Like any other medium, the stories told on American television often rely on villains. After all, on TV shows ranging from Westerns to police dramas to spy dramas, there often has to be some villain with some scheme to set events in motion. Despite the fact that American television has been dominated by series with continuing characters, however, the medium has only produced a few memorable villains. I thought, then, that I should create a list of the top ten greatest television villains of all time. These are the baddest of the bad, those villains I feel will go down in the annals of television history.
In creating this list I set down some ground rules. First, the villains had to originate on television. For that reason you won't see any Batman villains listed here. After all, they originated in comic books. It is also why Albert Swearengen of Deadwood did not make this list--he is a historical personage. Second, the villains had to appear more than once on a television series. It is for that reason that Khan Noonien Singh (played beautifully by Ricardo Montalban), the villain of both the Star Trek episode "Space Seed" and the movie Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan does not appear on this list. Although a great villain, his second appearance was in the movies. Third, they had to appear on American television. Certainly British television has created its share of great villains, but I wanted to limit the scope of this article to villains originating on American TV series.
Anyhow, without further ado, here are the top ten greatest villains of American television....
1. Dr. Miguelito Loveless (Michael Dunn--The Wild Wild West): On the majority of spy dramas of the Sixties, most of the villains would appear only once. They would develop some scheme to threaten national or even international security, have their scheme thwarted by the heroes, and then they would never be heard from again. An exception to this rule was The Wild Wild West, a spy drama that was also a Western and a Jules Verne fantasy. On that series two villains did make return appearances to battle Secret Service Agents James West (Robert Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin). One was Count Manzeppi, played by Victor Buono, who faced the two Western superspies twice. The other was the Napoleon of the West, Dr. Miguelito Loveless, who squared off against West and Gordon no less than eight times in the course of the series.
The creation of producer Fred Freiberger and writer John Kneubuhl, the idea of Dr. Loveless came about because they thought actor and singer Michael Dunn would make a great villain for the show. The character they created for him was that of a mad scientist, bent on conquering the world (starting with the American West). Although it was never outlined on the show, the back story of Dr. Loveless was that he was the son of a Mexican woman descended from Spanish dons and an American man who ultimately robbed Miguelito of his rightful inheritance. Robbed of what was rightfully his and diminutive in stature, Dr. Loveless is then angry at the whole world. Although small in size, Dr. Loveless is both colossal in his intellect and in the extent of his evil. Among other things, he created the world's most powerful explosive, plotted to wipe out humanity with a potion that causes madness, and schemed to destroy all life in the West with a special chemical. The plots of Dr.Loveless were literally Bondian in scope, and they have remained unmatched in the history of television. When it comes to bad guys, Dr. Miguelito Loveless, West and Gordon's archnemesis, could put Goldfinger and Dr. No to shame.
2. Jim Profit (Adrian Pasdar--Profit): In the history of American television, I suspect there is only one villain who was also the protagonist of his TV show. That villain would be Jim Profit, the main character of the all too short lived TV series Profit. Airing briefly on Fox in 1996, there was never a TV show like it before and there never has been a TV show like it since. And there has never been a villain like Jim Profit before or since. Profit was educated, intelligent, handsome, and charming. He also happened to be a sociopath. Worse yet, he was a sociopath with real power. Growing up under the worst of conditions. Profit finally worked his way into the position of President of Acquisitions at Gracen and Gracen, a large multinational corporation. From there he would do literally anything, no mater how immoral or even illegal, to attain his goals--namely becoming the power behind the throne at Gracen and Gracen. Although he sometimes failed in his schemes, he was never caught. Cunning to the core, Profit always managed to cover things up.
Among other things, Jim Profit murdered his own father, framed the former President of Acquisitions at Gracen and Gracen so that he would spend a long time in jail, and blackmailed his archnemesis's psychiatrist. And that is the just the tip of the iceberg. It is little wonder that Profit lasted so briefly. The show was perhaps far too shocking for audiences in 1996. Even now, after Deadwood and The Sopranos, it can be very strong stuff.
3. Simon Barsinister (voiced by Allen Swift--Underdog): Mad scientists have always made the best villains. Captain Marvel's archnemesis, Dr. Sivana, was a mad scientist, as was Superman's archnemesis, Lex Luthor. It should come as no surprise, then, that the primary opponent of that champion of champions, Underdog, would also be a mad scientist. In both voice and appearance, Simon Barsinister was designed after Lionel Barrymore, perhaps most famous for playing Mr. Potter in It's a Wonderful Life. But Simon Barsinister had a mean streak that made Mr. Potter look positively kind in contrast. Assisted by his oversized henchman Cad, Simon's goal was world conquest. To this end he developed some of the most nefarious inventions ever seen on television: a shrinking potion, a net that induces amnesia (the "Forget-Me-Net"). a machine that turns people into Valentines, and even a vacuum gun. Perhaps only Simon Barsinister could united all of Underdog's rouge's gallery to battle the champion of champions. While other supervillains might be content to rob banks, Simon Barsinister would not rest until he ruled the world, even if he had to kill Underdog to do it.
4. Charles Montgomery Burns (voiced by Harry Sheareer--The Simpsons): Not all supervillains want to rob banks or rule the world. Some are content to simply run a nuclear power plant and make wads of money. This is certainly the case with Charles Montgomery Burns, more simply known as Mr. Burns. By far the richest and most powerful citizen of Springfield, Mr. Burns ignores safety when it comes to his employees' work place, shows absolutely no concern for the environment, has no qualms about cheating honest citizens out of their money, and at one point even manufactured biological weapons. He routinely bribes, blackmails, or threatens important officials to get his way. Like Jim Profit, he represents the worst of Corporate America. Perhaps his greatest plot was blocking the sun from the city of Springfield so as to force the citizens of the town to use even more energy. References to Mr. Burns' association with the Devil occur from time to time--he once sold his soul to Satan for eternal life and incredible wealth, and Mr. Smithers once said that Burns had an appointment with the "Prince of Darkness." Given the magnitude of Mr. Burns' evil, he probably has a direct hot line to Hell.
5. Spike (James Marsters--Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel): Not all villains are driven by greed for money or lust for power. Some simply want to have fun. this is the case of Spike, the vampire who would battle both Buffy and Angel in their respective series. Spike is perhaps best described as extremely individualistic, living by his own rules rather than that of society. Of course, if this means taking a few lives or harming a few innocents, what does that matter? Despite these flaws, Spike is perhaps more human than any vampire on either Buffy the Vampire Slayer or its spinoff Angel. Despite his tendency to live life by his own rules, Spike does have his own sense of honour. He also has a strong sense of loyalty and even the capacity to love. Indeed, many of his actions are even guided for his love for various women (at first the vampire Drusilla and then later Buffy herself). It is perhaps for this reason that Spike eventually became a hero and even aided Buffy and later Angel in their battle against the forces of evil. Unlike many on this list, Spike is not a good villain because of a penchant for evil doing, but because of his capacity to do good.
6. The Brain (voiced by Maurice LaMarche--Pinky and the Brain): The past many years there have many who have voiced concerns about genetic engineering. And here is a concern that is not often expressed in the newspapers or on television news programes--we could well genetically engineer a mouse with the genius to take over the world... Such is the case of the Brain, a genetically altered mouse with a genius IQ and a lust for power. Every night, from his cage in Acme Labs, the Brain launches some plot to conquer the world. Among other things, he has tried to use a voice modulator to control the minds of humans (becoming a radio actor to do so), founded his own island nation to finagle the United States out of millions in foreign aid, created a hypnotic "Noodle-Noggin Doll" in an attempt at world conquest, and even tried to create an army of his own clones. The Brain might well have succeeded in any of this schemes were it not for his hencman, Pinky. Given Pinky's lack of intelligence, one has to suspect the only alteration to his DNA was the gift of human speech. Again and again, Pinky foils the Brain's plans, either through his own stupidity or his own good nature. One has to suppose that if the Brain has one failing as a villain, it is that he insists on keeping Pinky as his employee...
7. Siegfried (Bernie Koppell--Get Smart): The Vice President of Public Relations and Terror for criminal spy organisation KAOS, Siegfried was the archnemesis of Maxwell Smart, Agent 86 for Control. More often than not, Siegfried was trying to kill Max. Despite this fact, the two seem to have real affection for each other, talking about various subjects even as they were engaged in battle. This was perhaps a most unusual relationship for two opponents, but then in the world of Get Smart, it must be pointed out that both were just doing their jobs. In the case of Siegfried, this was carrying out the various schemes of KAOS, of which there were many. Among other things, Siegfried held the Chief of Control for ransom, put out a $25,000 contract on Max's life, used a duplicate of Max to infiltrate Control, and attempted to use a chemical that will wipe out almost all of the United States' potato crop. Like many villains, Siegfried had a none too bright henchman in the form of Shtarker. Unlike many villains, Siegfried's schemes sometimes went awry because of his own ineptitude rather than that of his henchmen...
8. Angelique (Lara Parker--Dark Shadows): Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. In 1895 Barnabas Collins was happy mortal. who just happened to have an affair with a woman named Angelique while in Martinque (yes, I know that rhymes--blame the writers of Dark Shadows). Sadly, Angelique would later turn up as the maid of his betrothed, Josette du Pres. Worse yet, Angelique also happened to be a witch. Angered that Barnabas was to marry Josette instead of her, she initially does such things as curse Barnabas' sister Sarah and then tries to blackmail Barnabas into marrying her. Ultimately, Angelique would curse Barnabas, resulting in the poor bloke becoming a vampire. Unfortunately, that was not the end of Angelique's schemes. She would later show up in 20th century Collinsport. plotting revenge against Barnabas. In this she was aided by warlock Nicholas Blair (another great television villain), who even had meetings with the Devil (not unlike a certain Charles Montgomery Burns...). Among other things, she killed the Frankensteinian creation Adam, turned Barnabas back into a vampire after he had been cured, and cursed Maggie Evans (the woman Barnabas loved). Without Angelique, Collinsport would not have been nearly as interesting a place.
9. Ray Luca (Anthony Denison--Crime Story): Unlike many of the villains on this list, Ray Luca could almost have existed in real life. In fact, he was loosely based on Chicago mobster Anthony Spilotro. Like Spilotro, Luca started out committing burglaries for the Outfit (the Chicago criminal organisation). and like Spilotro, Luca also rose swiftly in the ranks of the Outfit, ultimately becoming their representative in Las Vegas. Unlike Spilotro, Luca went farther than many in the Outfit in reality ever have. The archnemesis of Detective Mike Torello, head of the Chicago Police Department's CIU, Luca rose from head of a burglary crew to one of the major players of the Outfit. Ultimately, his talent for crime would lead to Luca becoming the Las Vegas head of the Outfit. Naturally, Torello would follow him, this time in charge of a Department of Justice task force investigating organised crime in Las Vegas. Among other things, Luca blew up a number of rivals in the mob, murdered the father of attorney David Abrams, had an affair with the wife of one of his lieutenants and then tried to kill that lieutenant, raped his best friend's girl friend, and even survived an atomic bomb test. More so than other villains in this list, Luca is frightening because he could actually exist and because he is more than willing to use the most extreme violence to achieve his ends.
10. Scorpius (Wayne Pygram--Farscape): Scorpius is man with a mission. A hybrid of the humanoid Sebaceans and the not so humanoid Scarrans, he is a Peacekeeper officer bent on capturing Earth man John Crichton and drawing the secret of wormhole technology from his brain. Gifted with an extreme intellect and the patience of Job, Scorpius' plans for wormhole technology is essentially to use it in weapons. To this end, he not only tortures Crichton, but even implants a chip in his brain to discover the secret of wormhole technology. And while Scorpius later allies himself with Crichton and the crew of Moya, he is still only looking out for his own interests. Scorpius is a villain essentially out of his own selfishness and his own single minded desire to achieve his goals. Although not particularly violent, he is not a particularly pleasant individual either...