I recently noted in a group discussion that I felt Breaking Bad had received more praise than it might have deserved due to their being no competing show in it’s league at the time it was broadcast. It was like I’d just cursed their unborn children, the crowd turned on me in an instant, demanding an explanation of my reckless remarks, a justification of the opinion (and I should underline that important point) which I’d put forth. People love Breaking Bad. A lot. You gotta’ be careful what you say about it.
For the sake of clarity, here is a record of my issues with Breaking Bad – while it is an excellent TV show, it did have some flaws that have been glossed over by the hype around it’s final season.
1. In almost every season there was a lull. Now, you can say, ‘yeah, but that happens with every show, nothing hits the mark with every episode, and I agree, but I felt Breaking Bad’s lull’s were major. I gave up on it twice, only to come back when I’d heard chatter about the latter episodes or when I couldn’t find anything better to watch and gave it a second chance. About three episodes into Season 3 – when Skyler was busting Walter’s balls about his other life, the show was just treading water. It felt like nothing was happening, the Skyler storylines never really did much for me and it didn’t seem to have any plan on where it was headed next. Same with Season 4 – early on, where Walter was becoming more paranoid and concerned about Jessie being ‘re-assigned’ by Gus, there was a stagnant block of episodes where nothing really advanced. Both times, it felt like the show had lost it’s way and I gave up on it, only to come back in – just in time on both counts, as it got back to it’s peaks in every season, and the final episodes of each series were very strong. But for me, those lulls were significant – in terms of being one of the greatest shows ever, I feel they are enough to count against it.
2. All of the characters became unlikeable. Similar to the lulls, they did come back around, but I remember there being a period where you didn’t want any of them to come out on top, none of them deserved to succeed. That can be a powerful storytelling advice in itself, but I didn’t feel this was an intended character arc, it was more a result of the writers making too much up on the fly. That lack of planning sometimes lead to issues in story flow, as it detracted from the magnetism of the show. Walt, in particular, would sometimes do things so devoid of his former self that it didn’t seem genuine – granted, the storyline trajectory aimed to show how a normal man could become a feared criminal, I get that, but sometimes his character moved a little too far from himself, more than I could go with.
3. Many critical story elements were reliant on coincidence. This is the criticism I’ve seen most often on the web, that a lot of things had to fall into place at just the right time to make things happen. Even in the great finale, the circumstances leading to Walt first not getting killed by the bikers in the desert along with Hank then wiping them out with an automated machine gun that poppped out of the boot of his car, these things needed a lot to fall into place at the right time. It often felt like the writers had got themselves into a corner and they needed something, anything, to get them out, so it didn’t feel as planned, as clever, as it could have been.
Admittedly, all of these elements are, on balance with the greater moments of the show, pretty minor. Some of the characters and scenes in Breaking Bad were so good that I’d be up at 4am at the end of the episode, thinking ‘just one more’ before pressing play again. At it’s best, it’s one of the most compelling shows I’ve ever seen, and I do think it deserves to be considered among the best ten, fifteen shows in history. But I don’t think it’s the best. And I do think the lack of any ‘great’ shows airing at the same time as the finale season has amplified sentiment for Breaking Bad to crazy heights.
‘So what’s better then, idiot?’ (While not everyone says ‘idiot’ with this, that’s generally the tone in which the question is asked) The Wire, for me, is still a far superior show. Game of Thrones, thus far, has been consistently solid. Seinfeld, at it’s best, would rank higher. The Simpsons has played such a significant part in pop-culture that it’s undeniably one of the greatest shows of all-time – no doubt people will argue that The Simpsons has also had weak seasons, which is true, but that show changed the way we communicate, it changed how we see things. The cultural impact of The Simpsons is far more significant than Breaking Bad. Looking at a more isolated example, the first season of Lost was amazing, way better than anything Breaking Bad was able to achieve – of course, Lost ‘lost’ it’s way it the proceeding seasons, but when I think of how good that first season was, that was probably as close to the peak of TV writing that I’ve seen. On balance, Breaking Bad was a better show, but by comparison, Lost had a higher high point, in my view.
No doubt all the Breaking Bad die-hards will dismiss this, noting that for every example I’ve put forward, I’ve highlighted the same issues I’ve pointed to with Breaking Bad – that it had bad moments in amongst the brilliance. But the three points above, cumulatively, form a sore point in my mind when I think back on the show. Yes, it was great, and I’m definitely sad to not have anymore Walter White, but was it the greatest show ever. Nah, I don’t think so.