'Breaking Bad' Is the Best Show on TV
by Joel Keller, posted Jun 14th 2010 3:02PM
In my review of the 'Breaking Bad' season finale, I said that this past season of the show was one of the best seasons of drama I've seen in at least a decade. So it isn't much of a stretch to think that I might also have a strong opinion on how the show stacks up against everything out there on the tube right now.
Well, let me get that strong opinion out of the way so I can get to the business of explaining why.
'Breaking Bad' is the best show on television.
There. Ripped that Band-Aid right off.
It's better than 'Lost,' better than 'Dexter,' better than 'Rescue Me.' It's even better than its highly-praised AMC schedule-mate 'Mad Men,' despite the fact that Matt Weiner and company put together a stellar third season last year. And it's not even close.
(Warning: Spoilers from the third season ahead.)
It's funny; for the last three years, all the critics, including myself, have been getting the vapors over 'Mad Men.' And for good reason: the show is stylish, it has a layered story infused with subtle touches that are always part of the big story, it can be funny as hell at times, and it can draw you in even during its slowest, most contemplative moments.
But, in approximately that same time period, 'Breaking Bad' has quietly been surpassing 'Men' by sheer force of will. And it's not just Bryan Cranston's performance that's making the quality needle move in the direction of this little show set in Albuquerque.
A few reasons why 'Bad' has assumed the mantle of Best on TV:
The "holy crap" moments. There were at least five this season. Right away, in the season premiere, creator Vince Gilligan and his writing staff dispensed with the tension regarding what Skyler knew about Walt's double life, and they just had Walt lay it all out on the line for her. Then we had Skyler drop her own bombshell to Walt: "I f---ed Ted."
Then we had the back-to-back Hank-related drama of 'Sunset' and 'One Minute': Hank closes in on the RV to the point where he's staking it out with Jesse and Walt inside, and then he had that epic confrontation with The Cousins that led him to spend the last half of the season confined to a hospital bed.
Finally, we had the biggest "holy crap" moment of them all, in last week's 'Half Measures.' Walt hits the corner guys with his Aztek to keep Jesse from killing them, then coldly shoots one of them in the head when he saw that the guy was still alive.
I can't remember the last time I've been through a season where I've yelled out in reaction to a scene so many times. If a show is eliciting that kind of gut reaction from me not once, but five times, it's doing something extraordinary.
Even the quiet moments aren't so quiet. There are episodes this season that could have been considered "breathers," especially after all the craziness of those peak-action episodes I mentioned above. But they're only relative breathers; a look back and you'll realize how much has happened or how deeply you've just gone into exploring the psyches of the characters.
We see Jesse torturing himself over the death of Jane, and only reluctantly turning back to the meth pipe when the pain got too great. We see Walt, obsessed over a fly in his new lab, start to reflect on the fact that he "lived too long," and everything would have been perfect if the cancer took him months before this mess got messier. We see Hank trying to fight the PTSD from his time in El Paso and still figure out where the blue meth was coming from, then we see him try to deal with being what he thinks is half the man he used to be. And, finally, we see Sky contemplating moving with Walt to the dark side and all that implies.
Even in the finale, even though it was filled with action, it struck me that it was more of an introspective episode, with Jesse finally realizing that he's about to commit cold-blooded murder and all that it implies. And, as far as Gilligan's concerned, Jesse did actually shoot Gale at the end of the finale. So seeing how Jesse, the purer soul of the Walt/Jesse pair, deals with this in season four will be interesting.
It makes viewers examine their own moral relativity scales. Viewers are rooting for Walt, even though he's slowly but surely becoming more calculated, more dangerous, and, let's face it, more evil. But yet, we still want him to get away with this enterprise, even if that enterprise is making tons of meth.
And, even though Jesse seems like a junkie and a punk, we walk away from this season rooting for him even more than Walt, because he's actually feeling the moral weight of what he's doing, while all Walt is doing is figuring out his next move.
In the meantime, we look at the cops and the DEA agents -- especially Hank -- doing yoeman's work in trying to keep the drug flow down to a minimum, and we're all rooting against them. Did anyone want Hank to open the RV and see Walt in there? Of course not. Were we happy when Walt decided to lure his brother-in-law away by faking an accident for Marie? Of course. In the real world, those emotions are just twisted. But as a 'Breaking Bad' viewer, they seem normal.
The Cousins. Admit it. They were the creepiest, darkest TV villains you've ever seen. I still get chills thinking about those two.
So, do you agree that 'Breaking Bad' is the best on TV? If not, what's your choice?