In the last few years, television has finally begun to give proper consideration to one of its most maligned classes: the Rich White Man. This segment of the population’s ongoing narrative of sipping top-shelf scotch while staring out floor-to-ceiling windows has, for too long, been unfairly restricted to villainy. But now the televisual medium has taken a stand against decades of one-dimensional bankers, real estate developers and Cobra Kai financiers to consider the nuanced inner lives of the filthy rich and naturally privileged. After all, a surplus of wealth and lack of melanin does not mean that these men don’t have emotional journeys of their own, dammit.
Here are eight of television’s “richest” rich white men who, episode after episode, aim to offer us something more than the adjusting of their cufflinks— although there is still plenty of that.
8. ARROW’S OLIVER QUEEN
Superheroism is the refuge of the rich and bored looking for para-governmental reform. Unlike, say, working man Daredevil, who deals with the moral underpinnings of also being a struggling attorney, Oliver Queen’s fortune allows him to focus on his superheroism largely unencumbered. Queen led the by-the-numbers life of a billionaire playboy until one of his many exotic gateways left him stranded on an island for five years. Since then, it’s been all face paint, a growing gallery of sidekicks and mystical turf wars. Most of Queen’s superhero career reads as a very specific case of PTSD with a touch of megalomania (he cliams an entire city as his own domain). But unlike his middle-class brethren, we actually buy that Olli’s fortune leaves him enough time to spend a good eight hours per day on dem abs.
7. SILICON VALLEY’S RUSS HANNEMAN
Having made a fortune “putting radio on the internet,” Russ Hannerman’s identity relies exclusively on his billion-dollar valuation, to the point that a slight drop under 10 figures sent him into a tailspin last season. There’s a lot to be said for a billionaire who understands the inherent appeal of cars whose doors go like this [motions hands vertically] rather than like this [motions hands horizontally].
Yes, Hanneman may skirt with the buffoonish end of the rich white spectrum, but his lack of self-awareness reads better than a Bobby Axelrod’s self-importance (see No. 6). Hannerman also owes more to sheer, dumb luck than to actual business acumen and, if nothing else, this reads as an accurate depiction of most of the 30-something multimillionaires currently exhaling hot air into the real Silicon Valley’s tech bubble.
6. BILLIONS’ CHUCK RHOADES JUNIOR & BOBBY AXELROD
The biggest narrative drive in Billions is perhaps the most one realistic when it comes to rich white men: the existence of someone richer and whiter than you. In the case of six-figure-salaried U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades Jr., it’s Damian Lewis’ Bobby Axelrod, an ambitious hedge fund manager from humble beginnings whose attitude matches his energy drink of a name. Between that and his, ouf, controversial accent, which belongs in the seedier channels of PornTube, there’s simply not much there for us to believe in Axelrod’s billions. He isn’t the Vincent Chase of billionaires; he’s the Adrian Grenier of billionaires.
5. IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA’S FRANK “THE WARTHOG” REYNOLDS
Because of his tendency to coat himself in grease and his overall success in living among the degenerates that are his stepchildren (ex-wife’s bastards?) and their friends, we might forget that Frank Reynolds is, among many things, incredibly wealthy. Long before the start of the series, Frank made a fortune through his former real estate company “ReyHam Properties.” Though it is only occasionally visited over the course of the series, Frank’s history is a rich tapestry of swindled business partners, sweatshops and other means of boardroom bullying that have left him feared and reviled across the world.
His race to the bottom was entirely self-inflicted: Frank ultimately grew bored with his opulence and fascinated with Charlie’s borderline feral existence. The two have been roommate/bedmates ever since and Frank has quickly surpassed the rest of the gang in his neverending quest for depravity. You have to recognize a multimillionaire’s willingness to strip naked and hide inside a leather couch for hours on end just because.
4. HOUSE OF CARDS’ RAYMOND TUSK
The aggressive pursuit of international interests constitutes the final frontier for rich moguls who have already conquered their own continent. In the case of antagonist-to-the-villainous Raymond Tusk, this amounted to a much-discussed (though never seen) bridge in China. It certainly wasn’t House of Cards’ strongest plotline, and these tedious backroom dealings brought the show’s sophomore season dangerously close to “intergalactic trade negotiations” territory. Credit where credit is due: No one gave Frank Underwood as good a fight as Tusk.
Plus, every eccentric billionaire needs a “thing,” and Tusk’s fascination with exotic birds surely qualifies him. (Adult men who keep birds as pets: creepy regardless of the setting.) His casual one-handed snapping of the neck of one of beloved birds after a fraught exchange with Underwood was enough to suggest the trail of bodies left behind on his road to cartoonish wealth. Yikes.
3. 30 ROCK’S JACK DONAGHY
Truth be told, Jack Donaghy barely makes this list. From his string of age-appropriate love interests to his constant career struggles, Jack Donaghy is one of the milder rich white men of the television canon. Though very wealthy in his own right, Jack is ultimately a cog in the machine. Viewers met him as the Vice President of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming for General Electric, arguably the most unglamorous titles of this list. The arrival of Kabletown sends Jack into a middle management doldrum. Away from his work, Jack is often torn between his billionaire aspirations and the Bah-ston boy he left behind. Still, no one matches the rich white swagger of a Jack Donaghy operating at full power. His zingers, torrid-but-underplayed affair with Condoleezza Rice and mentorship of lower echelon rubes Liz Lemon and Kenneth the page—never letting them forget their own inadequacies—elevate him high into this pantheon of privilege.
2. GOSSIP GIRL’S CHUCK BASS
The antithesis of Daper Draper, a man who has lived many lives across many income brackets, is this sheltered teenage billionaire with far too much time on his hands who considers wearing a lot of purple teenage rebellion. Chuck Bass has dabbled in everything from hotel real estate to modern secret speakeasy funding, and his considerable daddy issues are matched only by his insistent mommy issues. He has been hosting orgies (elegantly labelled “lost weekends”) since he was a high schooler, and his pathos peaked in the series finale where he more or less let his father fall off a rooftop in order to inherit his empire. His first appearance likewise involved the attempted sexual assault of a minor, which was swiftly swept under the rug as he became one of the show’s romantic leads—a sort of narrative privilege that borders on meta-commentary of his rich whiteness. Still, despite his efforts, Bass can’t quite match the effortless cool of a Don Draper, always trying just a little too hard to live up to his bank account.
1. MAD MEN’S DON DRAPER
By 2016 metrics, Advertising King Regent Don Draper was worth $31.2 million at the end of Mad Men. Rich, white and improbably handsome, Draper will live on as one of the unquestionable TV icons of the past decade. The character transcended the medium to directly affect modern cultural sensibilities, adding renewed vigor to the practice of brooding over an old-fashioned. (The skinny tie industry also owes a lot to good ole Dick Whitman.)
The embodiment of a Drake song, Don Draper deserves our admiration for having risen from the bottom to achieve the American Dream—and then making a fortune reselling said dream to the middle class in the form of projectors, cigarettes and foreign cars. Beyond his estranged relationship with his teenage daughter, the ultimate sign of Draper’s Rich White Manness is unquestionably his newly-discovered interest in transcendental meditation, a surefire sign that your wealth and privilege have jumped the shark.