Breaking Bad: Television Addiction

‘Breaking Bad’ recently concluded in a cacophony of, the all-too-familiar, superlatives and hyperbole that accompany our box-set culture. However, once the memory of these accolades has faded away, we may find that the show has had a longer lasting impact on the way that television is consumed and produced.

By Charlie North

Breaking Bad, 2008-2013. Runtime: 46 hours, 30 minutes

(Warning: Spoilers)

After five seasons of hell-bent, emotional turmoil Breaking Bad ended in a wave of staggering appraisal; ‘the greatest television series ever’, some say. The truth in that statement, however, remains to be proved as the debate to which really is the best T.V. show could (and does) last for hours, with arguments coming from devoted fans of The Sopranos and The Wire. Breaking Bad is a show with an intricately crafted plot that produced levels of tension that left people wanting more and more at the end of every episode. From its humble beginnings on AMC, where its first season scored an average of 1.41 million viewers per episode, to its fifth season finale where it scored an impressive 6 million viewers, Breaking Bad is a show that just grew and grew. Significantly amplified by word-of-mouth, the show, that initially passed us by in the United Kingdom (the first two seasons were shown with limited interest on Five USA), transformed into a global phenomenon, bigger than anything the cast or crew could have dreamed of when production for the show first began.

It was very much a cult phenomenon that just grew and grew, with collection obsession and fervour reaching fever-pitch by the series finale. Indeed hype around a television show has never been so great, the AMC and Netflix P.R. campaign for the final eight episodes made it seem like we were about to witness to second coming of the Messiah. Devotees of the show even held a mock funeral for the protagonist Walter White in Albuquerque in reaction to his demise in the final episode. Vince Gilligan created a show that would stick in the minds forever for anyone who watched it. His vision has been unwavering since its beginning, allowing events to play out in a calculated, methodical way that helped redefine the very notion of writing for television. The levels of cinematography, characterisation, and story arcs are unlike anything ever seen before. It would take a brave person to claim they predicted the show’s final outcome such is the levels of duplicity and horror various characters had to endure to get there.

Perhaps the show’s most pertinent legacy is not its content, however, but in its diffusion and reception; it can be seen as a standard bearer par excellence for the binge-watch, at a time when viewers sit down and watch several episodes sequentially without stopping to do anything but press ‘Play’. It is fair to say once you start Breaking Bad (and get over the slightly slow start at the beginning of season two) you leave yourself no choice but to fall into the perils of narcotic bliss. Never has the binge-watch been such an attractive proposition. It twists and turns, manipulating you in ways of which Walter White himself would be proud. Even when previous juggernauts such as The Sopranos and Friends ended there was never such an outcry of bewilderment as to what one was going to do without them in their lives. Fans are now frantically searching for anything to fill the void the culmination of the show has left.

They are not the only ones. Television networks are working overtime to find ‘the new Breaking Bad’, not only for the awards it could garner but also for its devoted fan base. However, any attempts to replicate the Breaking Bad phenomenon are, essentially, in vain. Breaking Bad is in itself a niche show. It doesn’t have the Soprano’s swagger nor Draper’s glamour relying instead of suburban tropes that could seem downright anodyne. Walter White constantly goes on about how the meth he cooks is ‘the purest on the market’ and how it provides the customer with ‘the best high’ they could ever wish for. This statement is not many steps away from how one could describe the show itself to the uninitiated viewer. However, unlike meth, once you try Breaking Bad you won’t regret it.

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