Okay before you beat me up, no, I do not think that AMC’s hit drama Breaking Bad is really as good as HBO’s The Wire.
I consider The Wire to be the greatest television program ever made. Before you even read this post, if you’ve never seen The Wire you need to stop what you are doing right now and go watch episode 1. Oh and cancel your plans for the next 72 hours or longer because that’s how long you will be sitting watching The Wire non-stop once you start. But I’m not speaking from experience or anything. And if you’ve never seen Breaking Bad click here.
So yes, The Wire is still the best, but Breaking Bad of late has been so good it has me comparing the two. (I know, I know I sound a little out of it but hear me out).
Here are 3 reasons that Breaking Bad might just be the best thing on television since The Wire:
1. The acting.
The acting on Breaking Bad is ridiculously good. The character development from Season 1 to the present (Breaking Bad just wrapped up it’s 4th season) is exceptional. By the end of the series, Walter White the “good guy” on Breaking Bad will be almost unrecognizable. And that’s a great thing! White is played by Bryan Cranston who has won 3 Emmy consecutive awards for Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his portrayal. The only reason he didn’t win this year is because Breaking Bad wasn’t airing during the qualifying period. Unfortunately, The Wire was robbed and won 1 award in five seasons and it was for writing, not acting. While The Wire is far from perfect in its depiction of women, that denial of accolades is one of the greatest tragedies in the history of television because the acting on The Wire was so good as to be unforgettable.
2. Gustavo Fring is like Marlo Stanfield in a suit. Well, kinda.
No show is really complete without a kick ass villain. What both shows do well is making all of the characters neither all good or all bad. On The Wire the police who are traditionally portrayed as the hero in most American entertainment were not always honest and the drug dealers were a lot more ethical than you would normally think. In both shows, the drug kingpins are way more like CEOs than most Americans are willing to admit. On Breaking Bad, Gus Fring is actually a CEO by day and a kingpin by night (well day too but you get what I mean). Gus and Marlo, one of The Wire‘s ice cold kingpins, are very similar in the way that they kill without emotion but also do not do it for sport. Neither character enjoys killing and they only do so to maintain their authority. Traditionally, in American entertainment villains are over the top but it is the small things that Marlo and Gus do that make them ruthless and to be feared and ultimately successful.
And if Giancarlo Esposito who plays Gus doesn’t win an Emmy this year then they should cancel the awards show going forward because it’s obviously run by people who don’t know what they are doing.
3. Both The Wire and Breaking Bad show us that the War on Drugs is failing miserably.
Now onto more serious matters. Both The Wire and Breaking Bad depict the sale and distribution of illegal drugs. The Wire is set in the inner city streets of Baltimore and Breaking Bad is set in the suburban community of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Both shows illustrate just how off track the war on drugs is in many ways and how much money and time is wasted on catching drug dealers while the kingpin is the guy who owns your local restaurant. Shorter: they both show that law enforcement is locking up a lot of people who have little to no impact on ending the problem of drugs in our communities.
Furthermore, without giving anything away both shows achieve this cultural critique by artfully shaping and dismantling stereotypes and preconceived notions of certain groups of people and individuals based on who they are, what they do for a career, and their background and upbringing. The Dickensian storytelling in both shows allows for proper character development and the subtlty in that storytelling requires viewers to be sharp and detail oriented. That I think is the reason both shows have such a great impact.
The flaws in humanity and the ability for you to relate to someone who faces a choice in life and goes with the option that is traditionally shunned is an interesting exercise. Do we judge the characters who make those “mistakes” or do we cheer them on and hope they never have to face the consequences of their actions? And just for a second imagine if we had universal healthcare in the U.S. and access to stellar education everywhere including Baltimore. Would these improvements in our society make both of these shows obsolete? Maybe Walter White would have made different choices had he not been so desperate and facing hundreds of thousands in health care costs?
If anything Breaking Bad has come just in time. Season 1 of Breaking Bad coincided with the end of The Wire which means that we were able to find a high quality escape from the frustrations created in the world around us that allows us to think critically at the same time.