Why Breaking Bad is a landmark in television

Television these days is considered the entertainment medium for grown-ups. There have been some really, really good TV shows in the last decade and a half with thematically strong content. They make the best film has to offer look like over-priced eye-candy. HBO should be considered as the frontrunner as their ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘The Wire’ completely changed the television landscape in the early 2000s and paved the way for future. Then came ABC’s Lost, AMC’s Mad Men, and others. And, of course, Breaking Bad. On this day, the last episode of this remarkable AMC show was aired four years ago. Let’s have a look at why the crime drama revolving around just one character turned out to be a masterpiece.

Breaking Bad is mainly an examination of one single character who ‘breaks bad’. The show follows a man called Walter White as he goes to the dark side, if you excuse my Star Wars reference. A meek chemistry teacher, a diagnosis reveals he has terminal lung cancer. Teaming up with Jesse Pinkman, a former student, he starts a tentative ‘cooking’ business and that is the moment when he crosses the Rubicon. Jesse Pinkman may have been a meth addict, but Walter White was the real junkie.


At the beginning, you sympathise with him. He is, after all, a man trying to make sure his family’s future is secure. But then he does certain things that make the worst villains in the series look misunderstood. Bryan Cranston, in an absolutely outstanding performance, encapsulates the character of Walter White so perfectly that it is hard to imagine he was the same person who played Dad in Malcolm in the Middle. During the course of the show, his persona alters. And Cranston manages to nail them all. He is believable as a picked-on chemistry teacher, he is believable as a caring family man, he is also believable as the ruthless Heisenberg.

The cinematographers do a marvellous job in bringing out the lines on his face in clear contrast. Which reminds me of the visual element of the show. Breaking Bad has solid writing and acting, but visuals are a strong part of it. Best visual touches are those that you don’t notice. They seamlessly blend into the narrative. The clothes Walter White wears get darker as he turns evil. Sometimes the camera stays on one scene for a painfully long time, and recurring motifs (like the ominous one-eyed teddy bear) contain the theme of a particular episode or things to come.

You cannot truly appreciate Breaking Bad until you have finished it completely. In the end, Walter White himself admits what the discerning viewers have suspected for some time – that he did everything for himself. There are a lot many themes the show explores, but one supersedes them all: you reap what you sow. Actions have consequences, in other words. Walter White gets away for a long time but ultimately what he has done catches up to him. But for all the evil he did, he remains human right till the end. So believable in spite of the things he did.

The term gets thrown around a lot, but Breaking Bad really is a masterpiece.

(This article was first published here at indianexpress.com)



Recent TV

I’ve been immersed in television of late. Actually, I’m watching TV shows all the time, so make that “I’m immersed in television even more deeply than I usually am.” As I’ve mentioned earlier in a blog post, television’s episodic and serial format really does seem like the best medium to tell a good story and tell a story well. It shows.

There’s some fine television out there. The industry has been on a roll for a decade and half. HBO’ Westworld is earning a lot of praise, and I’d say deservedly so. It is just what I love – a complex story, good characters, ambiguity, suspense, and philosophical conundrums to indulge in. It is not much better than it was slated to be, but then the hype was too much to overcome. The latest episode (seventh) had a big reveal. While it was not a shocking, the way it was written and acted was absolutely classic, and this shows the calibre of the actors who grace its cast. Another HBO winner.

I finished The Walking Dead’s fourth episode of its seventh season and I know it is back for me. I had lost interest somewhere along fourth or fifth season when I realised that it was really going nowhere, and there was no clear resolution in sight. Zombies would always be there, and so would be the living and breathing baddies. But sixth an seventh seasons have once again struck a chord with me. Of course, this might be because of a few important character’s deaths, but it is more, I think. The characters are once again interesting enough for you to care about them, and as “Jesus” said, “your world is going to get a whole lot bigger.” The tried and tested formula still works. Bring ’em zombies, AMC!

I have jumped on to the Bates Motel pretty late, but I’m happy. The premise of If You Want To Know What Made A Psycho, Well, Psycho was already interesting, and as a prequel to the horror classic, it really does justice. Performances are superb, and I love how the uneasy chemistry Norman and Norma, the son and mother duo, is drawn. Good stuff. I’ve finished the first season, and will start the second one one of these days…

Television & Film

I’ve been a dedicated follower of both sorts of ‘screen’ entertainment we have – television and film – for a few years now. I’ve consumed far more TV as compared to films, and I mean the format not just the medium. I believe the kind of most recent (that is, in the last decade) commercial cinema is – it doesn’t even begin to compare with the quality that can be seen in television. I suppose most of you will agree with me here. Hereon, by “cinema” and “films”, I mean commercial cinema and films.

Previously, the best talent could be found only in the film industry for the most part. Now this is no longer the case. That the TV actors are starting to get more spotlight and social media attention than their cinema counterparts is well-known. Now a Kit Harrington is as recognisable as a Christian Bale, as almost as drooled on by the fairer sex. The gargantuan commercial successes enjoyed by TV series produced by HBO and AMC, particularly with flagship shows like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad, has only improved things for television.

I find this change refreshing, being an avid television viewer myself. And I can venture a guess as to why all this might be happening. I feel the reason is simple enough. People are beginning to realise that the television format, with episodes broadcast in a series, is a better medium to tell a story. A Song of Ice and Fire series, on which Game of Thrones is based, would never have been possible as a series of film. The costs, it being a large screen adaptation, of special and visual effects would have exceeded beyond the wildest imaginations, and dividends would have likely been minimal. Films need immediate success. Television is a little like books. It may rely upon word of mouth publicity. It does not depend necessarily depend upon the numbers of viewers during its first broadcast.

But when I say better, I don’t just mean that television is easier to adapt from a series of books. After all, most TV series are based on original stories. The second, and clincher for me, advantage of television is that it also allows comfortable, relaxed storytelling which filmmakers have no choice but to shun owing to timing constraints. Most modern films clock under two hours, while television series go on and on.

Of course you might eventually lose interest, but then there are so many options to choose from. The episodic format allows TV shows to develop plot and characters more believably and also to build up slowly to the exciting climax (or season finale or series finale). This makes for more enjoyable (at least for me) and immersive experience. Films, on the other hand, have to be exciting and action packed and dramatic almost every fifteen minutes. This is why I’ve always wanted the films I like to go on endlessly. They don’t, and it is sad, but here is where television comes into the picture.


It is difficult to believe that there’s been only two episodes of Westworld released so far, considering the amount of time I’ve spent on reading its reviews and fan theories. I wrote a preview of Westworld for Indian Express wherein I had expressed high hopes for the drama. Have they been fulfilled? Yes, and more.

Westworld does not only look great. It is as much substance as it is style. Like the intertwining storylines that run beneath the surface in the ‘amusement’ park, there are some philosophical and moral enigmas that actually make it engaging. HBO is known for profound television, and Westworld truly would have looked weird on any other network. I would say more, but then I’d be giving it away. And it is impossible to explain in words anyway. Watch it to know it.

A little early to say, but Westworld is destined to be the next HBO flagship once Game of Thrones goes off the air.