Our time is now (!), as suggested by this review of "Breaking Bad":
When, and why, did American television and cinema viewers first fall in love with the Sociopath protagonist? Perhaps the audience was always there, nascent and ready to be born. My current favorite Sociopath television show is AMC’s Breaking Bad, the story of an ordinary, albeit resentful and self-loathing, married man who breaks out of his bourgeois cocoon to become a Methamphetamine dealer. His bourgeois name is the aptly constructed “Walter White,” representing the plain vanilla nature of his high school Chemistry teacher life in small town New Mexico. His alter ego name is “Heisenberg” (after Nobel winning German physicist Werner Heisenberg), chosen by White, to represent his genius in making the purest and best “Meth” ever seen in the Southwest and Mexico.
I think Coppola’s Godfather series created the modern heroic Sociopath. We rooted for Brando’s and Pacino’s characters, although Michael Corleone became unlikable by the end of Godfather II. Coppola was the first to romanticize the familiar character of the gangster in movies. But Quentin Tarantino perfected the generalized concept of the protagonist Sociopath. His breakout film was, of course, Pulp Fiction, a so-called dark comedy with such a wide variety of watchable sociopaths one could probably make a television series around virtually every major character in the film. In fact, the two strands of modern Sociopathic television and films can be plausibly traced to either Coppola or Tarantino. In the organized crime motif, for example, there is of course The Sopranos and the unfortunately canceled series Brotherhood. But shows like Dexter and Breaking Bad are in the dark comedy mode consistent with Tarantino’s sensibility.
Breaking Bad has 2 million viewers. Stuck on AMC (I have 150 HD channels but AMC is not one of them) this is a pretty big audience. Going back to my opening question, why are these shows appealing? For me, the theme was repulsive. Then I watched it. I root for Heisenberg/White, even though he has been directly and indirectly responsible for many deaths. In real life I would want him dead yesterday. But in my sometimes fantasy life, I somehow identify with him. What’s that all about? Maybe “between the dust and love that hangs on everybody, there is a dead man trying to get out.” Or a Sociopath.