Television Thunderdome: Breaking Bad
Series Overview: If pride comes before the fall and the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then Walter White is going to have the biggest tumble into hell since Lucifer. When Walt, a brilliant chemist who teaches high school chemist by day and works in a car wash by later in the day, is diagnosed with lung cancer, he is faced with a choice when he realizes that he won’t be able to both pay for treatment and leave money to his pregnant wife his cerebral palsy-inflicted son. He can either ask people for help or make a lot of money immediately by selling meth. His pride forces him to choose the latter, and so begins his journey from meek pushover into the most sought-after meth cooker in the American southwest.
What Makes It Worth Watching: Breaking Bad is a compelling character study, examining what drives us to abandon our morals and embrace our darker instincts. At the risk of giving too much away, Walter White’s story is that of how a villain is made and how the bad decisions of one man can poison everyone around him. Actions have consequences, many of which are unforeseen, especially when one is blinded by pride. With each step down the path to corruption, Walt alters the course of people’s lives. Some of them are innocent bystanders, some are rival meth dealers with powerful friends, and some are the people Walt vowed to save when he began his meth operation. The series examines Walt as he is consumed by pride, wrath, envy, and greed, all while comparing him to the people around him at various other stages in their falls from grace.
The show is also an absolutely gripping and intense thriller. That’s not to say that there is an over-the-top action scene every episode. Instead, the show is masterful at building suspense and keeping viewers on the edge of their seats. In Breaking Bad, even the quietest scenes can have you break out into a cold sweat, because you know that whichever characters are involved are planning something sinister or are not long for the world. And then, when the action finally does come, it will blow your mind.
Caveats: Breaking Bad has some amazing characters who always provide gripping drama, and, sometimes, pitch black comedy. But unlike the other shows in the Television Thunderdome, they are generally not characters that you want to “hang out” with. (Jesse Pinkman is one of the few exceptions.) Breaking Bad is a universe that you want to immerse yourself in while still holding the events and people at arm’s length. Contrast that with the other shows, which are filled with characters that you enjoy spending time with and miss when they’re gone. When Breaking Bad ends next summer, I’ll miss seeing Walt, Jesse, Saul, and the group use their cunning to dig themselves into deeper holes. But I won’t yearn for more time with them the way I do for characters like Willow or Sokka.
Suggested Episodes If You Aren’t Immediately Sold: “Crazy Handful of Nothin’” (1x06), “A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal” (1x07)