I’m probably the only person on this planet who wasn’t watching TV last Sunday night. That’s not unusual because I didn’t see the last episode of MASH, Seinfeld, Friends or Dexter either and, to this day, I have no idea who shot JR. (Maybe Bobby did it in his sleep?) I don’t do this stuff on purpose. I have no philosophical grievance against popular culture; after all, I can name all the dead people on Game of Thrones. It’s just that popular culture mostly eludes me at the time. There’s so damn much of it, and it’s easy to tangent away from what’s really important.
I have no idea what I was doing back in 2008 when Breaking Bad first hove up on the horizon. It doesn’t matter, though, because by the time my friends were waxing eloquent about the antics of Walt and Jesse, I was hopelessly behind and the viewing curve just kept getting steeper. At the end of Season 3, I realized I had to either take a weekend, OD on Season 1 and get formally addicted — or walk away. I walked away and probably missed what most critics are calling one of the best dramas television has ever had to offer. Oh, well! I have the feeling they’re going to say the same thing about Mad Men when it finally folds up its tent in a couple of years — and with good reason. My point is that, after decades of being aptly named an “idiot box,” television is now producing some of the finest art of this century. The problem is unless I want to spend half my waking life smoothing out the ass groove I’ve established in my sofa, I have to miss some of it. Thus, Walt and I were never friends, so, in reality I cannot mourn him.
However, at the risk of pissing off a bunch of Walt’s legitimate mourners, I’m going to say Breaking Bad was not actually the best thing to happen to TV since John Frankenheimer hung out his shingle on Playhouse 90. It was good, even great, but the fact is Breaking Bad was only one program in a general resurgence of quality television. Look around. Ever since Tony Soprano and his crew showed up on HBO in 1999, there’s been a continuous stream of heavy duty drama on television. Quality is not an issue here. This stuff is universally terrific. Led by Showtime, HBO and AMC, viewers like me can wear out their PVRs recording it all or wait and pick and choose it later on YouTube and Netflix (which, btw, has some cool stuff of its own going on, notably Portlandia.) We live in a wonderful time when we not only have quality entertainment, we have great quantities of it.
It’s a simple case of a rising tide raises all ships. Breaking Bad was one of those ships. It had to be good in order to sail with the likes of Dexter, Boardwalk Empire and the aforementioned Mad Men. Was it better? It is right now because that’s how popular culture works (the operative word is “popular.”) However, I remember a time when Twin Peaks was the best thing since cherry pie and, not so long ago, when the critics were lauding Lost as a replacement for cherry pie altogether.
Breaking Bad is now part of our collective culture. Taken as a whole, it’s certainly one of the best and brightest of this current Golden Age of TV. Whether it’s a defining moment remains to be seen, and I’m too old a bunny to start stopping the presses to make that announcement. Culture, like water, has a way of finding its own level, and despite what the critics will tell you, it takes a while for things to even out. I plan to watch Breaking Bad eventually, but I want to wait for the tumult and the shouting to hype itself out before I do it.