Why Breaking Bad is the greatest TV show of all time
Chris Bryant | On 29, Sep 2013
Photo: © 2013 Sony Pictures Television Inc. All Rights Reserved.
As fans count down the days to Breaking Bad’s finale, we debate which TV show really is the greatest of all time – and tell you where you can watch them online. Today, Chris makes the case for Vince Gilligan’s show.
On January 20th 2008, ‘that guy’ from Malcolm In The Middle stumbled out of an RV with a gas mask on, stood trouserless on a dirt road in an incorrectly-buttoned green shirt, brown loafers and socks pulled high. With sirens whirring, this bespectacled guy raised his right arm out in front of him, clutching a Smith & Wesson 4506 handgun. The credits rolled.
61 episodes later and Breaking Bad holds a Guinness World Record for the highest rated show ever, has a 9.4 rating on IMDb and has been the site’s most-searched item for months. It also has the entire world holding their breath for the final episode.
Why? First and foremost, the drama of Breaking Bad is second to none (see: The Emmys). And it just keeps coming. Over the show’s five seasons, as chemistry teacher Walter White transforms into drug kingpin Heisenberg, the cast and crew have sought to engage in a phenomenal balancing act. The moral conundrum at its heart does not merely apply to Walt, the series’ anti-hero (or anti-villain?) but to every person he meets or knows. At some point, each person has offended a portion of the viewing public or garnered their support. Did X deserve to die? Why did Y do that? Questions discussed every post-episode morning divided workplaces, homes and the Internet. Always gripping and impossible to second-guess, Vince Gilligan’s creation has achieved cult status on a worldwide level.
Aside from becoming the benchmark for drama, AMC’s flagship programme also provides comedy unlike any other. Ever witty and often ridiculous, Breaking Bad’s humour ranges from sly references to slapstick. Playing off the tension regularly created by high-pressure situations, chief funny man Saul – Walt’s criminal lawyer – has spawned countless memes and one-liners, so much so that he’s been blessed with his own spin-off: Better Call Saul. While certain figures are associated with the funnier side of the show, though, they are by no means the only ones allowed to crack wise. Walt’s patronising put-downs, security man Mike’s world-weary advice and former pupil-turned-sidekick Jesse’s use of “Yo!” and “Bitch!” create more of the laughs than you’d expect.
When not making you laugh or cry, Breaking Bad may choose to just unsettle you. Demonstrating cast and crew courage galore, there are notable moments that a lot of shows simply couldn’t have gotten aired – and certainly not with such fitting elegance. (See: the ending of Crawl Space, Danny Trejo’s tortoise, Jane and pretty much all of Season 5 Part 2.) By the time we realised we were truly invested in these characters, the writers had already started systematically destroying our favourites, often brutally. Creating cliffhangers where there aren’t even cliffs has become as much of a trademark as fish-eye camera shots, producing an emotional roller coaster with more blood-runs-cold moments than most horror films – combined.
It is flawlessly written to the point where, within minutes, the terminally-ill Mr. White becomes relatable and likable enough to keep viewers interested – even after he becomes the most unsympathetic, hate-worthy character on TV.
Among the heartbreak, the brains and the chemistry is a myriad of messages; lessons about money, glory, family, friends, addiction, violence, trust and more. Adding to the recipe of carnage, bell-ringing and scientific pseudonyms is the sheer scale of it all. At $3m an episode, Breaking Bad is not cheap. But it doesn’t rely on its budget. It quickly becomes clear that, as realistic and tense as the explosions, severed heads and gunshots are, Breaking Bad can cause just as much emotional damage with castor beans, a fly and the ring of a bell.
Anna Gunn (Walt’s wife, Skyler) describes the final series as “apocalyptic”, which suggests that Gilligan and the writers have constructed world fully-fledged enough for the idea of its destruction to be something of note. The Teletubbies could not stage an apocalypse. Neither could Newsround nor Friends. Several characters on Breaking Bad have threatened to stage one before breakfast. It’s just what they do.
Breaking Bad is the greatest TV show of all time because it does these things precisely, with flair but with an understated mastery. It manages the surreal and the sadness and the grim-willed murders – and it does this all at once. In providing comedy, it doesn’t lose its dramatic nature or vice versa. Ever. Cutting from a moronic monologue by a meth-peddling-addict to the demise of a DEA agent to a terrifying face-off between a well-dressed kingpin and an ever-spiralling, dead-eyed ex-teacher is not something the show has ever had a problem with.
Artistic, raw and beautiful scenery framing unimaginable drama interspersed with a subtle unease and a brilliant eye for a gag? The show provides every televisual need. But the beauty of Breaking Bad lies in more than its ability to multi-task genres: it’s brave enough to give the audience exactly what they don’t want.
Is Breaking Bad the greatest TV show ever? Yes. And it’s all available on Netflix now. Yeah, right now. Every wonderful episode. Go on. Why are you still here? Go! Now! Run!