“Breaking Bad” is a popular drama television series that first aired in 2008 and has produced four (and a half) successful seasons so far. One of the things that makes this series so popular (and easily one of the best TV shows on the air during the past few years) is that simply put, it’s a smart show. As a result, this series has received mainstream and critical attention, garnering several awards, including seven Emmys, as well as two Golden Globe nominations and three Screen Actors Guild Award nominations for the male lead, Bryan Cranston. Set and filmed on location in Albuquerque, New Mexico, “Breaking Bad” focuses on the life of a regular high school chemistry teacher, Walter White (Cranston). Initially, Walter is portrayed as a somewhat timid, weak-minded—dare I say boring—man with a humdrum life. He lets other people walk all over him and he doesn’t do what he truly wants, but only what he has to do to get by. He is not living a happy or full existence. However, after learning that he has terminal lung cancer, he decides to take control of his happiness and grab life by the balls. He realizes that he doesn’t have much time left and that he doesn’t want to waste it by letting others take advantage of him. Furthermore, he doesn’t want to leave his wife and his son (who is mentally disabled) destitute after his death. In an unlikely turn of events, he ends up cooking methamphetamine with one of his former chemistry students.
One interesting and exciting twist about this development is that the formerly meek and boring Walter turns out to be incredibly talented at producing high-quality meth due to his extensive chemistry-related knowledge. With the newfound courage Walter receives when he learns that he doesn’t have much time left, he proves himself to be a surprisingly formidable drug kingpin. Sometimes, especially in the beginning, Walt bumbles the gangster bit (which makes for some good laughs), but as the seasons progress, he gets more and more convincing. In fact, what makes “Breaking Bad” such a convincing and psychologically complex show is the extent of Walter’s transformation. His metamorphosis from prey to predator is put under a microscope, and viewers can’t look away. From the beginning, producer Vince Gilligan conceived of Walter as a protagonist that would ultimately become the antagonist. This process has been and continues to be fascinating to watch. As Walter becomes less and less of a sympathetic character, viewers become confused as to whom they should empathize with. This is another reason “Breaking Bad” is such an intelligent show—Walter’s descent into the world of drugs, greed, and violence causes viewers to think about the moral consequences of seemingly small decisions and the line between good versus evil. That being said, the series by no means doles out heavy-handed moral lessons. On the contrary, the each episode is interspersed with clever comedy and banter between characters. Thus, “Breaking Bad” has all the important elements of a witty drama series.