Breaking Bad ended honorably last September after five seasons. But after swiping five trophies at this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards on Aug 26, AMC’s hit drama series has again been put in the spotlight.
I’m one of many people who have been turned on to Breaking Bad following its huge success. It seems impossible not to notice when something is given the title “one of the greatest American TV dramas of all time”.
So, this reaction leads me to believe that Breaking Bad must have something that these other great dramas don’t. After binge watching it over the past week (I’m still catching up on its fourth season), I’ve made a list of where the series’ appeal might come from.
Breaking Bad tells the story of Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with cancer. To make sure his family is well taken care of after he’s gone, White begins making crystal meth, an illegal drug.
It sounds like a ridiculous idea with no good value, but as the show goes on, we watch the main character slowly change from the protagonist to the antagonist. The drug business turns the timid, sympathetic chemistry teacher into an evil, greedy, self-centered and violent man.
However, because of the viewers’ attachment to White from the start, it’s easier to sympathize with him. The relatability of White has made him an iconic character, which is what most separates Breaking Bad from other great dramas such as Mad Men and The Wire.
Bryan Cranston plays White with extraordinary subtlety. He transforms from the blunt and awkward husband to the ruthless drug dealer as easily as changing a shirt. Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman shows the hidden depth of the character, while delicately interpreting his love-hate relationship with White.
The two meth-cooking lead characters are well-supported by a strong cast of secondary characters. White’s wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) and his brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris), all have plenty of depth and complexity on their own.
Breaking Bad places much emphasis on visuals and color. There are no wasted frames in the show — almost every scene balances its mood and tension on its use of color. In US pop culture writer Alyssa Rosenberg’s words, the show “has raised the bar for cinematography on television: the way it uses light and color makes me look at everything else differently”.
Not many shows can be both popular and informative. But in Breaking Bad, besides the meth-cooking, science is used for all sorts of fun things, for example, building homemade batteries or creating poison out of beans. The small science lessons have made fans realize that chemistry has never been so fun.
The show possesses a unique vision, which we have the writers to thank for. And meanwhile, the writers manage to take a long story-arc and not let it get away from them. This makes Breaking Bad one of the few TV series that improved creatively from start to finish. Shows like Lost or Desperate Housewives that started out strong were ultimately left bereft of ideas.