Why is "Breaking Bad" So Perfect?
On January 20th, 2008, the world was introduced to Vince Gilligan's new original show, Breaking Bad. Although there was no way to tell at the time, this fateful pilot episode would end up changing television history forever. Despite being released over a decade ago, the impact that Breaking Bad has left on the film and television industry can still be seen today, virtually everywhere. But what makes this show so successful? Why do millions of people around the world continue to rewatch it to this day? What made it deserve its 16 Primetime Emmy Awards? Let's find out what exactly makes Breaking Bad as good as it is...
Breaking Bad ran for 5 seasons spanning from 2008-2013, starring Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul as the iconic characters, Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, respectively. The cast also includes actors such as Giancarlo Esposito, Anna Gunn, Dean Norris, and Bob Odenkirk, etc. The story follows high school chemistry teacher, Walter White who begins cooking methamphetamine as a means to pay for his lung cancer treatment, along with the help of his former student and amateur dealer, Jesse. The show currently holds a 96% score on Rotten Tomatoes and has spawned the spinoffs, Better Call Saul and El Camino. But how did a simple network crime show get this big and critically acclaimed? The answer is...everything.
But first let's talk about the show's creator, Vince Gilligan because without him there is no Breaking Bad. What makes the show feel so different from any other network television show is Gilligan's classical film training. A screenwriting prodigy, he studied film production at Tisch School of the Arts on a scholarship. That thorough film knowledge is what makes Breaking Bad stand out because in a lot of ways it feels like a major Hollywood production rather than a TV show on AMC. Of course the writing is fantastic but the cinematography is truly something special. The way Vince Gilligan and Michael Slovis utilize different camera angles make the show so much more visually appealing that anything else you could possibly find on TV. There are shots used that I would never even think of like the camera dolly-zooming out the barrel of a gun, or using glass to get an upward shot of the bathtub. These small things make Breaking Bad feel uniquely cinematic in a world full of dime a dozen television shows.
Then there's of course, the acting. I can't think of a single other show that was better cast than Breaking Bad. It's easy to see where all the acting Emmys came from because these rich, complicated characters are complimented so well by the artists who portray them. Pretty much everyone does a great job but the real cream of the crop here are of course, the lead performances by Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul as Walt and Jesse, especially in the final season.
It's not easy to bring any character to life, but a layered character can be nearly impossible. Where the writing and performances both shine in Breaking Bad is that neither the actors nor screenwriters were afraid of making deeply flawed and even unlikeable characters. Not only do they succeed at this but the series is composed in a way where you still feel the need to root for them even after all they've done. Although most casual viewers don't pay attention to this sort of thing, I guarantee you'd be a lot less enthralled in a piece of media if every character was 100% nice and agreeable all the time, that's not the case here. The evolution of Walt and Jesse from season 1 to season 5 is a uniquely enthralling example of character development based on just how much they change mentally, physically, and morally. Walt's morals go from solid to non existent, but Jesse's somehow change in reverse. They have one of the most interesting character dynamics I've ever seen.
One of my favorite film subgenres is without a doubt moral ambiguity, and there's plenty of that in Breaking Bad. As an audience we're groomed to observe Walt's actions through rose-colored glasses because he is committing all these crimes "for his family." If he doesn't keep cooking meth he will leave his family in more debt than they're capable of handling, so he does the unthinkable. See what I mean by "moral ambiguity?" It's kind of like the age-old question "would you steal food to feed your family?" Well, would you? Perhaps if we were in the same situation as Walt we would do the same. Is it fair for Walt to keep reminding his family that he put their safety in jeopardy for money?
I find it almost difficult to talk about a show as high quality as Breaking Bad because I don't want to give away anything that could take away from someone's first time viewing. That being said I can't overstate how much I adore this show and all its creative merit. Moral of the story is "go watch Breaking Bad" or if you've already seen it, go check out Better Call Saul and El Camino!