Breaking Bad: A year later

Warning: Potential spoilers and all that…

While still a prominent pop-culture icon, the success and excitement of Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad is slowly fading away. Despite the rise of new critically acclaimed TV shows, take any of Netflix’s originals as an example, Breaking Bad still remains a great TV series which is arguably unique, and has yet to be matched. Here are a few reasons as to why it remains one of the great TV shows of our generation, and how it became so successful. 

1. Netflix

Remember when Netflix was a physical disc based rental firm? Probably not, but when the streaming of shows became a feature in 2007, Breaking Bad was one of few shows to jump at the chance to archive its episodes in this way.

The 2008 inception of the show was pretty well-timed with this change of business model, and more importantly, it allowed something which we are all guilty of. As the cinematographer of Breaking Bad, Michael Slovis puts it, the ability to “binge view and catch up”, making interest in the show more focused around long-term marketing and spontaneous recommendations.

We’ve all recommended the show, or accordingly become enraged when we know someone who hasn’t watched it, so we all played our part into fitting into the marketing model for the show. With all episodes readily available on the format, Breaking Bad wasn’t restricted to AMC’s reach. And, it was in Netflix’s own interest to promote the show, bringing in more subscriptions and allowing the firm to expand. So next time you watch a series for 7 hours straight, you just might be making the next TV sensation.

2. The Pacing

When Breaking Bad snagged your attention, it made sure you were kept interested. After being nagged by everyone you knew, the show always ensured that some form of plot progression took place every episode. New and instantly notable characters were introduced on a steady rotation, bringing new issues with them to make sure the life of Walter White never became too leisurely.

While the entire pink teddy bear foreshadowing fiasco of season two may have been a little long-winded, it did build up to a fairly dramatic event which effected a lot of characters, as seen in the episode ‘ABQ’. Gilligan seemed to have nailed the perfect combination of suspense-inducing cliff-hangers and appropriately necessary concluded episodes, meaning that regardless of what happened in a certain episode, you always left satisfied and in anticipation of the next one.

3. The Actors

Before Gilligan’s TV sensation, what was Bryan Cranston known for? Being an inept and caring father in Malcolm in the Middle? Pretty much, and it seems that Breaking Bad was a huge break for actors who previously were confined to the likes of TV films and daytime sitcoms.

Take a look at Aaron Paul’s filmography, which went from occasional TV appearances and supporting roles for generic action films, to a variety of roles in films such as Need for Speed and Helion, mostly due to their exposure from Breaking Bad.

Even actors such as Dean Norris, who had appeared in well-known films from Terminator 2 and Evan Almighty, and equally marketed TV shows (CSI, True Blood…) , are still best known for their performances in more recent crime drama shows.

Gilligan gave previously unknown actors a chance to shine, and in doing so, cemented the success of the show, as seen through the excessive amount of nominations and awards the show, and its actors, have received, which stands at 101 at the time of writing.

4. The Concept

Unlike the Zombie sub-genre which has been done to death in recent years, or the excess of mystery/drama shows which preceded it, the genre in which Breaking Bad is situated managed to become a new and interesting premise without straying too far from the status quo to seem inaccessible to its audience. AMC’s finest series is a mash-up of genres, most notably including elements from Western flicks, Crime dramas and good old thrillers, and this creates a show which can take the best bits from each, with few consequences. I mean, when was the last time we had a contemporary western TV show?

The tension from episode to episode, the looming overtones of foreshadowing and the ever-present cliff-hangers were mostly typical of more traditional crime dramas, such as any variant of CSI, The Wire and Dexter, but the Western elements of the show were suitably utilised near the end of the season five, as the need for revenge and redemption became arguably the key plot point of the show.

This combination of elements was new, refreshing and most importantly, relatively original, and because of this, Breaking Bad succeeded in using appropriate genre tropes where it saw fit, entertaining millions in the process.  

5. The Conclusion

Many shows leave the airwaves with an uncertain ending which is open to interpretation. Countless TV shows, films and games have done this, simply to keep their respective fan-bases going in an array of conspiracy theories and fan-fiction. Again, Breaking Bad broke the mould, and tied up all the loose ends in a manner which was fitting of the crime drama/western genre. While the ending left some critics relatively unsatisfied, the majority of people at very least respected the decision to finish the series where it did.

Of course we all want more, but that branch of the Walter White story has come to an appropriate end, and of course, there’s still more to come in the form of Better Call Saul, a spin-off focusing around the antics of the small time lawyer Saul Goodman, and featuring characters from the original series. The new show focusing on comedy rather than crime will hopefully be a new step which will be brilliantly executed, and ideally won’t aim to stay in the shadow of Breaking Bad.

Is the show one of the classics of our generation?  Arguably yes. I hate to go with the flow, but when tourism in Albuquerque skyrocketed after the finale of season five, it’s hard to argue that show hasn’t had a huge impact on a global level. We still see people of all ages donning Heisenberg shirts, stationary and socks, and until we wait for new dramas such as Orange is the New Black to die down, we’ll have to wait and see if Breaking Bad was all we made it out to be.

Only time will tell. 

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Currently attempting English at the University of Lincoln. I also apparently sound like I know what I'm on about...

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