There are few series as universally revered and conversation-sparking as this. At the peak of its success, people walked around sporting jumpers with the lead character on and the words “say my name”, which, if said, with just the right amount of aggression brought everyone back to that one scene in season five. And now, over ten years since it first aired, it’s high(senberg) time we revisited Breaking Bad.
For the rare few who won’t have yet got around to watching this TV epic – and have managed to avoid spoilers, which is an achievement in itself – we’ll get you clued up. When series one opens, we meet Walter White, a middle-aged chemistry teacher in an Albuquerque school who has been diagnosed with incurable, stage three lung cancer, with only two years left to live. This being America, that lands him in a financial pickle – how is he going to provide for his wife and son who has cerebral palsy, with all these medical costs? Unlike most millennials, he didn’t opt for selling homemade bakes or starting an OnlyFans. Instead he starts cooking and selling meth, the natural choice. Whilst it starts out to be a small side hustle, recruiting one of his reprobate former students, Jessie, Walter soon finds out he’s pretty bloody good at this drug dealing malarkey. And before we know it, our burnt-out chemistry teacher is a drug kingpin with his own signature, blue recipe, getting tangled up in Drug Enforcement Administration investigations, arguments with his increasingly concerned family, and the looming threat of rival cartels. This scenario definitely wouldn’t be the top of our bucket list, but each to their own, we guess.
As you can likely deduce from that synopsis, this show is not messing around when it comes to drama. As the seasons journey on, the sense of approaching doom increases, tempered with the odd moment of calm and reassurance, during which time you still feel reluctant to relax, knowing it won’t be long before the next round of chaos. But there’s a wonderful, twisty, gripping order to it, and you’ll struggle to stop yourself from getting sucked in – we watch our protagonist become the antagonist, knitting his enemies, loved ones and allies into a web of crime, lies and violence.
It’s because of this intricate plot that the series became so critically acclaimed, and why after all these years it still stands out as one of the best bits of telly from the 21st century, with characters we simultaneously loathe and love.
Show creator Vince Gilligan’s mantelpiece is now overloaded with awards, including 16 Emmys. Imagine all that dusting. And The Telegraph’s Jenny McCartney thinks they’re well deserved. She says, “The gripping, complex subtlety of its drama makes directors such as Tarantino, with his pseudo-ironic flip-talk and lasciviously spurting fountains of blood, look like a stalled high-schooler playing with a ketchup kit. When Breaking Bad finally ends, it is one moment when Hollywood – not known for its humility – might usefully kneel before the small screen, and take notes.” In The Guardian, Paul MacInnes concurs that this show set the benchmark for future telly, saying “The whole thing was about transformation. But Breaking Bad was also emblematic of significant changes in TV and culture as a whole…[it] became a classic drama for many reasons: some to do with craft, some to do with creativity. But above all else it stood out because, however surreal the surroundings, in its conflicted, complicated characters it was true to reality.”
First shown January 2008. You can watch the trailer by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here.