What Makes ‘Breaking Bad’ So Good?

On the surface, Breaking Bad is a story about a middle-aged, high school chemistry teacher who’s diagnosed with lung cancer and turns to manufacturing meth to provide financial security for his family before he’s gone.

Initially, you’re rooting for the protagonist, Walter White. While not agreeing with his decision to produce meth, his motivation is understandable and relatable. Most of us would go to great lengths to take care of the ones we love.  So we excuse Walter’s trips across the moral state line because, well, he’s dying.

Over the course of several seasons, his descent becomes clearer. His decisions and behavior reveal that this story goes much deeper than originally thought, and a more grandiose premise begins to emerge: this a story driven by a protagonist who gradually evolves into the antagonist.

And we, the viewers, are the ones who must discern how far is too far. Where’s the moral line a hero must cross before he becomes the bad guy? The show dares us to make that judgement—and therein lies the brilliance of the show.

In a piece by the New York Times, the creator of Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan, gives us a glimpse under the hood of the story:

“If there’s a larger lesson to ‘Breaking Bad,’ it’s that actions have consequences… I feel some sort of need for biblical atonement, or justice, or something… I want to believe there’s a heaven. But I can’t not believe there’s a hell.”

Gilligan later states…

“I’m pretty much agnostic at this point in my life. But I find atheism just as hard to get my head around as I find fundamental Christianity. Because if there is no such thing as cosmic justice, what is the point of being good? That’s the one thing that no one has ever explained to me. Why shouldn’t I go rob a bank, especially if I’m smart enough to get away with it? What’s stopping me?”

This reminds me of the words of C.S. Lewis,

“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”

Whether he realizes it or not, Gilligan is stumbling upon a profound truth and this is what makes Breaking Bad so good: It’s an echo of the gospel story.

It explores the reality that we, like Walt, have a bent toward descent and are capable of much more than we realize—for better or for worse. Instinctively, we know there’s a distinction between right and wrong, between justice and injustice, and this is a clue to a much larger story. We know we deserve justice, but hope we get redemption.

As the narrative of Breaking Bad unfolds, I’m curious to see if it ends with justice for Walt, getting what he deserves or redemption, getting what he doesn’t.

Regardless, it’s remarkable storytelling that’s worth watching.

5 Best Shows On Television

We live in a grand era for television. There is a surplus of quality stories on the screen right now and it’s too bad we don’t have enough time to view them all. If we did, we wouldn’t have much left to live our own stories.

However, there are some that are worth slicing out time for (or scheduling your DVR for).  Here are five of my favorite scripted shows on television right now.  If you’ve got a taste for solid storytelling, you might enjoy them too.

Sons of Anarchy (1)

Premise: Explores the lives of members of an Outlaw motorcycle club (MC) who learn to adapt in an evolving town while a ghost from the past surfaces questions that influences their future.

Why I love it:  Besides the intriguing world of MC’s, this appeals to me because it’s about family. The upbeats and beatdowns of a close-knit crew who would do anything for one another really connects with me (and apparently millions of others). Also, the storytelling of the three main characters (Jax, Jemma, and Clay) is dynamic and really drives the show. The Creator, Kurt Sutter, and his crew have something special here.

Dexter (2)

Premise: Vigilante serial killer, and blood spatter expert for the Miami Police Department, explores the depths of what it means to be human.

Why I love it:  Conventional wisdom says you shouldn’t root for a guy who kills people. Yet, that’s what happens to viewers who experience Dexter. For starters, you know his backstory which explains why he is the way he is. Then, you mix in the fact that he’s channeled his killer instinct to take out vicious criminals, and before you know it, he doesn’t seem so bad. Ultimately, he represents all of us and what we’re capable of on both ends of the morality spectrum.

Modern Family (3)

Premise: One family, consisting of three diverse families, experience the outrageous reality that there’s no such thing as a normal family.

Why I love it:  It’s clever, funny, and moves fast. All things a comedic sitcom should be.  It’s also relatable. All viewers have family members who are little off (if you don’t, it’s probably you). At the end of the day, the family loves one another despite their antics and that’s heart behind this witty show.

Mad Men (4)

Premise: Advertising executives from the 1960’s navigate the changing times within culture and themselves.

Why I love it:  The advertising age the show depicts a period that seems so glamorous and is what hooks you at first. This was a time when cartoons like The Flintstones could market cigarettes and no one thought twice. As you step into the story, you discover it’s about image and appearances, but not just in advertising, but also in humanity. It reveals how what’s happening externally doesn’t always represent what’s going on internally.  This is certainly what we see in the lead character, Don Draper. And if we’re honest, it’s what often see within us.

Raising Hope (5)

Premise: Following the arrival of an unexpected daughter, a dude and his parents must learn to help her grow up while growing up themselves.

Why I love it:  The sitcom is charming and full of heart yet doesn’t take itself too seriously. Besides being hilarious, it contains the most important element that all stories should have: change.  The creators of the show did an excellent job of establishing a starting point with the characters and with each episode, they give us glimpses of their growth.

How about you? What shows do you dig?

Honorable mentions: Breaking Bad, The Office, Justified, Parenthood, Parks and Recreation.