As the 2010s draw to a close, it’s time to look back at the TV series that defined the decade. With a 9.5/10 rating on IMDB, there’s no arguing that the critically acclaimed American TV drama Breaking Bad made its mark. But is it decade-defining?
When the show first aired in 2008, audiences were captivated by the uniqueness of the plot. This was not the story of Pablo Escobar, it was the story of a high school chemistry teacher with cancer and how he came to run his own meth empire. It was Vince Gilligan’s answer to the question of how an ordinary person breaks bad. And we were all hooked.
As the series unfolded, Gilligan boldly paved the way for character-driven TV. Yes, Breaking Bad is filled with action and shock factor, but what makes it so compelling is our fascination with the characters – our fascination with Walter White. By the time Breaking Bad wrapped up in 2013, shows with weak protagonists no longer made the cut. Gilligan raised the bar by satisfying our craving for interesting characters with stories we had never heard before. Masterpieces like Suits and House of Cards would follow.
When Breaking Bad wrapped up, we were offered Better Call Saul. This was Gilligan’s prequel that was even more character-orientated than the original series. Episodes were slow-paced, deliberate, and meticulously crafted. Fans became just as fascinated and obsessed with B-character Saul Goodman’s story as they had been with Heisenberg’s. This is what a prequel should be – something that adds to the story rather than clings helplessly to the bones of the original. It keeps the Breaking Bad fantasy alive for fans while offering more layers to a story that we thought had already finished.
Finally, Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul proved that television doesn’t need to be full of epic moments to satisfy audiences. In an era where the TV golden rule seemed to be “the bigger, the better”, Gilligan offered us the infamous bottle episode, “Fly”. The episode stripped back the drama and followed Jessie and Mr. White in a single room, searching for a fly. This wasn’t a final-showdown moment but the opposite. It was a magnifying glass to Walter’s mental state and his diminishing relationship with Jessie. Gilligan massively slashed the budget for the episode, and yet many critics consider it to be one of the best. Breaking Bad thus proved that things don’t always need to be ‘kicking off’ so to speak for television to be interesting.
And in a nutshell, that’s how Breaking Bad raised the bar and became the most iconic TV show of the decade.