This article is about the television series Breaking Bad and assumes that you have not seen even a single episode of the show.
INT. DINING ROOM – NIGHT
You are at a dinner party surrounded by well-educated, highly-cultured pseudo-intellectuals. Everyone has just been talking about politics and junk like that. You have just embarrassed yourself by admitting that you had no idea that there was a recent by-election in Eastleigh. You have also been rumbled as the person who brought that bottle of Blue Nun, much to the surprise of everyone who assumed the brand was discontinued years ago.
As the dishes are being cleared, a GUY with beard leans over the cheese board and says:
Hey. You been watching Breaking Bad?
No. I hear it’s really good.
Aw man, it’s the best. It’s got the
dad from Malcolm in the Middle but he’s
like a total bad-ass. He’s probably
the best actor on TV.
Yeah, I heard. I’ve been meaning to
start on but –
It’s the best show on TV. It makes
HOMELAND look like TOWIE. You really
must watch it. Like, right when you
I dunno, I’ve got to get up for a run
Fine. Be that way.
The beardy guy storms out of the room, presumably to check on the souffle.
If you haven’t started watching Breaking Bad yet, you might have experienced a moment just like this one – depending on the sort of company you keep. Like The Wire, it’s an American cable drama that no-one in Britain ever saw on television, yet has become a smash hit amongst hardcore fans of quality television.
While we have no intention of being that guy, we have to put our shame aside for a few minutes as we tell you why Breaking Bad is a must-watch television show.
As you may already know, the show stars Bryan Cranston – an actor who was best known as the goofy dad on the long-running sitcom Malcolm in the Middle. He plays Walter White, a gifted chemist who’s obviously past his prime. From a mounted plaque on the wall of his New Mexico bungalow we infer that at one point, he contributed to research that was awarded a Nobel Prize.
Despite his talents, Walt is now a 50 year-old high school chemistry teacher – a profession that is not notoriously well paid. His son suffers from cerebral palsy and he is expecting another child with his home-maker wife, Skylar (Deadwood’s Anna Gunn). The financial pressure of his family situation has led to Walt taking a second job at a car wash, where he’s seen wiping down the hub caps of one of his own students. Things couldn’t get much worse for Walt… until he’s told that he has Lung Cancer and is given only a few months left to live.
In a desperate need to provide for his family financially, there are very few things a man could do in this situation: he could rob a bank, win the lottery or discover a rich beloved aunt. Or, if you’re a man with Walt’s particular set of skills: you could cook the finest crystal meth that the world has ever seen and dive head-first into the choppy waters of the American South-Western drug trade.
Partnering up with Jesse (Aaron Paul), a drug dealing ex-student of his, Walt begins his short career in Class-A narcotics from the less-than-glamorous confines of a beat-up motor home. They’re a classic odd couple much in the way of Laurel and Hardy or Felix and Oscar. Except, you know, they’re committing felonies.
When the show first premiered in America, it received a lot of comparisons to Weeds –another cable show in America about a suburban parent who works in the drugs trade—but as Breaking Bad blossomed through its second season and beyond, it became clear that Breaking Bad was in a league of its own.
Like with a lot of serials, the pilot episode isn’t entirely indicative of the show as a whole. It rushes though a lot of story in the span of just an hour. Fortunately, the rest of the season takes its time unravelling the story. In fact, Episodes 2-5 deal with the consequences of what happens in the pilot when Jesse and Walt are forced to kill a drug dealer. In the world of Breaking Bad, there are no such things as clean getaways: every time Walt makes a decision, he is faced with the very real consequences of his actions. Walt is unquestionably the smartest guy in every room he steps in, but it’s really joyous to see how many dumb mistakes he makes over the course of the series and what desperate moves he has to make to dig himself out of his own holes.
The quality of the scripts on the show is really top-notch. Creator Vince Gilligan has assembled a crack team of writers largely culled from his days working The X-Files. It’s a much slower-paced show than something like 24, but I contend that it has just as many OMG moments stuffed into each season. But unlike 24, every plot twist is both unexpected and yet logically water-tight. It’s tough to expain how this is the case without spoiling anything, so you’ll just have to take our word on it.
It also boasts some of the best production values of any television show. Especially from the second series onwards, the cinematography takes on an extra cinematic dimension that takes advantage of the dramatic New Mexico landscape. Breaking Bad still uses 35mm film stock when most other shows have switched to digital for budgetary reasons. The decision really pays off, especially in their gorgeous wide angle shots and during its dark, back-lit scenes. At times, the show looks and feels more like a classic western in the vein of Sergio Leone or No Country for Old Men.
The use of music is also incredible (bar a few clumsy cues in the pilot episode)—from their use of licensed tracks in the show’s signature montages to Dave Porter’s inventive ambient scoring, next to Boardwalk Empire, it’s very possibly one of the most aurally intoxicating shows on TV. In the series’ riveting moment, the music works so effectively in amplifying the pressure. It’s not an exaggeration when we say that moments of this show are more nail-bitingly tense than any thriller you’re likely to see in the cinemas this year.
We adore this show unconditionally. And we’re not just saying that to seem hip or obscure.It isn’t like 2 years ago when it was only available through imported DVDs: to have seen it was to belong to an exclusive club of TV snobs. In a big shift, it’s one of the most popular box-sets in the UK where it thrived almost exclusively on word-of-mouth promotion. So let us add our voices to the chorus: give Breaking Bad a shot.
We’re sure you’ll love it. But in the off-chance that you don’t, then I’m not sure we can be friends anymore.
Breaking Bad Seasons 1 – 5 are now available with blinkbox