Vince Gilligan’s ‘Breaking Bad’ – is it the greatest television show of all time?

2013-08-15-breakingbadI’ve never claimed to be clever or particularly knowledgeable on any academic subject. I’m not good with numbers, I don’t really know any jokes and I am at most, an average chef. I am however blessed with an innate and insatiable passion for film and television. I couldn’t tell you the date of Franz Ferdinand’s assassination or the current state of the US stock markets, but ask me about who won the Academy award for Best Actress in 1994 and I could tell you (Jessica Lange for ‘Blue Sky’). I acquired this useless talent through spending hours (or wasting hours, depending on whether you’re talking to my dad) of my spare time watching pretty much anything I can get my hands on. Over the years I’ve tried to keep myself open to pretty much anything, so I like to think of myself as having quite an broad taste. As a result I’ve ended up watching a somewhat eclectic collection of movies and television shows, varying from the good to the bad to the really, really bad.

I reckon I’ve probably spent at least a tenth of my entire life watching various television programmes, which on reflection, is a terrifying statistic if thought about too much. I’ve managed to make my way through a whole bunch of different shows, all from numerous genres. Ever watched Joss Whedon’s sci-fi epic ‘Firefly’? I have. Watched the whole thing in a day with a bunch of snacks, it was great. What about HBO’s short-lived comedy / drama / family / romance mash-up ‘Hung’?  Sporty single dad needs to make more money, decides to become a prostitute because of his ‘unusual’ talents. There, I’ve just explained the whole show to you, save yourself three days and don’t watch it.  Of course there have been a few shows that have stuck out in amongst the sea of broadcasting available. To date, ‘Six Feet Under’ perhaps remains a personal favorite for me. Detailing the life of funeral director Nate Fisher, the show follows him and his family through the trials and tribulations of life and death. Always poignant and ever thoughtful; over the course of 5 seasons and 63 episodes the show delivered some of the most creative and exhilarating TV I’ve ever seen.

It’s difficult to discuss modern television without mentioning ‘The Sopranos’. For nearly ten years, audiences around the globe were captivated and enthralled by the tales of Tony Soprano – father, husband and mobster. David Chase’s show is still regarded as one of the most captivating and successful programs in recent memory; blending together elements of a modern gangster epic whilst still dealing with the intimate details and nuances of a family drama. In short, it’s widely regarded as possibly the best television series ever made. That is, until recently.

‘Breaking Bad’, like all good ideas, started off small. Creator Vince Gilligan had achieved fame through geek-favourite ‘The X-Files’; for which he produced, wrote and directed a number of episodes. With ‘Breaking Bad’, Gilligan wanted to create a story where the protagonist became the antagonist – where the good guy ends up being the villain. The show tells the tale of Walter White, a small-town chemistry teacher who finds out that he has lung cancer. As the medical bills pile up and death begins to look like a looming inevitability, Walter turns to selling methamphetamine to ensure his family is financially secure for the foreseeable future. Taking under his wing former student Jesse Pinkman, Walter begins a meteoric rise to power and notoriety amongst the drug community, whilst trying to keep his family unaware.

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Originally airing on American cable channel AMC, the first season of the show was received well by the few who watched it. But as the show progressed through five seasons, its fan base increased tenfold, namely due to positive word-of-mouth in the name of the show’s story and cast. Another factor in the show’s popularity had a lot to do with the fact that it’s actually mind-blowing-ly good.

 A large contribution to this comes down to the show’s stellar casting. Walter White is played by Bryan Cranston, who had previously gained fame by playing Hal – a friendly but slightly dim-witted father figure on kid’s show ‘Malcolm in the Middle’. Cranston’s portrayal as the ever-changing science teacher is one full of an instinctive level of depth and darkness, rarely seen within a show’s protagonist. Three consecutive Best Actor awards at the Emmy’s further confirm this truth. Joined by Aaron Paul, who plays Jesse Pinkman; the pair have an undeniable energy, a chemistry (sorry) that’s present any time they’re on screen together. The leads are then supported by a number of actors and actresses, most of whom were relatively unknown prior to the show’s airing. Walt’s wife and son (played by Anna Gunn and RJ Mitte respectively) both bring an interesting element to the show’s dynamic; at times providing both motive and deterrent for Walt’s actions. Once you throw into the mix Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), a DEA law enforcer and Walt’s brother-in-law, the show really begins to shine.

 Obviously the cast are just one of many factors that have made ‘Breaking Bad’ the success story it has become. Sublime script work makes the show not only hugely enjoyable, but also scarily easy to watch. There’s fluidity to the writing that provides the viewer with an instant connectivity to the show’s many characters. The show’s darker turns are handled masterfully; tender and at times, agonising. In turn, there’s an intelligent humour that runs throughout the show, making each episode a pleasure to watch. Even the show’s visuals are considered and innovative, often taking an imitated first person view on proceedings. Over the course of the show we’ve seen cameras pop up on or inside washing machines, doors, spades, arms, floor, lockers and many more.  The great thing is that it’s not without cause; it seems that every element of the show is there for a reason, to contribute toward the same thing – immersing and entertaining the audience.

It’s these elements and more that have officially made the show the highest-rated, most critically acclaimed TV series of all time. Metacritic, a website dedicated to culminating review scores and producing an average, gave the show’s latest season a score of 99 out of 100. Impressive by anyone’s standards. But does that make it worth your time? Yes. Yes is the answer. No matter what preconceptions you may have on the show, no matter your preferred genre, no matter whether you like or dislike members of the cast; there is something here for you. Personally, I’m not sure whether the show will be able to take the place of ‘Six Feet Under’ in my heart. I’ll have to wait to watch the show’s last episode to find out.

The series ends on September 29th in the US, but UK viewers will have to wait 24 hours to catch the show on Netflix. The final episode, entitled ‘Felina’, when taken apart is made up of three elements Fe – Iron, Li – Lithium, Na – Sodium; crucial components in blood, methamphetamine and tears respectively. Oh, and it’s also an anagram for finale. A clever title for a clever show. Whether or not the show is the greatest of all time is a question for future. Only time will tell if ‘Breaking Bad’ holds the same gravitas this time in five years. But for now at least, this is the best show on television, no exceptions.

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  • Vicky

    Totally agree with Anthony Laurence on Breaking Bad! I still find myself thinking about it…It combines aspects of greek tragedy, Shakespearean comedy, arthouse… etc. etc. If you haven’t yet, WATCH IT! get the boxset and watch the episodes back to back, youwill be hooked!