Breaking Bad is Overrated and Over-hyped
Breaking Bad is Overrated. Yes, yes, I know. Your mind has been blown. Now if you will kindly shove all your grey matter back into the remains of your skull let me explain why I think so.
First, to clarify my position: I don’t hate Breaking Bad and in general think it’s a good show for the type of show that it is. But this show receives far too much acclaim given that it’s not telling a really compelling story or doing anything significantly above average with the exception of its cinematography and Bryan Cranston‘s excellent acting. This article will contain spoilers, assumes you have more than a passing familiarity with the show, and is not intended to be about bashing the show but deconstructing what it gets wrong and even what it gets right.
BEST SHOW EVER
The Mighty DJ BenHaMeen called me up and in his best Kevin Hart baby voice proclaimed, “OhMyGodOhMyGod! Breaking Bad is the best show eeeever!”
Really? Cool, I’ll give it a look.
Now in my opinion The Wire is the best drama to have graced television screens in recent history. Over the course of five seasons it weaved strong characterization, drama, humor, race, violence, and social commentary in an engrossing tapestry with underlying themes of corruption, decline, reform, education, and misinformation echoing through every season. Baltimore, and its residents, became a character in its own right as we were taken from its streets and into the homes of working class families; the declining school system that either lost innocent children in the cracks or spit them back out onto the streets; the political traffic jam that prevented even the best from going better for the people of the city. From the very first episode The Wire was excellence.
Breaking Bad is not the best show ever, it is not remotely on the same level as The Wire, and arguments could be made for shows such as Game of Thrones, Louis, The Shield, Boardwalk Empire, or Luther being more deserving of receiving such a nod.
To say Breaking Bad is a slow burn would be putting things mildly. The show is chock full of over long, boring scenes that meander as Walter and Skylar argue or Jesse ponders underwear skidmarks or some such nonsense. The first two seasons of the show move slower than the turtle carrying the severed head of turncoat drug dealer, Tortuga. YES! The first two seasons were somewhat necessary if only to give a more convincing view of Walt having to deal with undergoing chemo but they could have easily condensed seasons one and two into one season, or even half of a season, in order to speed up the proceedings. In fact, this is what montages were invented for.
It is only with the season three inclusion of the character, Gustavo Fring, and the associated storylines surrounding him that the show began to at last; mercifully pick up steam as Walter White finally had a worthy adversary. The inclusion of Gus provided a bit more focus for the show, giving events and characters that didn’t directly deal with Walter White a modicum of additional substance.
Why is the pacing an issue you ask? Because the show by-and-large adheres to this format:
– Walter and Jesse have to find a place to cook or are cooking meth.
– Some mishap occurs/Jesse does something stupid.
– Walter cusses Jesse out and breaks up with him.
– Next episode they develop some ridiculous plan.
– The plan works as hi-jinks ensue with odd coincidences, happenstance, and dumb luck saving their butts so they can live to cook meth another day!
– The odd couple kisses and makes up as Walter decides to go steady with Jesse again.
That’s effectively what you need to know to watch pretty much any episode of Breaking Bad. This tired wash and repeat format is what makes the show tedious and boring at times because the writers have to stretch out the other things in the episode so they can milk the main storyline for an episode or two. The rest of the episodes are filled with Walter and the melodrama of his household as he argues with the wife viewers don’t care for and the children, who may as well be lawn ornaments, looking on.
Breaking Bad is a plot driven series, not one driven by characters, yet people consistently mistake it as the latter rather than the former.
In its first episode the viewer is presented with a visually interesting hook: a half-naked man in a gas mask desperately driving an RV through the desert. Ah ok, so this show is a comedy! Well … no. It’s a show that struggles with tone and consistency. On any given episode you might be presented with a tortoise carrying a head laced with explosives, a female meth head ending her relationship in dramatic fashion by smashing her husband’s head under a stolen ATM
Admittedly I love movies and shows that have shifts in tone but the risk they run is of drifting off into becoming visual cartoons, and Breaking Bad runs this risk often. No more so than in the first season with the inclusion of the walking caricature that is Tuco.
To make another comparison to The Wire, a show that was filled to the brim with an abundance of colorful characters from the precinct to the street, the dock, the school, city hall, and the newsroom, Breaking Bad seems distressingly uninhabited. The majority of the characters are typically painted in the broadest of strokes rarely getting the opportunity to grow or obtain true story arcs that develop their character, and typically they are only given enough lip service to help them function as plot devices or fulfill some story requirement. Breaking Bad is littered with minor characters whom Breaking Bad zealots have attempted to amplify the importance of.
- Tuco is akin to being the latin version of a love child between Yosemite Sam and the Tazmanian Devil.
- Beaver or Badger or whatever woodland rodent and his cohort, Skeevy (or whatever his name is), are the meth dealer, drug addicted equivalent of Chip and Dale. While capably injecting humor when they do randomly pop up as the show requires time to be killed, they are often dull and extraneous because they are so woefully underdeveloped.
- The Mexican Assassin Twins are visually cool, looking as though they walked right off Robert Rodriguez latest Desperado film. But in Desperado them being cool, mute, gun toting Mexican Terminators would work to the movies advantage because they would be slaughtered after about fifteen minutes by Antonio Banderas. On Breaking Bad the Twins are given a huge build-up as they reappear often to just wordlessly stare at one another or for some unexplained reason, crawl along the desert to some Mexican witchdoctor’s janitorial closet, kill some illegal migrant workers, only to stare at one another some more. When they finally do really integrate into the main storyline it’s a cool moment that is over far quicker than all of the lead up for these ultimately minor characters.
- Gale Boetticher is Gus Fring’s chemist who while not given enough screen time for anyone to care about his eventual demise, is referenced enough that he at least appears to come across as having had a greater level of importance than he actually merits.
- Jane who in her handful of appearances primarily functions as a plot device. Initially she serves as Jesse’s landlord girlfriend who not only gets him to fall off the sobriety wagon, she also all of sudden has a drastic change of character from innocent, fun drug abuser to that of over bearing money grubbing blackmailer, and later she is revealed to be the first domino pushed in the series of events that leads to her grief stricken father being unable to do his job as air traffic controller resulting in two planes colliding.
- Marie is Hank’s wife and it seems her role is to not have a job, complain incessantly to anyone within earshot, steal stuff and otherwise annoy Hank.
The show “drops trou” and takes a massive dump that shits out portrayals of females who are one note stereotypes. Weak, mewling, kleptomaniacal, rocking high-heels at eight months pregnant, goth girlfriend, Walter White attempted rape victim, welfare dependent latina, helpful junkie prostitute – stereotypes. The women of the show are all defined by how they interact and relate to the men around them.
From the first season to the present Jesse has deteriorated in function from Walter’s partner, sidekick, henchman, lackey, and foil, remaining a source of irritation throughout. Somewhere over the seasons it became fashionable to view Jesse as a sort of emotional conscience for the show, a drug peddling, low rent murderous, downright idiotic at times emotional conscience. So how exactly is that supposed to work? Jesse’s hands are very dirty so how is he in any position to act as a moral guideline with which to judge Walter by? In a sense the show is misusing Jesse.
Jesse is one of the few fully realized and three-dimensional characters on the show. For Jesse to serve as any kind of moral compass it would require that Jesse be of equivalent stature to Walter, but on several occasions the show has presented Jesse as an incompetent goofball who is not worthy of respecting, and the acts of redemption such as attempting to give-away his drug money, come across as more of his hare-brained schemes. Jesse has never been presented as a Walter’s equal in intelligence, charisma, or even viciousness.
Bryan Cranston is the light that gives this show life. His portrayal of Walter White is perfect and one of the primary reasons to tune in to the show every week. Walter is the character viewers are meant to relate to and then become repulsed by – good plan. Well except for the fact that when we meet Walter he is already a bitter broken man, so we never see any positives just the pussy that he has become. In general, people don’t really want to relate to the pussy, and it doesn’t help that from there he only grows more and more unsympathetic, cruel, and a caricature of “EEEEE-ville” in his own right. Evil characters can still make for great protagonists if given the proper motivation (we’re looking at you Kratos from the God of War video game series).
Walter’s motivation is initially that he wants to ensure that his family is taken of once the cancer has done its job, hence meth chef and drug dealer becoming his occupation. Don’t get it twisted, Walter has opportunities to either leave the drug business (Grey Matter job offer) or remain as a well-paid meth chef if he would just play his position as Guastavo Fring’s cook, but Fuuuck That! Walter is led by his ego, pride, pettiness, his superiority complex and perhaps even suicidal or self-destructive tendencies to always attempt to become the boss. We see this occur again and again from his position at Grey Matter, to his involvement with Tuco, and in his dealings with Gus.
Kratos is thoroughly an asshole but at no point do you not want to see the Greek Gods heads on pikes because of the atrocities they are responsible for. Walter is a dickhead who repeatedly does things that exacerbate the peril for himself, his family, and his associates – and he doesn’t care because he’s an evil self-centered prick. He’s essentially a ‘heel’ wrestler whom you are waiting to receive his comeuppance.
What Breaking Bad does effectively is present a male fantasy power trip of a weak man who has been defeated by life, using the discovery of having cancer as an excuse to give in to all of his baser instincts. The story spins on the viewer buying into and caring about the life of Walter White and what is first presented as the lengths he will go to take care of his family. The problem is that we are never really given an opportunity to get to know them and care about them.
Walter White, Jr., wife Skylar, and even their baby daughter – no one really cares about them. Skylar White while starting off as merely an annoying WASPish character has definitely become more integral to the central storyline. What the writers have not done, however, is to endear herself to the viewing audience. She is probably second only to Andrea, a character on the television show ‘The Walking Dead,’ in sparking the ire of viewers and their calls for her character to be killed off, most likely along with her characters sister. Given all the crap Skylar has to deal with, it is really surprising the writers were not able to make her into a more sympathetic character.
Aside from having a disability and an affinity for calling himself ‘Finn’ when he is upset with his father, Walt, Jr. is such a nothing character that any viewer would be hard pressed to remotely be concerned if Walt, Jr. or the baby didn’t even appear in these final eight episodes.
The only familial relation viewers are interested in is that of Hank. The DEA agent and brother-in-law of Walter White who has in some form or other plagued Walter since season one. Hank has ultimately proven to be Walter’s one true nemesis.
Breaking Bad is cinematically beautiful. It is well filmed, it has a far out concepts, oddly engaging episodic plots, and the show is just enough. Just quirky enough, just funny enough, just interesting enough, that once you have enough episodes under your belt you at least want to see how the story will unfold. But pretty much any story told in serial format has the same effect. Once you start reading a few issues of a comic book or seeing a few episodes of a show, you are into it just enough to at least ride the ride since you stood in line for this long or invested your money or time into the damn thing that you want to see how it ends. That is not the stuff that greatness is made of.
In this microwave era of Twitter, Facebook, and fast food short attention spans people ready and willingly buy into the mindset of the zeitgeist spreading the message that Breaking Bad is the BEST. SHOW. EVER!!! People begin to believe the hype. But that’s all it is.