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HomeEntertainmentMoviesHow Breaking Bad Captured the Zeitgeist of the Great Recession

How Breaking Bad Captured the Zeitgeist of the Great Recession

Breaking Bad (2008-2013) started as a little-known present which, together with Mad Men (2007-2015) and finally The Walking Dead (2010-2022), would interrupt the back-to-back basic film programming that AMC had constructed its title upon for the reason that tv channel debuted in 1984. Before Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead, AMC was as soon as regarded as the fundamental cable model of TCM.

Running parallel to the fictional rags-to-riches story of Breaking Bad’s infamous antihero Walter White, the present itself ended its five-season run as a success collection with a viewership 4 instances that of the primary season. The collection finale alone drew in 10.3 million viewers. Like many hit TV exhibits earlier than it, the success of Breaking Bad spawned spinoffs like the prequel series, Better Call Saul (2015-2022) in addition to a direct sequel movie made for Netflix, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019). These spinoffs have been properly acquired by critics and followers alike. But neither made a cultural influence as giant as Breaking Bad itself.


Netflix and Breaking Bad Created a New Experience of Watching TV


Breaking Bad’s surge in recognition was largely because of the present’s availability on Netflix, which allowed viewers to observe as many episodes as humanly doable in a single sitting with out industrial interruption. This new and intoxicating expertise of watching serialized tv was so wide-spread that it even led to the coining of the time period “binge-watching,” which was added to the Oxford dictionary in 2018.

After touchdown the position of Howard Hamlin in Better Call Saul actor Patrick Fabian caught up with Breaking Bad very like the vast majority of its followers. Speaking on the Better Call Saul: Insider Podcast in 2015, Fabian mentioned:

I had by no means binge-watched earlier than… So it’s 1 or 2 within the morning and my spouse and I’ve simply watched six hours of Breaking Bad and we’re taking a look at each other like, ‘Do you wanna do another?’ Our youngsters are waking up in three and a half hours and I felt like we have been in school doing blow or one thing. Because we’d be like, ‘Yeah, let’s do yet another.’ We’d appear to be raccoons the following day.

Breaking Bad acquired common important acclaim to the tune of 16 Primetime Emmy Awards, to say nothing of the numerous honors it acquired at different ceremonies. And the present deserved each award it acquired. Breaking Bad actually is that good.

Yet, as unbelievable as that important reception was, awards just like the Emmys are given out every year. But creating an entire new viewing expertise that led to a brand new phrase within the dictionary? That is the type of factor that solely occurs as soon as in a era.

Breaking Bad Was a Once-in-a-Generation Phenomenon

Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul in Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad wasn’t only a hit. It captured the zeitgeist of the early 2010s, inserting it in league with different traditionally vital works like Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969) which not solely catapulted the New Hollywood movement, but in addition captured the zeitgeist of the countercultural hippie motion at giant. Think intercourse, medication, and rock and roll (and bikes). An argument will be made that Hopper needs to be held personally liable for all these mustaches that males sported all through the Seventies.

Then there was George Lucas’ unique Star Wars trilogy (1977-1983) which captured the spirit of American exceptionalism, a political philosophy which was popularized within the Reagan Era. The Former President’s Strategic Defense Initiative was even nicknamed the “Star Wars program,” and American history textbooks still refer to it as such. What might have begun as a political joke has now been cemented as an important second within the Cold War.

Related: Better Call Saul Co-Creator Explains How the Breaking Bad Spinoff Came to Be

After Easy Rider and Star Wars there was Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994) which captured the Gen X phenomenon of being raised by the tv set somewhat than by nuclear mother and father. Gen X is also known as the “latchkey generation”, which is all of the extra becoming for Tarantino who was raised by a single mom and, maybe unsurprisingly, is thought for his encyclopedic information of movie and tv from the Nineteen Sixties and 70s. Tarantino even wrote a book about being raised on movie and tv within the New Hollywood Era, Cinema Speculation (2022).

Easy Rider, Star Wars, and Pulp Fiction weren’t simply commercially and critically profitable. They resonated deeply with audiences of their time and left an enormous influence, not solely on popular culture however on American tradition itself. So what’s it concerning the story of Walter White and his hideous descent into the legal underworld that resonated so deeply with American viewers within the early 2010s?

Walter White Was Conceived of During the Great Recession

Walter White in Breaking Bad car wash

Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan admitted that he conceived of the present whereas he was unemployed in 2007. Speaking to Dylan Callaghan for the ebook Script Tease (2012), Gilligan mentioned:

I used to be speaking to a buddy of mine, Tom Schnauz, who I attended NYU movie college with. He and I had been on The X-Files as writers… After that present had ended… Pickings have been slim. Both of us had been unemployed for some time and we have been questioning what to do subsequent. Either he or I joked about placing a crystal meth lab at the back of an RV and driving across the nation cooking meth and earning profits. As we have been speaking the concept for this character [Walter White] simply kinda got here into my head… This good, law-abiding man who immediately decides to turn out to be a legal.

Before Gilligan even had a reputation for Walter White, earlier than he knew Walter was a chemistry trainer, earlier than he had labored out that Walter can be identified with terminal lung most cancers, Gilligan knew that Walter would turn out to be a legal to make a fast buck. Even in its most embryonic stage, Breaking Bad was to be the story of a great man snapping beneath the burden of monetary desperation. This, greater than Walter’s most cancers prognosis, is why so many viewers adopted Gilligan’s antihero down into the legal underworld. Financial anxiousness was one thing that Americans within the early 2010s might actually establish with.

Walter White Personified the Economic Anxiety of the Great Recession

Breaking Bad Crawl Space finale

Characters in Breaking Bad typically throw out with traces like, “not in this economy.” These are passive references to the monetary disaster which lasted from 2007-2009 which occurs to be the precise time-frame during which the occasions of the present happen. But even by the collection finale in 2013, real-life Americans have been nonetheless feeling the influence of the Great Recession.

Ten years may not really feel that way back. But with the exponential progress of expertise, the rise of populism and political extremism, and the worst financial inflation for the reason that Seventies on prime of a worldwide pandemic, we now discover ourselves in a completely completely different period from the one which Breaking Bad takes place in. The most evident instance being that not one of the characters have smartphones. They use flip telephones. And they snap them in half after nearly each dialog.

Related: These Are Some of the Best Movies About Class Consciousness

For extra proof of the bygone period of Breaking Bad, look no additional than the teaser of Episode 504, the place Walter buys himself and Walter Jr. a pair of candy new vehicles. This sequence incorporates a dubstep observe which, on the time, might solely be described as “filthy.” Today, this digital music can solely be described as outdated. Now that the mud has settled, it’s a lot simpler to see why Breaking Bad struck such a deep chord with viewers within the early 2010s. (But even with hindsight, it’s troublesome to see the attraction of dubstep.)

The Great Recession marked the primary time in many years that working class American households have been not in a position to get by on one wage. This was a time when it immediately grew to become commonplace for American fathers to get a second job to make ends meet, just like the one Walter has at Bogdan’s automobile wash within the first season of Breaking Bad. Of course, Walter quickly quits the automobile wash and will get himself a brand new second job: cooking crystal meth.

Bryan Cranston Took Viewers to Hell and Back

Bryan Cranston as Walter White in Breaking Bad

Sure, most individuals’s fathers didn’t exit and purchase an RV and begin cooking meth to make ends meet through the Great Recession. But this exaggeration of the monetary desperation that Americans have been actually feeling on the time allowed them to establish with Walter, at the least to start with of the collection.

In many circumstances, viewers recognized with Walter for for much longer than they most likely ought to have. This has much less to do with the work of Vince Gilligan and the numerous proficient filmmakers behind the digital camera and extra to do with the work of Bryan Cranston, whose portrayal of Walter White is probably the best central efficiency within the historical past of dramatic tv.

Gilligan might have captured the zeitgeist by creating The Great Recession’s most despicable people hero. But by the top of the collection, it was Cranston who actually gave viewers sympathy for the satan. It was Cranston who introduced them to hell and again. In return, he was rewarded with 4 Primetime Emmys For Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.



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