The blog rotation has fallen on me this week and, as fate should have it, Breaking Bad wrapped. I was going to pontificate about my latest passion which has become mid-nineties Australian sitcoms – but the timing isn’t proper. The fine folks at AMC decided to thumb its nose at the Netflix enthusiasts and DVD buyers of world. They put one of their franchise shows, Breaking Bad, on in marathon form in a build up to this season. Friday nights were marathon sessions. I missed it during the first run and was very miffed when Bryan Cranston would beat out Don Draper at the Emmys. To me, Cranston will always be Malcolm’s dad. I hated Malcolm in the Middle. He was Tim Whatley, Jerry Seinfeld’s lecherous dentist. I knew him on the pilot episode of the Pam Anderson action series VIP -but his work as meth master Walter White must be celebrated. As he moved from sheepish milquetoast to evil drug lord, he turned into having the traits of a great wrestling champion. He started off as a good guy, with tag team partners like Hank and his wife. He had a protégé to mentor and bail him out in Jesse. Then he got a manager, in lawyer Saul. He battled in feuds with the likes of contenders to his meth title with the likes of Tuco, the grizzled Mike, and Gus. Like the great wrestler he became a villain. The bad guy. He turned on his wife, Hank, and his son. He put on his literal black hat with greed and power taking over for family loyalty. And in ultimate wrestling fashion, left to go to do movies.With the end of the show, the inevitable question is asked: Is Breaking Bad the greatest show ever? For sitcoms I’ll give the first ten years of The Simpsons the nod over Seinfeld and the original The Office because, as the years passed, lines like, “I’ll just keep these keys”, “Probably misses his old glasses” and “Oh no – Bette Midler!” still get a chuckle out of me. Throw in The Phil Silvers Show and Andy Griffith for an old school honourable mention. But there are arguments to be had on the drama side. As our culture has decided these questions must be asked the day after it ends. We have no time to let history be the judge. The Sopranos was great but gets points off for the Joe Pantoliano season where it openly meandered and relied on violence. It came dangerously close to becoming a parody of itself. Let’s not forget NYPD Blue – which helped usher in the era of gritty drama which was pretty shocking for network TV in the 90’s. Character actors in lead roles with Dennis Franz being the anti-tv star serving as the older, chubby, bald anti-hero. We can put Breaking Bad up against the other AMC jewel, Mad Men, which goes against grit and edge. It is built on style and ambience. A throwback of attractive people being charming. Moving at a leisurely pace with episodes being textured with character studies and not relying on violence. Although Don, Joan, and Peggy robbing a train would be spectacular. I’ll still give my award to The Wire. Just the right mix of character work and violence. Being both witty and gritty with a no-name cast and no Emmys to boot.
The last episode itself was high on the texture. A great Breaking Bad staple of the tense phone call with Skyler having nothing left to give. It has become a pre-requisite of finale episodes that you have to wink at the audience who have been there since the beginning. So you get special appearances by Badger, Jesse’s fantasy of building a wooden box, and the bacon birthday. I think in drama the story is richer when the protagonist does not achieve his objective. Rocky doesn’t win at the end of Rocky 1. He wins it for himself, going the distance with the champ and getting the girl becoming sweeter than the actual victory. In the ballad of Walter White, he put us through so much. We followed him for so long, with cancer being introduced right off the hop – we are prepared that this isn’t going to end well. So I was okay with the relatively feel good ending. Walt going out in a blaze of glory. Exacting his final bit of revenge on the bad guys who are not ambiguous shades of grey but legitimate awful human beings. I like the slow build to the last blistering torrent of violence. Walt physically and emotionally exhausted using the book smarts from before his foray in the drug trade to assist his street smarts he picked up in his illegal activities. Now that Breaking Bad is done the TV snobs must look to find the next “best show ever.” A full-fledged good luck to the hard-working dudes and babes on The Americans, Homeland, and Ray Donovan. We need you to shock us, provoke us, and ultimately leave us just short of being satisfied.
Raphael Saray is a writer/producer/broadcaster based in Flin Flon, Manitoba. He believes in God and Elvis. He is currently saving up his overtime for the one love of his life.
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