiner
Having done time in the Sopranos’ writing room, Weiner understands what it takes to make good TV – namely, working in the service of a single visionary. And Weiner never hesitates to remind folks of his place in the great-showrunners lineage, whether it’s the network suits who said no to him ages ago or underlings who gripe about sharing a script’s credit with him. His talent is surpassed only by his ego – does that sound familiar?

Breaking Bad

Anti-hero: Walter White
Handed what seemed to be a death sentence – a late-stage cancer diagnosis – this mild-mannered chemistry teacher was just doing what he had to in order to make sure his family was taken care of. That White has gone from rinky-dink cook to being ‘the one who knocks’ in record time attests to the alpha-beast in him all along.

The creator: Vince Gilligan
Unlike the other artists featured in the book, this former writer on The X-Files comes off as well-adjusted and fairly amiable – making it that much more shocking that the soft-spoken Texan dreamed up a disturbing show about ‘Mr Chips turning into Scarface.’ Gilligan had clearly envisioned White turning into a near-malevolent embodiment of the American Dream from the get-go.
Difficult Men, from Dhs70, available at

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