I like Breaking Bad. When I’m watching it, I’m engrossed by the characters and the storylines. I enjoy it as much as any show currently on the air and think the people who make it are brilliant. But I’m getting sick of hearing about it, especially from dicks.
Most people probably realize this, but Breaking Bad is a really good soap opera. It’s this generation’s Dallas. Of course, Breaking Bad is more sophisticated in its techniques and, being on cable and airing a few decades later, it has the freedom to do many things Dallas could never do. But the reasons we watch are the same. (Except that Breaking Bad is funnier.)
Both shows allow us to access high stakes, big action worlds that we hear about in the news, but probably have no real knowledge of: the Dallas oil boom of the 80’s and the various levels of sniffing and dealing meth today. We’re drawn in by outlandish characters who have complicated relationships full of dramatic irony. These relationships spawn elaborate maps of lies, loyalties, hatred, betrayal, love and danger. The characters are so interesting that you can be drawn into liking and rooting for people you’d normally consider inherently repugnant because of the classes they belong to. Breaking Bad even made me like a DEA agent!
All sorts of grand shit happens in the story and it’s so well put together that nobody cares how preposterous much of it is. The most exciting thing to happen to you this year could be an 8% raise. These guys are driving trucks full of drugs around, killing, being killed and handling garbage bags full of money, all while remaining people you can empathize with, or at least be interested in. The character developments, relationships and events unfold in a way that creates many exciting possibilities and you’re either dying to know which one will be realized next week, or you spare yourself that torture and save up the entire season and consume it in one gluttonous weekend.
Also, the soap opera nature of the show gives it an ephemeral quality which makes it more of a cultural phenomenon that is fun to participate in. It’s kind of a fad. “Who shot J.R.?” and “who will be killed at the end of Breaking Bad?” Breaking Bad will be a little marker for this time when we look back on it. A point of commonality. Maybe that’s why certain discussions of the show annoy me so much. I want to participate in the craze, but half the time Breaking Bad is mentioned, I just find myself rubbing my temples because these dicks dominate the discussion. There are two types of Breaking Bad dicks who grind my gears.
Breaking Bad Dick Number 1: #BreakingBadSrirachaBaconZombies
What happens here is that some empty person correctly identifies a few things that are unusually good. After establishing that they are very good, he turns them into affiliations and wraps himself in these pieces of culture in the same way a politician wraps himself in the flag.
Your local politician likes the country he befouls and you probably like the country you he is befouling. #BBSBZ likes good hot sauce, pork fat, entertaining and popular movie creatures and high quality TV shows. You probably like those things too.
Once they get this affirmation, the politician and #BBSBZ both go apeshit with it because they have an intense desire to gain approval, then waive the approval around for as many people to see as possible. So they try to plant the idea that their act of liking the thing means that the quality of the thing somehow rubs off on them. They turn themselves into a symbol for liking the thing and so if you like the thing, and like liking the thing, you must like them.
#BBSBZ’s next step is to get really aggressive about it. Now they don’t just like the thing. It is the greatest thing of it’s kind on earth. It is the greatest thing of it’s kind in history! Because, having tried to mix themselves into the thing, #BBSBZ is now implying that the greater the thing is, the greater they are. Therefore, no hyperbole is sufficient to express its quality. You’ll get a more dispassionate account from John Travolta talking about Dianetics.
Next, a bunch of similarly minded people connect with each other and agree to play this game. They’ll crow endlessly about how great the thing is and, by implication, how great all of them are for liking it. This reaches a fever pitch on social media, where everyone competes to express how deeply fond they are of a soap opera or a strip of pork, just as politicians compete to prove who can muster up the corniest expressions of patriotism.
Finally, they become hostile to anyone who doesn’t like the thing enough, or just doesn’t care about it. “You don’t like AmeriBreaking Bad? What the fuck is your problem? What is wrong with you?” They’re infuriated by anyone who just ignores the thing. If someone is not willing to play the game the #BBSZBs made up, the object of which is to prove how awesome #BBSZBs are, they see it as unfair.
However, they are ultimately glad for the people who do participate but don’t like the thing, because it gives them a foil. If 100% of people liked the thing, the whole game would be pointless. That’s why people don’t tweet about how much they like air very often. Talking about how people who don’t like the thing are stupid or otherwise defective, is just another way of asserting their own superiority and membership in the club for really smart people who have great taste and are in the know.
Of course, we’re all guilty of this kind of behavior to some extent, be it by proudly wearing our Iron Maiden t-shirts or exaggerating a bit on how good a local burger joint is. But there’s a point at which this self indulgence becomes obnoxious and pathetic and #BBSBZ takes the obnoxiousness to Gervaisian levels.
Breaking Bad Dick Number 2: The Pope of pop.
The Pope reasons that Breaking Bad is very popular and very good, therefore it must be some kind of artistic masterpiece that only he can fathom the depths of. The Pope agrees with #BreakingBadSrirachaBaconZombies’s statements, but his role is to serve as the only one who really has direct access to the content and importance of the show. He will serve as the representative of the show to those of us in the mortal realm. So he investigates and discovers why #BBSBZ’s hyperboles are true, and then to enlightens us with his findings.
In reality, Breaking Bad is good because it’s so intricate and well done and because it creates an exciting new reality for us to witness. That’s quite an accomplishment. But it doesn’t mean that the show teaches us about life or has profound social commentary or is a holy text. But The Pope must justify his importance, so that won’t do.
The most common theme this sort of person wants to explore in Breaking Bad is the nature of evil. What does Walt teach us about the nature evil? What does the development of Walt’s character reveal about the origins of evil?
The answer to these questions is, “nothing.” Walter becomes “evil,” (if you must) for the same reason every comic book supervillain does. He starts out trying to be a nice guy and do the right thing and is pretty idealistic. Other people and life in general respond by shitting on him. They refuse to abide by the ideals he has made sacrifices to maintain. And cancer and handicapped kids get dealt to nice , responsible people just as freely as they do anyone else. Then Walt discovers a path to power and is like, “you know what? Fuck you. Fuck all of you. I know from bitter experience that if you had this power over me, you would use it to shit on me, so now that I have the power I’m looking out for number one.” Then, the same dogmatism that made him an idealist who let other people walk all over him as long as he was doing right, now leads him to take this view to the extreme. He is looking out for number one on principle, so he feels comfortable doing almost anything in pursuit of his own interests. I don’t think there’s much more to it than that. It’s cool how they made a guy who fit that pattern the protagonist.
For Klosterman types and the weenie who talks about TV on NPR, it’s not good enough to just go through how well crafted the show is. It’s unlikely that they could do so even if they wanted to. They remind me of the people who talk about sports for a living. They only vaguely know what they are talking about, but they fabricate shallow positions that have the appearance of substance and then articulate them very well. One day, when I find a path to power, I’ll put them all in the same concentration camp. I’ll show them. I’ll show them all.
The Pope will often make statements similar to those of the #BBSBZ, perhaps asserting that Breaking Bad is the greatest show ever to air. Yep, it’s clearly better than the classic Simpsons seasons or The Twilight Zone. Why? The Pope attempts to separate himself from #BBSBZ by finding profound justifications for his claims. So he grafts some sophomoric pap onto the show. “People aren’t inherently evil. They can become evil. And this never occurred to anyone before Breaking Bad aired. And this fact, which I have discovered, logically proves that it is better than The Simpsons.”
And again, we’re all guilty of these general sins to some extent. Especially those of us who write about pop culture on the internet. It’s really a question of degree. The Popes are dead serious and think they are doing important work about a critical text. They are using the show as as their funny hat and Pope stick, asserting that sages such as themselves can demonstrate their own greatness as the only true knowers of the divine. And the more important the show is (you know you have a Pope on your hands when he describes a soap opera or the new Rihana album as, “important”), the more important the role of The Pope is. But between this guy and #BreakingBadSrirachaBaconZombies, all they’ve managed is to get me to dread coming across the words “Breaking Bad.”
I’m not going to argue much for where I rank Breaking Bad in the canon. I got a lot more out of the aforementioned shows and some others, like Twin Peaks. I like The X-Files more simply because I like aliens and ghosts more than drugs and guns. I liked Columbo better because it had Columbo in it. I guess I liked Breaking Bad more than The Sopranos. But what does it matter? A lot of how you rank brilliantly executed shows (if you must) depends on stuff like how much you like satire and innovation done on the scale The Simpsons does it versus, say, the social realism of The Wire. Or maybe you like movies much more than TV shows and are just sick of bad pundits saying that we’ve entered an era where TV has greatly surpassed film, simply because they need to invent some false competition so they have a subject on which to spout ill informed bullshit. If I had the willpower, I’d wait five years to watch the last season of Breaking Bad just to to enjoy the show without the stink these people spread when they rub it all over themselves.