This will be a feature in which I countdown my top 7 TV shows of all time and talk about the reasons why they’re in the list and what I love about them. At 5 is Breaking Bad.
Breaking Bad ran for 5 seasons on AMC from 2008-2013 and is widely considered to be one of the greatest TV shows of all time, winning multiple awards and plaudits for its cast and crew and has entered the Guinness book of world records as the highest rated TV show of all time. It was created and produced by Vince Gilligan and stars Bryan Cranston as middle aged chemistry teacher Walter White, who, after being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, turns to a life of meth making crime with his ex student, in order to secure money for his family.
Well, what can be said about Breaking Bad that hasn’t already been said, well, for me it’s a funny thing. Whilst I know and consider it to be the greatest TV show of all time, it doesn’t necessarily make it my favourite, which I think people know and understand. Loving something is generally a really personal experience, so most shows you love will be because of a deep connection with it.
Breaking Bad is simply one of my favourite shows because its bloomin’ brilliant, really truly fantastic. If you haven’t yet watched it and don’t think it can be as good as people are saying then you just need to watch it to understand. I began watching it after the first half of its final season had been released, and binge watched it within days. I wasn’t, however, completely hooked from the get go. I watched a couple of episodes before pausing for a while, continuing into season 2 before pausing, once I started again I was suddenly hooked.
From then on I spent time in front of my laptop screen, utterly transfixed, this was a show that didn’t really appeal to any of my particular likes of interests, but was a show that I loved anyway. Looking back on it now I cannot fault it, it had no rough patch, no poor decision, it was an immaculately produced show and will remain one of my favourites.
To start off, Breaking Bad has some of the best writing ever seen on TV, or anywhere, ever. It has such a natural ease to its dialogue, flowing from one word to another, each word specifically crafted to be part of a perfect combination of words that are all relevant, all designed to fit in just one character’s mouth and with one purpose in mind.
The people behind Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan and his team of writers, are grand master web spinners, not just writing, but crafting, intricate, meaningful sentences that flow into one another, the momentum carrying forward the plot and developing the characters. It’s an art, a dance, and the writers know it, from the moment we see Walter White in his tighty whities speeding through the desert in an RV filled with dead bodies, we are putty in their hands, ready to be moulded into feeling any, every emotion.
To get the dialogue as natural as it is, you need to know the characters inch by inch, and they do. From the moment they step out of the page they are fully formed, well rounded people, with specific personalities and their entire lives stretching vividly behind them, every mannerism a well thought manoeuvre to give you as much information about them as possible.
Every actor in the show is as iconic as the show itself, memorably selling their own story to the world, none of them unimportant, everything they do has relevance. Bryan Cranson is a revelation, after 6 years as the goofy and hilarious dad on Malcolm in the Middle, here he channels everything else, from intense fear, to anger, pain to darkness, this defining role is a subtle, manic, shocking and painful performance that has gone down in history as one on the greatest of all time.
Walter Whites transformation from hero to villain, sheriff to bandit, Mr Chips to Scarface, as Gilligan says, and to the eponymous Heisenberg is fascinating TV, but at the same time it’s like watching your drink fall to the floor, you know it’s going to happen, but you have no choice but to just watch in horror. Cranston nails this, his performance complex, watchable and believable.
Aaron Paul, playing Walters partner in crime, Jesse, is initially an arrogant, sneering kid acting as the comedy sidekick. Until he’s not, and you’re suddenly slapped over the face with a performance that captures all of the emotions completely different to Walter. Jesse Pinkman is TVs most sympathetic character, his story is one of the most horrifying and heart wrenching to be put onto the screen.
From beginning to end Paul crafts a truly pained character, a broken man who we feel every emotion for, who we care about with fiery ferocity. The cinnamon roll meme was created for Jesse Pinkman, and Aaron Paul captures every single defeated reaction, every jubilant b***h, every crushing, heart rending breakdown. His is a character that starts off as the fool, but ends up the victim of TVs greatest punishment, the antithesis to the great Heisenberg.
Walters family, his wife Skylar (Anna Gunn), son Walter Jr (RJ Mitte), sister in law Marie (Betsy Brandt) and Brother in law Hank (Dean Norris) round out the core cast each bringing stellar performances to the show. Gunn and Norris, especially, her as the wife who begins to despise her husband and he, as the DEA officer hunting the crime lord like Heisenberg but not knowing his identity.
Later in the series is the introduction of Saul Goodman, the sleazy lawyer who stole the show and got his own spin off series, Better Call Saul, and Gus Fring, restaurant manager and crime lord who proves to be the shows primary antagonist for most of its run. They both play hugely important parts in the show, bringing comedy and tension to balance out the shows dark sides.
Breaking Bad is extremely good at doing comedy, dark, pitch black comedy that is laugh out loud hilarious and sometimes odd. This juxtaposition is what BB does best, occasional starting an episode with something odd, strange and seemingly unconnected, but then, as it takes its time, it shows you why it happened to be relevant. In Breaking Bad everything is relevant.
This juxtaposition is something which is used similarly in the selection of music the show has, which is probably some of the best uses of music ever put to film. I’m a huge fan of music being used in creative and interesting ways in Film and TV, so, for me, Breaking Bad was a relative pizza of joy in its use of music.
We’re going to get into spoiler territory here, so if you don’t want to be spoiled, skip the next 2 paragraphs.
In this, the final scene from Season 4, in which Walter had just blown up master villain Gus Fring, by way of deceit, corruption and the poisoning of a child. After he ends a call with his wife, simply stating “I won”, the song Black by Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi plays as Walt drives off triumphantly. Yet the real killer comes when we cut to a shot of Walts back garden and we move into a close up of the plant he used to do the poisoning.
Up until this point we weren’t 100% sure that it was Walt, who did the despicable act, but with one simple scene we finally found the moment that finally pushed him from a humble teacher into true villain. This scene simply floors me, the music really heightening it, leaving you with jubilant shock in the pit of your stomach, mouth agape, one of my favourite moments in Breaking Bad.
Music is a constant source of awe in all 5 seasons of BB, the way it juxtaposes something serious or violent with a more upbeat song. changing the way you view it. It encapsulates the tone of half of BB, when it isn’t being dark, shocking or heart stopping. It mixes with the shows pace, sometimes being languishing, taking its time in creating rhythms in situations and slowly building tension.
This brilliant scene from Season 5, mid season finale episode, Gliding All Over, uses music in a complete juxtaposition to the events happening on screen. (SPOILERS) Walter White is now in full Heisenberg maliciousness and uses contacts to kill many people in prison who know things he doesn’t want getting out. As the prisoners are all stabbed to death gruesomely around prisons, the music used is ‘Pick yourself up’ by Nat King Cole and is a jazzy 60’s song, with a meaningful message but a joyful vibe. It works sublimely.
This is one of BBs staples, long held shots, long scenes of dialogue, all for dramatic tension, never treating its audiences like idiots, making you think and watch carefully. One of the shows most outstanding episodes, Fly, uses all of these things to superb effect. It’s essentially a bottle episode, keeping the two main characters in one place for the length of the episode, which as the episode proceeds, the pace slows and Walt gives a monologue which chronicles the events leading up to his current position.
It’s a wonderfully played moment filled with pain and tension, as, we, the audience wonders whether he will reveal to Jesse a great secret that he’s been hiding, just as he stands atop a ladder, trying to swat a fly. It’s crafted with care and precision, making one of the single greatest episodes of TV of all time.
Directed by ‘Looper’ director Rian Johnson Breaking Bad continues its top quality level of talent, which, along with the number of accomplished directors and cinematographers has made the show visually stunning with every episode.
These are a few instances of Breaking Bads stunning cinematography, beautifully coloured, smartly composed and breathtaking to look at. With images this good, every episode is a feast for the eyes, each frame doing its job in creating a story, mood and moving on the plot.
Thematically, these shots give you information about what is being represented, sometimes borrowing some classic western visual nods, it gives the show a sense of good and bad on opposing sides, shots of eyes give tension. The camera work is sleek, styled, necessary, but exceedingly well done, art on the screen, better than any canvas.
Another aspect of Breaking Bads genius is the small touches, the careful thought and planning that goes into even the slightest decision. For example the clothes, and the specific colours that they wear are representative of their state of mind at the time, or aspects of their personality that are more prominent. Signs and clues are carefully placed, even in the titles of episodes, most famously in recurring titles for Season 2, which, when put together, tell you what will happen in the season finale.
All of these aspects, each planned with love and attention, the beauty of the cinematography, the meaning behind the music or the design of the set, each display how ingenious the creators of this show are. These writers are the finest in the world, and smart as hell. The actors are down to earth, but brilliant at what they do, the performances they give are realistic and engaging.
It’s no little wonder why the show has endured in fervent popularity and been garnered with tons of awards, people understand why this show is as good as it is, they understand what’s making it work. For me Breaking Bad is a love love relationship, a winning combination of Television making, faultless and magnificent, I know that it’s the best show ever, but, as I will display in the next four posts, isn’t my No. 1.