Underrated Prestige TV Villains That Truly Get Under Your Skin

Over 60 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of Underrated Prestige TV Villains That Truly Get Under Your Skin
Voting Rules
Vote up the characters who belong in the top tier of prestige TV villains.

Many elements come together to form the “prestige” of prestige TV drama. Great writing, moving performances, and distinct setting and costumes are all important for a show to resonate with audiences. One key ingredient to the depth of a fictional universe is a roster of memorable antagonists for viewers to root against.

Whether plotting theatrical capers like a comic book supervillain, or more subtle like the scheming villains on Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad, villains come in many forms. While the most eye-catching TV villains get the love they deserve, some performances go largely underrated. Though they may be overshadowed by other antagonists that have splashier appearances or stick around for longer, the villains on this list are the greatest under-the-radar foes from prestige TV.

Photo: AMC / HBO

  • V.M. Varga, 'Fargo'
    Photo: FX

    Viewers who know David Thewlis as the kindly Remus Lupin from the Harry Potter series were likely shocked when he was cast as the main villain in the third season of Fargo. It quickly became apparent just how great Thewlis was at playing the terrifying villain V.M. Varga. 

    Varga is a mysterious crime lord who slowly takes over protagonist Emmit Stussy’s parking business over the course of the season. The extent of his power is unknown, as are his goals beyond making money. In addition to his obscured motives, Varga is unique among Fargo villains for several reasons. He was the first main villain to have his henchmen do all his dirty work, as well as the first to survive his season, leaving audiences wondering what other wrongdoing he might be up to.

    16 votes
  • Lorne Malvo, 'Fargo'
    Photo: FX

    When it was announced that the Coen Brothers’ film Fargo would be loosely adapted into a TV show, many people doubted it could recapture the same magic as the movie. The first season made it clear that Fargo worked just as well, if not better, as a series. One of the big contributing factors to this successful debut was Billy Bob Thornton’s intimidating Season 1 villain Lorne Malvo.

    Malvo is a hitman who is just as skilled at controlling lives as he is at ending them. He kills so casually that it’s clear he barely even thinks twice about it anymore, and anyone who gets mixed up with him is in serious danger. Malvo makes a strong first impression by killing a man solely because he wasn’t told not to - and he only gets scarier from there. Even with plenty of notable antagonists in later seasons of Fargo, Malvo deserves mention for the fear he brought to the show.

    40 votes
  • 3
    21 VOTES

    George Hearst, 'Deadwood'

    George Hearst, 'Deadwood'
    Photo: HBO

    Deadwood’s George Hearst is a fictionalized version of the real-life father of William Randolph Hearst, who found wealth and influence through his mining business. If the poor character of Hearst’s employee, Francis Wolcott, isn’t enough to make it clear that the mining magnate has questionable morals, Hearst makes it clear through his own actions.

    When Hearst arrives in Deadwood, he hopes to buy up all the gold prospects in the area, but he's just as happy to destroy the whole camp if he can’t have it for himself. Hearst stops at nothing to keep his business successful, even killing his own workers when they attempt to unionize. Even though Hearst isn’t often present on screen, his ever-present influence makes him one of the show’s most enduring threats.

    21 votes
  • 4
    43 VOTES

    Lalo, 'Better Call Saul'

    Lalo, 'Better Call Saul'
    Photo: AMC

    Between Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, there are plenty of bad guys involved in the drug trade throughout New Mexico - even Walter White can be considered a villain to some people. While masterminds like Gus Fring with his meticulously managed meth cartel may get the most attention from fans, his equally impressive rival Lalo Salamanca deserves the same.

    Lalo may be the most charming villain between the two shows, appearing cheery and good-natured right up until he pulls his gun. His clever methods are deliver some excellent scenes from Better Call Saul, like when he climbs through the ceiling tiles to get the drop on an unsuspecting employee that he needs information from. Though Gus comes out on top in their long-term rivalry, Lalo is a clever and compelling character every minute he's on screen.

    43 votes
  • 5
    41 VOTES

    Ed Kemper, 'Mindhunter'

    Ed Kemper, 'Mindhunter'
    Photo: Netflix

    Unlike many villains on this list, Mindhunter’s Ed Kemper is chilling due to one simple fact: he is a real person. Dubbed the Co-ed Killer, Kemper killed a total of 10 women, including his own mother. Kemper was also known to engage in necrophilia with the bodies of his victims.

    As if simply knowing a real person committed those crimes wasn’t enough, Mindhunter somehow makes his fictional portrayal even more disturbing. His mild-mannered chats with main character Holden Ford understandably take a serious psychological toll on the FBI agent. This gives Kemper weight in the ongoing narrative, which, coupled with his real life crimes, makes him stick out in the minds of viewers more than other killers featured on the show.

    41 votes
  • Vern Schillinger, 'Oz'
    Photo: HBO

    While J.K. Simmons is famous for his ability to play terrifying characters, like his Oscar-winning turn in Whiplash, Vernon Schillinger in Oz ought to be remembered as one of his scariest roles. Schillinger is the head of the white supremacist gang in Oz and frequently uses slurs to refer to inmates that don’t fit his idea of the perfect Aryan.

    Yet Vern’s cruelty goes even further than his hateful ideology: he sexually assaults other inmates several times, supposedly to “initiate” them into prison life. He grows furious at the smallest slights, like someone pronouncing his last name incorrectly, and uses his gang to establish himself as one of the biggest threats in the series. Though it's hard to be a “fan” of this character given his horrible actions, Schillinger haunts viewers long after they stop watching the show.

    47 votes