The AMC series has mostly itself to thank for its pop-culture explosion
Other than “Behind the Candelabra,” anointing “Breaking Bad” as TV’s best drama felt like about the only sure thing on an Emmy night that was largely filled with surprises. Yet the show’s crowning moment is the sort of rare success story that promises to be analyzed more closely than a batch of Heisenberg’s product in the click-driven build-up to the show’s Sept. 29 finale.
Frankly, the fact “Bad,” once one of those little shows that could, would wind up creating such a wide pop-culture footprint is a triumph all its own, as well as a testimonial to the power of word of mouth, which — more than any other single attribute — has contributed to the show’s explosion.
Series creator Vince Gilligan might have graciously credited Netflix with his program taking off — in the same way he acted surprised when its name was called at Sunday’s Emmys — but the distribution service was only the conduit, one of the tools that enabled the series to catch fire.
No, the “Breaking Bad” experience can best be conveyed anecdotally through the story of a friend of mine, one who has nothing to do with the entertainment business. A few years ago, I casually mentioned that if he wasn’t watching the show, he should consider giving it a try, and that the strike-shortened first season was a relatively small investment — a mere seven episodes.
A few weeks ago, he told me he and his wife were eagerly devouring this final flight, having caught up and watched every hour.
“Breaking Bad” is hardly the only show to develop a loyal core following. But the reason it grew so exponentially has everything to do with the addictive nature of the series — storytelling so provocative and unpredictable as to have sent an inordinate number of those who take a bite into a binge-feeding frenzy.
Success, as they say, has a thousand fathers, but that level of satisfaction — more than the new gadgets and toys at our disposal — ultimately explains why “Breaking Bad” has blossomed into the media darling and ratings powerhouse it’s become.
Meanwhile, viewers who tuned in for the penultimate episode almost found the show catching its breath (Alert: SOME SPOILERS AHEAD) in the wake of recent events. Yes, the writers continue to put Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse (Aaron Paul) through hell, before a closing tease that finally brought us to the tantalizing shot depicted at the season’s outset — when a very different looking Walter White, with hair, pops open his trunk and surveys the great big honking gun inside.
A month ago, I suggested the ending doesn’t really matter in the way it might for other serialized dramas, because the show has been all about the trip — the transformation of Walt, as Gilligan has stated, from Mr. Chips into Scarface.
No doubt there will be diverse and passionate opinion about next week’s episode, praise and disappointment. The media tend to build these things up in advance, mostly so we can nitpick and tear them down.
But Gilligan and company have already struck a powerful blow for quality and its commercial viability — advancing the notion, hardly viewed as a given in TV circles, that something so irresistibly good will eventually find an audience, through whatever channels are available.
Make a great show, in other words, and let the chips fall where they may.