If you’ve been anywhere on the internet in the past few weeks, you’ve probably heard how great the run-up to the finale of Breaking Bad has been. These last few episodes of creator Vince Gilligan’s magnum opus have been so riveting that they have everybody and their grandmother ready to declare it the greatest t.v. show ever.
But what if you don’t watch Breaking Bad, or–if it’s possible–watched an episode or two but just couldn’t get into it? You must be pretty sick of hearing everyone yapping their gums about it by now. I bet you’d love a few critical talking points to shove back in your friends’ faces when they get all rhapsodic about Jessie freaking Pinkman, right? Well, what’s Funkhouser for, if not to provide fuel for some pop culture smack talk?
Disclaimer: I think that Breaking Bad is a really, really, good t.v. show. It deserves all of the acclaim it’s currently receiving, and can’t be blamed for any of the accompanying hyperbole. But sometimes, someone needs to play the devil’s advocate. So now, I’m going to lean toward hyperbole on the negative side and–just for the sake of you cantankerous heathens out there–lay out three (sorta) solid reasons why Breaking Bad might not be the greatest thing since The Andy Griffith Show went into syndication.
1. There’s nothing truly innovative about it.
As I implied in my post on Kentucky-bred musicians (shameless self-linkage, sorry), any GOAT candidate needs to innovate; to create something so strikingly new that it either influences those who follow it or is so unique that it’s inimitable. Any candidate for best t.v. show ever should meet that criteria too. For instance, The Sopranos set the paradigm for the anti-hero-centered, ensemble-driven psychodramas that have dominated the new Golden Era of television, The Wire was more like a PhD dissertation than it was like any t.v. show before or since, and Seinfeld was about nothing.
What has Breaking Bad done, besides give the dentist from Seinfeld a cool hat? Not only does it retread ground that both The Sopranos and The Wire already covered, but it neither reaches the operatic scope of the former nor attempts the biting systemic critique of the latter. In fact, you might say that Breaking Bad is just Weeds without Kevin Nealon. So the protagonist is also the antagonist? Huh, nobody’s ever done that before EXCEPT FOR EVERY TV SHOW SINCE 1999.
2. When you boil it down, it’s really just a show about people staring at each other.
A friend of mine once pointed out that when you put your t.v. on mute, The Wonder Years is just a show about people staring at each other (seriously, do it . . . your life will change forever). You could say the same about Breaking Bad. The cast has won a slew of Emmys for their acting, but how much of that is the actual acting and how much is that part in the script where it says “Walt looks at Skyler significantly”? Almost every scene includes a moment where one character stares at another and twitches an eye or furrows a brow to give the audience the sense that something deep is going on.
Could be great acting. Could also be smoke and mirrors. Cranston is definitely a joy to watch, but go scope out four or five episodes of Malcolm in the Middle and then come back and tell me the difference between Hal and Walt. Not much, huh? The same goes for Aaron Paul’s characters in Breaking Bad and in Big Love. Just add a few more yo’s to the latter and it’s essentially the same guy, yo.
3. Oh, they made a t.v. show about a guy who gets cancer and turns to drug dealing to leave something behind for his family interesting? That must have been really difficult to do.
Even while playing devil’s advocate, you can’t deny that Breaking Bad began with a fantastic premise. High school chemistry teacher finds out he has terminal cancer, then finds out that he’s really good a cooking meth, then becomes a drug lord. That pitch meeting must have lasted all of three minutes before the suits were on board. Oh, and his wife is seven-months pregnant? Oh, and Bob Odenkirk is eventually going to be in it? Shut. Up. And. Take. Our. Money.
And while the cast and crew have done a good job executing that original premise, is that really all we need from the greatest t.v. show of all time . . . good execution of a good idea?
Whew. That was way harder than I thought it was going to be (that last one was a bit of a stretch, huh?).
But there you go. Trot one of those points out the next time your neighbors won’t shut up about how great Breaking Bad is. In the meantime, feel free to discuss your candidates for best-show-ever in the comments. Does Breaking Bad make your cut, or is everyone just so wrapped up in the excellent extended finale that they’re over-selling it?