In the new crime comedy series Backstrom, Rainn Wilson plays a brilliant detective who is also a jackass. The promotional billboards for the show actually depict Wilson as the “i” in the word “dick.”
This got us thinking: Just how many television characters are defined by the way they balance intelligence and arrogance? We've tallied up all of the nastiest masterminds on TV today and located them on our semi-definitive, fully objectionable Genius-Asshole Matrix.
In compiling this list, two things became apparent: One, there are an overwhelming number of television characters who fit the Genius-Jerk mold; and two, the definition of “jerk” is extremely subjective. It seemed that the more people we polled on this subject, the more convoluted our (highly unscientific) data became. The placement of the Sherlocks, for example, was a point of serious contention: Those who liked the Elementary Holmes found that Cumberbatch's version of the character was unbearable, while fans of Sherlock could hardly stomach Jonny Lee Miller. For every person who thought The Big Bang Theory's Sheldon Cooper was the most annoying character on TV, another declared him the most lovable.
The levels of “genius” were difficult to determine as well, as each of the characters below each has his or her own area of expertise. Can we really compare the brains of a surgeon and a serial killer? A CIA agent and a politician? Without IQ tests, we're left with a lot of conjecture. It's also worth noting that many of these characters come from a procedural background: Doctors, detectives and lawyers abound. It seems the anti-hero thrives best in an environment where he or she has the opportunity to “win” each episode, whether by curing a disease, solving a crime or proving victorious in court. It's easy to root for a champion, no matter how many bridges are burned along the way.
Of course, these are only the biggest name characters on shows that are currently running, which is lucky for us: Wherever would we have put Breaking Bad's Walter White? Perhaps we'll just save a space for Saul Goodman and his new spinoff, Better Call Saul. There's bound to be room for him somewhere…
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