On Sunday, July 17th the AMC television series Breaking Bad makes its long awaited return for its fourth season.
And while it often gets overshadowed by AMC’s other acclaimed series, Mad Men, all the 60′s set pieces, painfully slow pacing and bloated critical acclaim in the world can’t change the fact that Breaking Bad is the superior program and hands down the best show on TV.
I don’t care how much scotch he swills or ass he might tap, there is no way Don Draper can match Walter White when it comes to who is more awesome and enjoyable to watch.
Here’s 3 reasons why no other show on television comes close to Breaking Bad:
1) IT’S THE MOST ORIGINAL TELEVISION SHOW IN YEARS
Say what you will about Breaking Bad, but a rehashed concept it is not. In a TV landscape that is littered with boring procedurals and endless spinoffs, it’s pretty rare when a blisteringly original premise for a new series comes along.
Breaking Bad chronicles the saga of Walter White, a mild-mannered chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in the series’ pilot episode, despite the fact he’s never smoked a cigarette in his entire life.
Although he had once been on the precipice of greatness with his scientific work in chemistry, opportunity passed Walt by and he ended up settling for a simple, suburban life as a highly overqualified high school chemistry teacher.
However, upon his diagnosis, and faced with the realities of leaving behind little money or security for his teenage son and pregnant wife, Walt embarks on a criminal career after realizing the fortune that could be made by him simply applying his vast knowledge of chemistry to the task of manufacturing meth-amphetamines.
As the series progresses we see Walt navigate the murky waters between the identities of cancer-stricken family man and that of an emerging drug kingpin, often to comedic effect. But the show’s true brilliance, where it really sets itself apart, is in the simplicity of its concept:
Breaking Bad is the story of a man who was alive, but dead inside, yet after finding out he’s going to die, comes to life.
This “awakening” is the core of the show’s genius, and ultimately, the gateway to one of the most remarkable character arcs in television history.
2) BRYAN CRANSTON IS AMAZING
There’s a reason this guy has won three consecutive Emmy awards for Best Actor in a Television Drama.
Not only is Cranston portraying a man grappling with terminal illness, which already is juicy enough material for a complex character, but he’s also playing a man seduced by the money, power and excitement of a life of crime.
Now playing a morally challenged lead character on a television drama is nothing particularly new. In fact, in the last five years the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama category has rewarded all kinds of villainous performances with nominations.
Serial killers, dirty cops, gangsters, lecherous law-breaking lawyers, abusive drug addicts — these types of roles have become the norm for actors looking to score dramatic television’s greatest honour.
So what is it in particular about Bryan Cranston’s performance as Walter White that makes it so remarkable? Is he really that much better of an actor than his peers or has he simply lucked out and scored a role that lets him play a character that has an advantage at award shows due to the one-two punch of cancer and criminality?
The answer is simple — Cranston’s just that damn good.
Now don’t get me wrong, I was as shocked as anyone when Bryan Cranston, best known as the doofy dad from Malcolm In The Middle, started snagging Emmys for dramatic acting like he was the Lance Armstrong of television.
In fact, I found Malcolm In The Middle to be such a pile of obnoxious, cacophonous try-hard comedic drivel that I purposely avoided giving Breaking Bad a chance for several seasons simply out of spite.
But once I finally watched that first episode of Breaking Bad, within minutes it became glaringly evident that Bryan Cranston was the real deal when it came to the craft of acting, despite whatever roles he may of had in the past.
Ultimately, what makes Cranston’s work on Breaking Bad amazing is how he manages to make Walter White’s epic character arc seem so realistic.
When The Sopranos begins, Tony is already a mob boss. Michael C. Hall has been killing people for years before we meet him in Dexter and on The Shield Michael Chiklis blows away a fellow cop on his squad in the pilot episode.
But in Breaking Bad, the Walter White we meet is a mild-mannered law-abiding high school chemistry teacher. As a result, the guy’s about as intimidating as a handicapped girl scout selling cookies so she can win a trip to space camp.
Over the course of three short seasons consisting of only 33 episodes, the writers and producers of Breaking Bad take Walter White on an incredible journey and believably turn him from a nerdy suburban dad into a complete badass.
Think I’m kidding?
This is Walter White in Season One:
And this is Walt in a promotional image for the upcoming Season Four:
Not only has this guy gone from lab geek to drug kingpin, but the pivotal scenes in which we witness Walt’s evolution, like when he murders a man for the first time or confronts tweekers muscling in on his drug selling turf in a Home Depot parking lot, are absolutely riveting.
It’s in these scenes that Bryan Cranston brilliantly captures not just the intensity of the moment but also the sheer thrill Walt receives by embracing his darker instincts.
Over the course of the series one discovers that Walt has a tremendous amount of pride, resentment and rage, and as the show progresses he begins to channel these repressed emotions into his new identity as an emerging drug lord.
This depth of Walt’s character is masterfully portrayed by Cranston, and in a single episode his nuanced performance can have you feeling everything from pity over his circumstances to concern over who, and what, he is becoming.
3) VINCE GILLIGAN IS FEARLESS
The creator and executive producer of Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan, is no stranger to writing great television. This is a guy who cut his teeth on The X-Files during its prime, and is responsible for some of that show’s best episodes.
Gilligan carved out a rare niche for himself as a television writer, and became popular among fans for his dual ability to craft both thrilling and quirky stories. This talent is why despite its gripping drama Breaking Bad remains one of the most darkly comedic shows on television.
But perhaps the best thing about Vince Gilligan is simply how bold the man is. Gilligan has gone on record and said that when it comes to Walt’s character arc, he has no plans to pull any punches.
As a result, what he is doing with the character of Walt is virtually unprecedented in the history of television.
Gilligan has taken what has to be one of the most sympathetic characters ever to debut in a pilot episode (a gentle, cancer-stricken family man) and turned him into someone who is borderline reprehensible (a cunning, manipulative and ruthless drug lord who’s decisions are destroying the lives of those around him).
Unless letting your partner’s girlfriend choke to death on her own vomit and orchestrating the execution of your innocent lab assistant by a gunshot to the face has suddenly become socially acceptable.
Walt’s sins are not just adding up — they are snowballing. Gilligan has even addressed this in interviews and said that a lot of people may no longer like or root for Walt. In fact, Gilligan even expects some people to stop watching the show altogether as Walt becomes even more morally bankrupt in Season Four.
Vince Gilligan’s priority is not ensuring viewers will continue to care about Walter White — it’s that he remains the most captivating and interesting character on TV.
In terms of characterization, Breaking Bad is truly in a class by itself due to the fact that as we watch Walt sink deeper and deeper into a world of villainy, the audience realizes that while cancer may be eating away at Walt’s body, his criminality is eating away at his soul.
Despite the fact that he had the best of intentions when he began his journey into the drug world, Walt has crossed and continues to cross lines from which there is no return. And that, quite frankly, is something no other show has ever had the balls to do with their protagonist before.