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The 20 Best TV Villains of the 21st Century

Killers, kingpins, turncoats, and a couple of horrible bosses: the on-screen characters we love to despise.

Best TV Villains of 21st Century

15. Arthur Mitchell, “Dexter”

John Lithgow has played loving patriarchs, iconic heads of state, and even the odd extraterrestrial or two. But no role allowed him to tap into his sinister side more than the Trinity Killer in the fourth season of “Dexter.” It was a textbook role-within-a-role made for someone who could be just as convincing pretending to be a family man as a murderer. Arthur Mitchell showed that even among fictional killers, there’s a hierarchy of evil. As the season-long struggle between assumed identities and endangered loved ones raged on, it also made perfectly clear just how much Dexter stood to lose if he was ever caught. It all capped off with a grisly, memorable season finale that somehow upped the level of bloodshed on a show that was already drenched in it.

14. Professor Doofenschmirtz, “Phineas and Ferb”

Curse you, Perry the Platypus! Heinz Doofenshmirtz, voiced by “Phineas and Ferb” co-creator Dan Povenmire, just wants to take over the Tri-State area. Perry and the Organization Without a Cool Acronym (OWCA) are there to thwart the eeevil scientist — but Doof is ultimately his own enemy, as his “-inators” always, ultimately, have a self-destruct button. The leader of Doofenshmirtz Evil Incorporated, he’s really just looking for some respect to overcome his depressing childhood (he lived alone with ocelots in his native Drusselstein and was always overshadowed by his brother). A single dad, Doof cares about impressing his daughter when he’s not truly coming up with another invention to take over the world.

13. Number Six, “Battlestar Galactica”

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Sci-Fi Channel/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5886263bq)James Callis, Tricia HelferBattlestar Galactica - 2003Director: Michael RymerSci-Fi ChannelUSATelevision

The humanoid Cylon, played by Tricia Helfer, made a lasting impression when first introduced — snapping a baby’s neck in what has been explained as a mercy killing. Nonetheless, depending on the model — Caprica Six, Gina Inviere, Natalie Faust, and more — her ability to slide up and down the personality scale, from a sociopathic villainy to empathy, makes Number Six the most unpredictable of villains.

12. Grant Grunderschmidt, “Review”

Many of the characters on this list are monsters because of the havoc they wreak on entire neighborhoods, families, and even countries. Grant’s laser-focused attempts to create a tragically compelling TV show at the complete expense of one person is another thing entirely. Just when Forrest MacNeil‘s stalwart producer seems like he’s finally grasped a bit of humanity and shown mercy to his reviewer of life, that fourth wall-breaking, direct-to-camera smirk shows that he’s the true puppetmaster responsible for all of Forrest’s destruction. Like a Bond villain or a Sherlock Holmes nemesis, Grant seemingly came back from the dead for the show’s final season, where when presented with the opportunity for mercy, slyly doubled down on his own tricks. James Urbaniak always had Grant’s monstrous underpinnings carefully calibrated, a perfect example of what made “Review” compelling and tragic in equal part.

11. Kilgrave, “Marvel’s Jessica Jones”

Marvel's Jessica Jones

As news of powerful men committing heinous sexual harassment and assaults dominate the headlines, the story behind Netflix’s “Marvel’s Jessica Jones” resonates even more. As fiendishly played by David Tennant, Kilgrave is most frightening in how he can use mind control and other tricks to force people to do things beyond their power. Kilgrave kept Jessica Jones under his spell, and abused her for a long time before she found a way to regain control herself. Kilgrave will be back in Season 2, because these issues are sadly not going away any time soon.

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