When you ask people about their hobbies, many of them say something like, “I enjoy reading books and listening to music,” or “I like to watch movies.” Watching movies—or, rather, TV shows—has indeed become an extremely popular activity, especially in countries where there is access to Netflix or other similar services. This popularity is easy to explain: TV shows often offer products much more diverse, intriguing, and non-standard than conventional films. Shows such as “True Detective,” “Game of Thrones,” “House M.D.” and many others have proved that such a format is definitely not inferior to movies; on the contrary, it can be superior to them at times. And, perhaps, the best example of the show that beats many films in all respects is “Breaking Bad.” Many critics claim it to be the best TV show ever; without making such radical statements, let us take a look at the factors making this media product such a massively popular phenomena.
“Breaking Bad” can boast of a perfectly-created atmosphere of decadence, criminality, and that omnipresent shady part of the everyday most of us never notice or pretend does not exist. The dark world of drug dealers, cartel wars, addiction, and illegal commerce is definitely not appealing, or romantic, or attractive, but in “Breaking Bad” it is realistic and convincing, and makes you believe you are peeking through a keyhole at a dangerous and cruel world.
The dense atmosphere is masterfully complemented by camera work. When watching the first episodes of season one, I was amazed by the composition of scenes, the choice of shooting points and foreshortening, colors, foreground and background work, and the different elements in the frame.
The storyline is another huge advantage of “Breaking Bad.” A story of a regular chemistry teacher, whose measured and not-so-happy life was in one day ruined by the news that he has incurable cancer somewhat reminds me of the movie “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” but in a much darker execution. Being a chemist, Walter White believes (or this is how I understood it) that a human being is nothing but a composition of molecules, with all the respective consequences: no heaven, no hell, no afterlife retribution, no real value of human life. Nothing to lose too; the title of the show hints at what is going on in Walter’s head after he learns about his diagnosis and the understanding that his life is going to end soon, and that he has always lived in a way he did not want to. What comes out of it is told in five seasons, and this story is dramatic and engaging.
Yet another component of “Breaking Bad” is its characters. Perhaps you are already fed up with one-sided, cliched vanilla heroes, or deranged, evil masterminds that Hollywood inserts in almost every movie it produces. Such characters have no depth, no inner conflict, no credibility; they, as well as their actions, basically serve as triggers to move the plot forward, and allows movie directors to demonstrate new stunts and effects. “Breaking Bad” is different; each character is a personality, with his or her own motives, problems, thoughts bugging them, life situations demanding their response, and so on. Each of these characters, even if he or she is secondary and appears only for a couple of episodes, is thoroughly exposed, so the show makes you believe he or she is real. Moreover, each character is complex, meaning that good and evil intentions, desires, motives, and thoughts constantly intertwine and interact within them, defining their behaviors—like all of us.
And, of course, violence and total intolerance, so to say. There is probably no other show that would depict our everyday reality with such cruelty, and with so few “soothing” filters. This is a breath of fresh air for many viewers, tired of endless glossy movies, perfectly appropriate in terms of political correctness, and cautious in their depictions of violence. “Breaking Bad” is honest, gruesome, and ruthless—like real criminal life.
So, what makes “Breaking Bad” one of the best shows of the 21st century? In my opinion, there are several main components of its success: a dense atmosphere of criminal decadence combined with fine camera work; an intricate and dramatic storyline involving a number of extremely well-researched and credible characters; and, of course, uncensored violence—physical, emotional, and psychological—that this show is soaked with.