Most television audiences are familiar with characters like Walter White from Breaking Bad, Jax Teller from Sons of Anarchy and Daryl Dixon from The Walking Dead. Without a doubt, these guys are well known for being arguably, some of the most popular examples of badass characters on television. But there are plenty of others who can easily match up to these favorites. This list is for a few of those underrated protagonists who belong to shows that still don’t get enough buzz. From spies, to thugs, to cops, these five underrated characters deserve to be recognized for their independence, skill and straight-up badassery.
1. John Reese, Person of Interest (CBS)
Jim Caviezel plays a former CIA operative, using the alias John Reese, who’s hired by a secluded billionaire named Finch to stop crimes in the city of New York with the help of a government surveillance system. The series was created by Christopher Nolan’s brother, Jonathan Nolan (a co-writer on most of Christopher Nolan’s films). And Reese is like a Batman, without the cape and gadgets. Known by the NYPD as the Man in the Suit, Reese acts as a vigilante working outside the law to protect people. Were it not for his partner/employer Finch, Reese would potentially be more of a loose cannon when it comes to fighting bad guys. While Reese does have a moral compass, he’s also not afraid to kill if he has to—and will do so without hesitation (he is a trained assassin after all). Throughout the series, other characters have joined Reese and Finch’s team and could easily match up against Reese, although he remains the primary protagonist of the series. There would be no Person of Interest without him, and if for some reason he were to die, there’s no way he’d go down easy.
2. Jane Doe, Blindspot (NBC)
The newest series on this list, Blindspot focuses on a mysterious woman (played by Jaimie Alexander) who wakes up in Times Square covered in tattoos from the neck down, with no recollection of who she is. Realizing her tattoos are clues to unsolved cases, the FBI works with her to find out who she is and the significance of her entire bizarre situation. She’s an especially exciting character because, not only is she a mystery to the audience, but she’s a mystery to herself as well, taking us along for the ride as she discovers abilities she never knew she had. Whether it’s being able to speak Mandarin, or being an expert in hand-to-hand combat, or knowing how to fly a helicopter, there’s always more to Jane than meets the eye. From these odd experiences, she’s slowly becoming more confident in herself and, as a result, becoming a stronger character as the series progresses.
3. Cullen Bohannon, Hell on Wheels (AMC)
Having completed the first half of its fifth and final season this past summer, it’s surprising Hell on Wheels lasted this long, and that is in no doubt due to the strength of its protagonist, Anson Mount’s Cullen Bohannon. A former Confederate soldier who originally heads out west to work on the Transcontinental Railroad in search of the men who murdered his wife and child, Bohannon remained the most compelling element on a show that heavily evolved from its pilot to its current season. He’s the typical Western anti-hero who’s good with a gun, and it’s never dull to seem him in action. Over the seasons, his personal motivations change and his character goes through hell and back again—largely due to his arch nemesis, the Swede. Peace and happiness may never be achieved by Bohannon; throughout the series he is constantly losing his friends and loved ones. In this way, Hell on Wheels definitely takes a Game of Thrones approach, where any character is within death’s reach. And while other characters have come and gone, Bohannon is one who’s always ready to fight tooth and nail for survival.
4. Thomas Shelby, Peaky Blinders (Netflix)
Described by some as the British Boardwalk Empire, Peaky Blinders follows the criminal activities of the Shelby clan in Birmingham, England in the early 20th century, led by Cillian Murphy’s Thomas Shelby. Shelby is exactly the type of anti-hero you would expect in a gangster drama. He’s ruthless, and is never one to back away from a brawl. Perhaps the only thing that separates him from all the other bad men in the series is his loyalty to his family. That may sound typical—the gangster who puts family first—but this love is explored in some incredibly fascinating ways. The show takes it name from the razors Shelby and his gang members sew into the peaks of their caps, which they use in fights. Indeed, he leads a family bound by love and loyalty, and this is definitely a family you don’t want to cross. When Shelby is out for blood, that’s exactly what he gets.
5. John Luther, Luther (BBC)
If you’ve ever wondered why people have said Idris Elba should be the first black James Bond, watch Luther and it’ll all make sense. No, he doesn’t go around drinking martinis, or bedding random women. Think more along the lines of the darkness and grittiness of Daniel Craig’s Bond, and you’ll get a good idea of what John Luther is like. He’s a detective who solves terrifying cases in London, and while he’s not exactly a dirty cop, he’s a cop who’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. Luther’s a tortured soul who experiences unfortunate events that keep hurting the people he loves—all of which causes him to live in a very dark world, externally and internally. What makes this cop character even more extraordinary in this TV landscape is his will they/won’t they relationship with a psychopathic killer. And while Luther’s morals and the choices he makes certainly fall along the gray areas of right and wrong, he’s always looking out for the best interests of the innocent people he’s sworn to protect.