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So for those of you on my newsletter, you know I posed the question last week of, which article did you want me to write?: Why Breaking Bad is so good, or why The Fast and the Furious franchise is so successful. Now a lot of you may think this is a no-brainer. Breaking Bad is one of the best written shows in television history. The Fast and The Furious is eye-candy, fast cars and hot women. But here’s why it was a close vote. Readers pointed out that they knew why Breaking Bad was so good. It wore its great writing on its sleeve. What they couldn’t figure out was how this seemingly vapid car franchise was one of the biggest franchises in history with no hints of slowing down. That needed explaining. And what intrigued ME about it was The Fast and the Furious franchise started as a spec! That means it’s the only spec-driven franchise in decades that was able to hang with the likes of IP properties Batman, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, etc. To think that one of you guys could learn from that and start your own franchise based on a spec – I thought that was worth exploring.

So then why am I going with Breaking Bad instead of Furious? For the simple reason that I haven’t figured out what makes The Fast and The Furious so successful from a screenwriting point of view. From a concept point of view and from a casting point of view, I know. But I’m going to have to delve back into the franchise’s scripts to see why it stands out from other similar movies (like Driven and Gone in Sixty Seconds). Breaking Bad, on the other hand, oozes good writing in just about every episode, which is really hard to do (to give you some perspective, I’ve been going back over Lost and found some real dud eps – there’s an episode where Sawyer chases a boar. That’s the whole episode!). So I thought, why not show everyone how to do it right?

For those of you who don’t know anything about Breaking Bad, it’s about a high school teacher, Walter White, who finds out he’s dying of cancer. Walter has a special needs son and a pregnant wife and if he were to die today, they’d have zip to live off of. So Walter needs to make a lot of money really fast before he dies. Being a chemistry professor, he realizes that making meth offers the biggest buck for its bang. All he needs is someone to sell it. Enter his former flunky student and current small-time dope dealer, Jesse. The two are the most unlikely pair, but when Jesse realizes how much money Walter (or “Mr. White” as he knows him) can make him, he jumps on board. Of course, since the two have no idea how the upper-level drug trade works, their world gets really crazy really fast.

Breaking Bad works for a ton reasons. First, Walter is leading a double life. He must be the upstanding family man in one world, and the relentless drug producer in another. Remember that double-lives lead to one of the most powerful storytelling devices there is: dramatic irony. We know Walter is secretly a drug dealer, but his wife and family and friends do not. This means in most of the scenes, he’s hiding something, and when one character is hiding something from another, the scene is always watchable. Will he get caught? Is someone on to him? What happens if they catch him? We have to know! It’s the same reason why characters like Superman and Batman and Spider-Man have lasted for so long. The double-life thing leads to a lot of easy-to-write scenarios.

Then there are all the little things. Vince Gilligan (the creator) makes Walter’s brother-in-law a D.E.A. agent. Now we don’t just have dramatic irony, we have sky-high stakes. If his brother-in-law finds out he’s making meth? He’s in jail for life! And his brother is always around! We also have the “climbing the drug ladder” aspect of the series. We love watching characters climb up organizations, especially through the drug trade. The baddies keep getting badder and the stakes keep getting higher. It’s why we love Scarface. It’s why we love Goodfellas.

And then the show is funny! When I first heard about Breaking Bad, I mentally tuned it out. A guy dying of cancer? No thanks Depression Channel. But Gilligan makes sure this isn’t a downbeat show. Breaking Bad is packed with humor! In this episode I’m highlighting today, there’s a great scene where Walter and Jesse have a little “teacher-to-student” moment that plays up the silliness of their dynamic (Walter’s trying to teach Jesse about all those things he missed in high school via the battery they’re building. The clueless Jesse proves he hasn’t learned a thing). It’s hilarious. That balance evens out the intensity of the cancer storyline.

And then, of course, there’s the strained Walter-Jesse dynamic, which is the heart of the show. Conflict people. CONFLICT! Not only is this pairing exceptionally ironic (a goody-two-shoes chemistry teacher must go to one of his worst former students for help in the drug trade), but because this is the most unlikely pair in existence, and because they come from two totally different worlds, they’re always at odds with one another, always arguing or debating, and it’s always entertaining. They’re one of the best pairings in TV history.

Which leads us to the episode I’m highlighting today. I knew I couldn’t breaking down ALL of Breaking Bad. It’d be a 20,000 word post. So I looked for an episode that encapsulated what I loved about the show. That episode is “4 Days Out.” It’s the ninth episode of the second season, and Walter’s just learned that he isn’t anywhere near his target money number (the final amount of money he needs so his family can live comfortably after he dies – what I call: The Overall Series Goal).

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He’s just received a terrible diagnosis, meaning he may die a lot sooner than he thought. So he calls Jesse and tells him they need to go make a ton of meth RIGHT NOW. The two drive their mobile meth lab (a dying Winnebago) out into the middle of the New Mexico desert, where they won’t be found, and make 1.3 million dollars worth of meth. Time to party right? Yeah. Except Jesse, who’s always doing something moronic, left the keys in the ignition. The battery is dead. The two begin to realize that no one knows where they are (and even if they did, it’s not like Walter can call his wife to pick them up). They’re too far away from anywhere to walk. And there’s no water left. If they don’t figure out a solution soon, they will die out here.

To me, the best television episodes establish a problem or a goal right away. This makes the episode feel self-contained and relevant. Whenever an episode deals with a series of threads and don’t have any form, it tends to feel unfocused and pointless. Every TV show has to do these episodes at some point, and if the threads are interesting enough (or the show is paying off some earlier season mystery), the episode can sometimes overcome this problem. But usually the episodes that stick are the ones that not only work for the show, but work on their own.

“4 Days Out” is not only a master class in how to write a good television episode, it’s a master class in how to write a good movie. Just like in any story, you want to propose a problem. That problem will then lead to a goal. That goal will drive your characters, which will, in turn, drive your episode. In this case, the problem is they’re stuck out in the desert with a dead Winnebago. The goal, then, is to find a way out of the desert to safety.

From there, you provide the stakes. The stakes in this case start off as annoyance, but quickly escalate to death. It’s clear that if they don’t figure out something soon, they’re going to be a permanent part of the horizon. Finally, you have the urgency. With water gone, they’ve got maybe 3 days before they’re dead. This is the basic structure for the episode and it’s practically full-proof. Everything is in place to write something compelling.

That leads us to our next essential ingredient – CONFLICT. If your characters are getting along during this predicament, we’re bored. You, then, need to create friction, create problems and issues between the characters, which will usually revolve around the characters having different points of views on how to solve the problem. Luckily Gilligan establishes at the beginning of the Breaking Bad series that Jesse and Walter really dislike each other. Therefore, it’s only natural that they start bickering like schoolgirls when the battery dies. Goals stakes and urgency set up the party. Conflict IS the party.

Aaron Paul in season five promo for Breaking Bad

Next comes obstacles. Things have to keep getting worse over the course of the story. If the problem stays at the same level, our emotions remain at the same level. You want to play with the audience’s emotions. Obstacles help you do this. So first the generator blows up. Then Jesse puts it out with their remaining water (leaving them with no water to drink). Then the guy who’s supposed to pick them up – Jessie’s druggie friend – gets lost (it’s hard to give directions to the middle of nowhere), Then Walt’s phone goes dead. And their last ditch effort to manually rig the generator fails too. The obstacles have left them with no options left.

This puts the characters at their “lowest point.” We think these two are dead. They think they’re dead. There’s obviously no way out of this. But then our characters (NOT SOME RANDOM DEUS-EX-MACHINA LUCKY BREAK) conceive of a plan (born out of chemistry – so an established part of one of our character’s backgrounds) to build a battery from spare parts. They put away their differences for a moment to work together, and against all odds, somehow make it work! They’ve saved themselves!

Now that’s how to tell a story!

There were a couple of other things I noticed here as well. I love how when Gilligan brings us to a high (they count up all the meth they just made and realize it’s worth 1.3 million dollars) he immediately slams us back down to a low (they find out the battery’s dead). That’s what you want to do with your audience. You should always be bringing them up, then bringing them back down again. I also liked how Gilligan didn’t do the obvious. Writers are inherently lazy people. If we can take the easy way out, we will. It would’ve been really easy here to have it so neither characters’ phone worked. But Gilligan makes it so that Walter’s does, which is more realistic, and forces the writers to work a little harder to keep their characters in harm’s way. It leads to the thread where Jesse calls his stoner friend to come get them. And then of course, later, we find out his friend is lost (once again, bring them up high, then bring them down low). If you take the easy ways out as a writer, your script will read that way. Which is why I loved this choice.

It’s pretty rare that you encounter this level of writing on a consistent basis. I just reviewed the Dracula pilot the other day (the new show on NBC) and it was fine. The goal was a little muddled. The stakes were kind of there. You’re not sure you noticed any urgency. You realize how much better writing can be when you watch Breaking Bad. And revisiting this episode only reinforced that opinion. I had so much fun with, “Four Days Out,” maybe I’ll do another Breaking Bad episode some time. What about you guys? What aspect of Breaking Bad’s writing do YOU enjoy the most. Share. I want to learn too! ☺

  • Panos Tsapanidis

    “Goals stakes and urgency set up the party. Conflict IS the party.” Gold.

  • Panos Tsapanidis

    I was always intrigued by the transformation of the characters. Of course, Walter White’s arc is the most impressive of all, but we also saw Skyler revealing her darkness when she threatened her boss, Ted.

    We learned about supporting characters’ flaws such as Marrie’s kleptomania, Jesse’s torment to be a bad guy when he clearly isn’t, Saul, the lawyer that the writers picked (and not some filthy rich suit,) Tuco, Gus Fring (the man Walter looks up to and wants to be like and later in his arc we can see that Walter inherited some of Gus’s habits,) Mike the aged hitman that he just wants to leave some money to his grand daughter, every one feels real.

    Combine the real characters with “real” problems that someone in the drug business would face (how to spend all that money and not raise a red flag was a big problem for Walter) plus real-looking solutions and not cut corners to the problems that arose such as the solutions Carson discusses in “Four Days Out” episode and you got yourself an outstanding piece of writing.

    It was also amazing how they managed to keep Walter likable. I was rooting for Walter until the last frame and I know that that took a lot of work from the writers with small set ups scattered here and there throughout the last seasons to keep the viewer from hating the main character.

    • wlubake

      A few thoughts in follow up to your points:
      1. Marie is the only throw away on the show. Her kleptomania went nowhere. Nothing about her was particularly interesting, except it gave us a good reason to care when SPOILER…Hank dies.
      2. The Walter likability is a huge part. He does so many things that make your face sour watching him (like early on when he forces himself on Skyler, or whistling the day away after dissolving that kid). But so many of the awful things he does feel necessary. SPOILERS…Killing Gus, taking out the crew behind bars, and even letting Jane die…each was an action necessary for preservation. As terrible as they are, they seem logical. He a bad guy who makes sense, and isn’t just bad for the sake of being bad.
      3. I think the key to this show is how each character is laced with irony. Jesse – the burnout druggie hustler has the biggest heart of the group. Walt – the straight laced high school teacher is cold and heartless in his decision making. Gus – the ruthless drug lord is polite as can be. Skyler – the show’s conscience has an affair and smokes while pregnant. The list goes on.
      Really hope Gilligan gets going on another project soon.

      • Panos Tsapanidis

        Couldn’t agree more with you.

        1. It strikes me as if the writers at one time in the show they where trying to show us that every person is capable of doing something bad. Of having a dark side. And I think they abandoned the idea, that’s why Marie’s flaw didn’t have a pay off. Also, they gave an additional dimension to her character. But that’s just my guess and it sure doesn’t make that flaw a successful addition to the whole story.

        2. “He a bad guy who makes sense, and isn’t just bad for the sake of being bad.” I think this is one ingredient that makes a character feel like a real person.

        His going with the Saul spinoff as you probably already know, but I’m not sure how impressive writing-wise will be. Gilligan is at the moment one of the top 5 hottest creators in Hollywood, and I’m really curious to see if he’ll be able to create another masterpiece. I do think that the stars were aligned in the writing room. It’s hard to put such a powerful team together.

      • drifting in space

        Better Call Saul is the next project for him and the BB writing crew.

        • wlubake

          I know they are doing that show, but for some reason I thought Gilligan was only involved as a producer, and was staying out of the writing room.

          • drifting in space

            I read an article saying he’s trying to get all the writers from BB with him to do that show. I know some of them secured other gigs after the show so I wonder how it’ll all shake out.

          • wlubake

            My problem with that show is that we already know how the lead character turns out. This is slated to be a prequel if I’m not mistaken. Unless it is told backwards, which could be interesting. Start with the day before he meets Walter White and work back.

          • drifting in space

            I think they are going to tell the story of how he got to the point right before Walt stepped into his life, how he got all of his “connections.” My problem with it as of now is that Gilligan said Jesse/Walt will appear in cameos.

            That doesn’t really “work” to me. Though, I guess Saul wasn’t in the show right away. Maybe Saul hears word of a new drug lord then meets lowly drug peddler Walt, not knowing Walt is the drug lord.

            I’m just spitballin’ here. I’m going to tune in, I just don’t know how effective the spin-off will be. Plus, I don’t want BB tarnished in ANY WAY at all.

            I guess I’m on the fence.

  • rl1800

    You picked my all-time favorite BB episode. Loved every second of that one. You can feel Walt’s desire to just kill Jesse for his stupidity, but he knows he has to put that rage aside and figure out a solution. A lesser show would have settled for Walt starting the Winnebago with the broken generator. But Gilligan knew he could drag us into much deeper emotional depths if Walt had seemingly failed. So Walt scours his brain to come up with an answer that very few humans would ever be able to figure out. It makes their success that much more thrilling.

  • rocksuddhi

    Loved this episode! Really a demonstration of how to make situations as worse and as seemingly impossible to get out of for your characters as possible, and it was so entertaining and humorous. Loved the interaction between Walt and Jesse, not just in this episode, but their relationship drives much of the whole show.

    If you feel like reviewing another episode in the future, I would be interested in your thoughts on “Ozymandias”, “Crawl Space”, probably my two favorites.

  • tobban

    4 Days Out is a fantastic episode. You think everything has gone to s#¤t and then they scrape by. Breaking Bad was canceled here in northern Europe after three seasons.
    The best TV show ever didn’t find an audience over here. A small cable channel ran it but pulled out and no one else picked it up. Too bad, I would loved to have seen the whole thing.
    Same thing with a lot of great American movies. They don’t get distribution over here unless they have proved to make money in the states first.

    • Panos Tsapanidis

      I think with the torrents being so popular here in Europe it’s impossible for TV networks to keep up. They will always show episodes we’ve already seen.

  • Paul Clarke

    The conflict between Walt and Jessie works so well and for so long because it’s a conflict of IDEALS. They have a totally different perspective on how the world should be. Much better than the manufactured conflict so many writers just chuck in, which only creates superficial conflict.

    Get two characters with polarizingly different ideals and a common goal and you’ve got great conflict and a dramatic story.

    • Guest

      Interesting. Could you elaborate on that please?

    • AJ

      Throughout my studies of what makes great character conflict, I have come to believe that creating two characters with OPPOSING world views and forcing them into situations they must work together to escape is by far the easiest to write and most humorous.

      This allows you to approach your story from two different aspects at the same time. You no longer have to choose which character should speak by determining the best joke to go with, you can now offer up both hilarious actions or dialogue in a way that is true to real motivations. Far and away the best direction to go for any comedy writer in my opinion.

  • Cfrancis1

    I have only seen one episode of Breaking Bad: the last one. But it was great. So now I want to go back and watch the whole thing.

    The Fast and the Furious is an interesting franchise, mostly because they keep reinventing it. The first one was a big hit (and a personal guilty pleasure of mine). The next two were totally forgettable. But the fourth one brought back Vin and amped up the action set pieces which instantly made it more appealing. Then for the fifth one, they brought all the old characters back, a la Avengers (but before Avengers), threw in the Rock for good measure and made it a heist movie a la the Oceans movies. I thought the fifth one was a total blast. Dumb and totally illogical but a lot of fun. Haven’t seen six yet but it seems like it’s a lot like Five.

    • Panos Tsapanidis

      I think Fast & Furious is the Transformers of the 25-35 y.o. men.

      • James Parr

        I thought Transformers was the Transformers of that group.

        • Panos Tsapanidis

          Then Fast & Furious is MY Transformers, because I never cared about Transformers. :)

  • ScottStrybos

    What I love about Breaking Bad is there are no take backs. The best example I can think of, SPOILER ALERT, was the episode where Hank dies. The end of the episode before he dies, he is outgunned and outmanned in the middle of the desert. Things could not get worse. Hank is going to die. In most shows, network shows, the very next episode would have him being saved by some deus ex machina, or being captured from which he would escape, or the Nazis would inexplicable let him go.

    For example, The Mentalist. A show that I really like. A couple episodes ago, one of the leads is captured by the brutal Serial Killer they have been hunting all series, who has never shown any mercy and kills everyone. The episode ended with a video of her image being sent to another lead, her face covered in blood. She is going to die. Right? Nope. Beginning of next episode, she escapes, or he let her go, I don’t remember.

    But not in Breaking Bad.

    They follow through with where they put their characters,,,,

    • Panos Tsapanidis

      Actually, I was more surprised to see Walt giving all his money to them to save Hank. That was the twist for me.

      • drifting in space

        The scene where Hank dies was so gut-wrenchingly great and sad at the same time.

    • fragglewriter

      Exactly and that’s my pet peeve with movies too. The killer shows no mercy until he gets to the person next to the main character, and decided to have Q & A’s and monologues GTFOH. That’s why I love the way “Taken” ended. Liam only wanted information to bring his daughter home, nothing else and no time for small talk. When the man has his daughter and he tries to talk to Liam, Liam like nope. I didn’t have small talk in the beginning of the movie and I won’t start now.

  • J. Lawrence Head

    I would argue that breaking bad is not the greatest show ever. I’ve tried getting into it on several occasions and did not find myself engaged by it. Now withhold your onslaught have derisive and dismissive rebuttals. I’m not saying it’s a poorly written show. I’m saying the quality of the writing is somewhat subjective.

    That being said, I respect Vince G, Peter Gould and the rest of the staff for the award winning series the produced. In today’s TV market you don’t last 5 seasons let alone get past the first without having something people want to watch. It just wasn’t me.

    And while Vince Gilligan’s stamp was on it, 4 days out was actually written by Sam Catlin. Let’s give a little credit to him too.

    The only writer who writes every part of every episode (for all intents and purposes) is Aaron Sorkin, who in my humble opinion, is among the top 5 greatest screenwriters ever, and the best television writer.

    • wlubake

      You may have answered my question when you heaped praise on Sorkin, but what are some examples of truly great shows for you?

      • J. Lawrence Head

        Well Sorkin’s West Wing and Newsroom are fantastic of course. But even outside of Sorkin’s world there’s Suits, White Collar, Burn Notice, Dexter, Law and Order, Scandal, just to name a few.. but again.. it’s all subjective and a matter of opinion.

        • ScottStrybos

          White Collar. F-yeah!!!!!

          Season Premiere tonight.

        • Panos Tsapanidis

          You didn’t put Dexter in there, did you? Did you see the last season?

          • J. Lawrence Head

            Can you blame an entire show on one bad series of episodes? The show as a whole is fantastic. IMHO if you’re going past 6 or 7 seasons you better be injecting new blood into your writer’s room or you run the risk of it feeling stale.

          • Panos Tsapanidis

            Unfortunately, I can. The finale is what you leave with. It’s what stays in my mind and how I remember Dexter, and since I watched all seasons, you can understand that I was a fan of the show.

            Especially when a whole season is not just bad. It’s AWFUL. It feels as if 21 year olds wrote it. It’s as if someone kidnapped the real writers and wrote the show himself. I can’t get past that. Ever.

            Dexter better than Breaking Bad? Noooope.

          • J. Lawrence Head

            I respect your opinion on that. But old seasons of Dexter I still go back and watch. And that’s the hallmark of the series. I can go back and watch it (even out of sequence) and still be entertained.

          • Panos Tsapanidis

            The only thing I remember is Dexter piercing through a bed and killing the bad guy that was hidden under it with a curtain rod.

        • garrett_h

          I really really liked the first season of Newsroom, but this second season was terrible and I stopped watching a few episodes in. Suits is fun, and I just started watching Scandal and it’s pretty good too.

          It seems like you’re more of a network guy in terms of taste. The humor and lighthearted nature and tone of the shows. Which explains why Breaking Bad isn’t your thing.

          • J. Lawrence Head

            I disagree with your assessment of me being a network guy. Especially since Newsroom is on HBO, Dexter was on showtime, etc. And if I had kept going with my list instead of saying JUST TO NAME A FEW, there would have been have a dozen or more cable shows as well.

          • garrett_h

            It wasn’t an assessment, it was a guess. The channel doesn’t matter much, Sorkin has a network “style” so to speak. You named a bunch of USA shows. What I really meant was you seem to gravitate toward the lighter fare instead of the darker dramas like Sopranos and Wire and Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Nothing wrong with that. Different strokes for different folks. Just pointing out why it may not have been your thing.

          • J. Lawrence Head

            I like Mad Men and Sopranos, and am currently working my way through Wire. I liked Starz’s Boss with Kelsey Grammar (though it only got two seasons). I’m not sure where Californication falls in the light vs dark spectrum but I love that show. Also House of Lies.

          • J. Lawrence Head

            I’m also trying to hunt down old eps of Oz and Carnivale.

          • Panos Tsapanidis

            I loved Carnivale. The world was not ready for it at that time. :)

          • J. Lawrence Head

            A really good short lived series on Fox back in the 90s I think was Profit with Adrian Pasdar. Way ahead of it’s time which was why it was nixed in barely a season. It was too dark for the network, but was definitely a good show.

          • garrett_h

            LOVE Californication and House of Lies. Awesome shows.

          • J. Lawrence Head

            Check out Rogue, on Auidence Network (used to be The 101). Great great show.

        • wlubake

          I love Sorkin’s writing, but he wears me out. I find I like him better in a 2-hour movie dose than in his TV work. I liked Sports Night back in the day, but never did West Wing, Studio 60 or Newsroom. To me it feels unnatural to have everyone ready with a witty remark without even a breath to think it up. It feels like the reply comes before the initial remark ends. But that’s me.
          Loved Dexter’s first season. I don’t really do the USA shows, but know people who love them. I think this is more evidence that there’s a ton of good TV on right now.
          I’m into the FX lineup personally. Justified is a personal favorite. The Americans is great too.

      • Sullivan

        Best show ever? Six Feet Under. And it had a brilliant ending.

    • Panos Tsapanidis

      I tried twice liking the Beatles. Couldn’t. That doesn’t make me say their music wasn’t brilliant.

    • garrett_h

      If it wasn’t your thing, it wasn’t your thing. That’s fine. But please cite some examples where you thought the writing was lacking (as Carson did with the Lost episode where Sawyer chases a boar).

      I know people who hated The Sopranos and The Wire, two of the best shows of all time, and both arguably the greatest. Heck, I know people who hated The Godfather. It just wasn’t their thing. I’m just curious what you think of the writing quality.

      • wlubake

        Breaking Bad had its boar-hunting episode. The Fly. The only thing that kept that one going was wonder whether or not Walt was going to tell Jesse about Jane.

        • http://the-movie-nerd.com themovienerd

          Boo! Fly is one of the greatest one hours of television of all time. The stakes in that episode were so huge and then re-humanizing the characters and making them so small was so brilliant. It re-grounds them for us. Reminds us Walt especially is just a human-bing, in all that entails. That episode is what made the moment where he confronts Jesse and tells him at the end so powerful. So, if nothing else it’s a setup for a single line of dialogue that stabs with that episode’s weight two+ seasons later.

      • J. Lawrence Head

        Long coughing sequences, drawn out silent breakfast sequences. And again, I never said it was bad. I said that calling it the best is subjective and a matter of opinion.

        • Panos Tsapanidis

          The coughing sequences are the equivalent of the servant that yelled “Memento Mori” to the Roman general.

  • garrett_h

    Major spoiler in that banner image…

    • wlubake

      The show has been over for weeks. How long do we have to tip toe around spoilers?

      • garrett_h

        We don’t.

        Walter dies and Jesse lives.

  • TheDanger

    Did Carson already do a “ten screenwriting lessons to learn from Breaking Bad” article?

  • Alex Palmer

    I love Breaking Bad, and am certainly in the camp of people who claim it is one of the greatest TV shows of all time.

    HOWEVER:

    I thought it’s ending was nowhere near as powerful as that of another great US drama: The Shield. Anyone agree?

  • drifting in space

    Breaking Bad is my favorite show of all time. For all of the reasons listed above, but also…

    The DETAILS. Every. Single. Detail. When you heavily invest your time/energy into this craft, making sure every detail is in place, that’s when the show comes together. From a plot standpoint, the show is brilliant. The writing is gold. Where it all comes together nicely is in the details. The cinematography. The acting. Everything.

    No detail was overlooked and that is why they created a masterpiece.

    Also, as side advice: Don’t watch the show if you’re high. Walter is terrifying sober, but when you’re freaking out, he’s a monster. Added another layer but I’m not sure I was ready for it.

    Also, for your viewing pleasure. HONEST TRAILERS – BREAKING BAD.

    • drifting in space

      Not sure why my avatar is still the exploding head turtle bomb, sorry for the spoilers.

  • mk

    SPOILERS: I honestly think if Shakespeare were alive today, he’d be writing something like Breaking Bad. It’s that brilliant. Walter White is a classic tragic hero/villain in the sense that he (unintentionally) constructs his own demise. People argue about the ending, but in my mind the ending was absolutely inevitable. Walter had to die, and in sacrificing himself for his family and for Jesse he redeems himself. Anything else would’ve reduced the depth and grandeur of the story.

    Regarding The Fly episode: it was a very risky episode to make, and that made me respect their writers’ room even more. At first I was somewhat bored and annoyed with Walter. But as the episode continued, I realized what we were doing was getting inside Walter’s head. Because basically he’s got a fly buzzing around inside his head that he can’t get rid of. The fly that’s telling him that letting Jane die was an act akin to murder, and how can he live with himself after that? The only way is to kill that little buzzing fly that represents his conscience. I don’t know, I never saw anything like that on TV before.

    I agree with everything you praised about the series and this episode, Carson. I was particularly impressed by the use of humor throughout; even in some of the darkest episodes there were laugh out loud moments. I mean, buckets of tears were pouring out of my eyes over Hank’s death, and then Todd says, “Sorry for your loss, Mr. White,” and suddenly I’m laughing. That’s genius.

  • http://the-movie-nerd.com themovienerd

    First. Breaking Bad is not THE greatest show ever as a matter of fact.

    Second. Holy sh*t it was a f*cking great show.

    Third. The reasons why it was great are plentiful. Never is there one thing for this kind of artistic achievement. But what about it made it SOOO great?

    Walt. First and foremost. And Bryan Cranston, who brought a believability to a character that is borderline unbelievable and just nuanced on SO many amazing levels.

    But the real key to Walt and understanding the character- why he is so great, are through his relationships first and how those relationships effect his choices second.

    Every relationship he has with every other character, even the minor ones, are rich and complex and telling. And as a result every major choice he makes, EVERY CHOICE HE MAKES comes from a want to effect a relationship he has with another character. He wants to be a great father. He wants to be a great husband. He wants to be the best at what he does. He wants to make up for past failures. He wants to be a great mentor and father figure to an unlikely friend/surrogate son (that Walt-Jesse relationship is by far the most amazing relationship I have ever seen play out and evolve over a television series).

    Those totally justifiable and understandable reasons that lead to jaw-dropping choices, then having those choices drive the character through a series of events that lead to always more escalating and intense choices. And always the result of the previous choices are simultaneously playing out on his relationships, in ways that are themselves stunning and gut wrenching and amazing … I don’t use the term genius lightly. But what this show did with Walt’s arc as a character and how it did it …. and the fact that I was rooting for him till the end, he never lost me, GENIUS!

    • http://the-movie-nerd.com themovienerd

      Here’s an example of the genius of how these writers approached the relationships.

      Jr. and Jesse. It would have been easy for the writers to make Walt’s interest in Jesse come out of the fact that he has a “disabled” son. That here’s a chance to “have the son he always wanted.”

      But they didn’t. — Jr. IS the son Walt always wanted. He loves Jr not despite or because of his physical flaw. He loves him exactly as any good person, any good man would love his son. Because he’s his son. And him not even seeing his son as disabled made us love Walt so much more, this made us root for Walt so much harder, and helped us as an audience forgive SOOO much of what he did. And the Jesse relationship didn’t need it! They made that relationship work without it.

      It was still an easy out that a lot of writers would have taken. Breaking Bad never did. And it showed the power of understanding your character’s relationship with the AUDIENCE in a way very few writers and filmmakers ever do.

    • jbird669

      What is the greatest show ever in your opinion? I put The Wire there right now, but I’m only on season three of Breaking Bad, so that may change.

      • http://the-movie-nerd.com themovienerd

        In MY opinion? Star Trek the Next Generation.

        • http://the-movie-nerd.com themovienerd

          Campy, heartfelt, episodic space adventures. For a certain age of boy, it was the perfect recipe to instill a love in storytelling and his imagination that has not wavered since.

          Close tie for second — The Wire and West Wing for completely diff’t reasons.

    • Hephaestus

      You mean “affect”.
      - Effectionately yours,
      The Grammer Nerd

      • http://the-movie-nerd.com themovienerd

        homonyms. My beast, my burden.

      • Calliope

        that would be “GrammAr” :)

        yours in helpfulness
        The Spelling Nerd

  • bluedenham

    I used to say that Babylon V was the best TV show ever written. But not anymore – BB is by far the best. I base this on the following:

    1. The writing is absolutely, crap fanstatically brilliant. Not a wasted word anywhere. And I love how many of the episodes would begin with a mysterious intro that would only become understandable by the end of the hour.
    2. The characters are original, deeply conceived, and each has a complex arc.
    3. Each episode stands on its own – I don’t think there is a poor episode in the entire series – no fillers, no thrown-together episodes where you don’t quite understand why it was made.
    4. Each season stands on its own.
    5. The entire series fits together like a bespoke suit.
    6. And the details. Christ, the details. The fact that Hank identifies Walter from a signed book of poetry by Walt Whitman! And that it was tied back to a signature that came to light, what, two or three seasons ago? Oh yes.
    7. As Carson says, the unrelenting GRU and conflict. The humor.
    8. And as others have pointed out, there are no take backs. There are no Deus ex Machina moments. The writers plunge the characters into the most unforgiving situations, but always – ALWAYS – have a rational, creative, and totally out-of-the-box way of saving them.

    For these reasons, I bow before Vince Gilligan and his team of writers, and hope one day to come close to emulating them.

    PS: I admire Babylon V for many of the same reasons. At the time it was pretty much unique in that it had a complete 5-year arc and each season had its own arc. The way the plot lines and original characters intertwined and meshed and came together in completely unexpected ways to create a resonant story of breathtaking scope was fabulous.

    It had some weaknesses: some of the episodes were lame, and it dragged in a few spots. It’s still up there, as far as I’m concerned. But TV writing has taken giant leaps since that time, and it no longer stands alone in a big wilderness of badly-written TV shows.

  • carsonreeves1

    The section I was on was super repetitive. Definitely not going back from that.

  • garrett_h

    Is this ScriptShadow, or ActShadow?

  • Abdul Fataki

    Are we supposed to take this serious from a guy that didn’t even finish the show because it’s too slow/boring?

    • drifting in space

      In my defense, I suggested on twitter to explore the FF franchise.

  • BradZuhl

    Transformers is also one of the biggest franchises out there and the success of that is equally mystifying. Maybe you could do a double article about that and Fast and Furious.

  • Illimani Ferreira

    I agree that acting and writing were brilliant in Breaking Bad, but I don’t think that’s what makes this show unique. Even the element that Carson cleverly identified, the smart dynamic of conflict between main characters, is something that we saw before (although I give you that maybe no TV show was so masterful in the way they crafted it). In my humble opinion what makes BB truly unique is the mechanics that moved the story forward, which was not the relation between Walt and Jesse, but between Walt and the antagonists that popped in his way and more precisely the way how there was always this cycle in which: 1 – Someone is threatening Walt; 2 – Walt neutralizes the threatening person (not necessarily killing the person, I think Skyler was an antagonist for a while as much as Gustavo was until he neutralized her); 3 – Someone new is threatening Walt. I may be wrong, but I think that’s the plot engine that propelled the narrative of this show.

  • andyjaxfl

    Breaking Bad had a great advantage right from the start that Lost and many other network dramas do not have: 12 episode seasons instead of 24 eps per season. Filler episodes are unavoidable for shows like Lost, but with Breaking Bad they can focus on the season arc every episode with small distractions here and there.

  • ericmahlon

    SPOILERS: One thing that Breaking Bad did really well was tie up loose ends. However, there was one loose end I just realized they never addressed. Drew Sharp. Unless I missed something, I always thought that Vince Gilligan and the writers would give the Sharp family some kind of closure. Drew Sharp was mentioned a lot in the second half of the season, like with Jesse wanting to leave his family money and Todd watching the confession tape with his family, but nothing ever came of it.

  • fragglewriter

    Since I saw the first commercial spot for this series, I’ve always wanted to watch it, but with school, I didn’t have time. Hopefully, after I write another spec, I’ll try to watch the entire series by the end of the year.

    The writers, creators and Bryan Cranston were on “Writer’s Room” last week on the Sundance Channel. The talked about how they come up with ideas for the show and like you mentioned Carson about conflict and tension, sometimes they were afraid of what they wrote cause they were exactly sure how Walt would escape these situations.

    The idea for the show was based on a real life (someone cooking Meth in an apartment) event that was reported in the new that happened in an apartment in New York. The creators talked about what transpired. A few years after that, that got stalled in projects and one of the creators reminded the other one about that Meth incident, and the other guy didn’t remember so he had to jog his memory. They said that HBO, SHO and another network passed on the show. AMC finally said yes. That goes to show you that believing in your work, fine tuning it, and incorporating real life events (yours or someone else’s) but as an interesting derivative) and never giving up pays off.

  • IgorWasTaken

    Doesn’t it strike anyone as an odd contrivance that a chemistry teacher didn’t think about building a battery from much earlier in the story?

    Consider that, when we learn chemistry as kids, one of the very first demonstrations/experiments is building a battery.

    I’m not knocking anything about the show overall, or about Carson’s post, but… this one thing does strike me as odd.

  • lesbiancannibal

    CONSEQUENCES – that’s why it works.

    I read an interview with Vince G where he said he’d worked on shows where the main character shot someone and then the next episode it wasn’t even mentioned.
    This is why shows such as The Mentalist, Person of Interest and Elementary are ultimately bogus – because the execs want a show that anyone can tune into at any time, stand alone episodes. They want Friends basically. Repeatable.
    Since The Wire audience appreciation has moved beyond that model. Read The Lost Writer’s Bible and Abrams is all “don’t worry there will be an overarching story but the episodes can stand alone” – well we don’t want that anymore, we don’t want Person of Interest to go straight back to the same old boring shit of getting a number and then helping a person.
    We want a five series story where characters’ decisions matter and they CHANGE considerably.

    Basically we want movie TV shows.

    Breaking Bad – everything Walt does, every sequenced moral decision he takes towards the Dark Side has consequences, gets him basically in deeper shit. Sure there are stand alone episodes, such as the Fly and 4 Days out, but they are character studies and deepen the show.

    • http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/chrismulligan/lunch-meat?ref=live Chris Mulligan

      Sons of Anarchy, which I liked before starting Breaking Bad is guilty of this too. There are major repercussions for certain actions, but every episode there’s a car chase/shoot out through a city and never repercussions.

      Every little damn thing was important and influential in Breaking Bad. It was beautiful.

  • cjob3

    I hope this is a lesson to execs about ending a show in it’s prime. The writers had a clear end game they were working toward all along. They didn’t stall and muck around for 12 seasons. I’m sure there was pressure to keep it going but they did the right thing. They had a certain story to tell, and they told it. So what if it’s not on the air forever? Not every story is supposed to last that long. “Lost” you began to resent after awhile. Or even the X-Files. By the time it was over, was anyone still watching?

    I thought Breaking Bad was a great show- but in the last season, it became an amazing show. Dare I say the best last season of TV ever.

    • Kirk Diggler

      Execs don’t give a what about ending a show in its prime. They only care about money. It speaks to Vince Gilligan’s integrity that he ended it when he did.

  • blueiis0112

    I would have to say that Carroll O’Connor is a league of his own. He was able to do that twice. He not only originated Archie, but assumed Rod Steiger’s original and fleshed it out even more. He convinced everyone he was a Brooklyn tyrant and then he convinced the same people he was the perfect Southern gentleman.

  • carsonreeves1

    All good franchises. But I don’t think any of them come close to F&F as far as box office and staying power. They’re on, like, number 7, and people are still eating it up!

  • Paul Clarke

    Agreed. Have you seen the letter from Sir Anthony Hopkins to Bryan Cranston? Not sure if it’s real, but he says he binge watched all 6 seasons in two weeks and it’s basically the best thing he’s ever seen and the best performance. In fact he lauds all the performances.

    I read an article somewhere where they explained how the writers got away with a lot of little things they couldn’t normally do, purely because of the emotion Cranston could convey with tiny subtleties. Of course the writing still had to be great otherwise it’s all for nothing.

  • Lucid Walk

    There was another sense of urgency. Walt was going to make meth with Jesse; what he told his wife was that he’d be visiting his mother and would return in four days. So if Walt doesn’t show up by the end of his “visit,” Skyler’s gonna worry, call the cops to look for Walt, and everything would just fall apart for him.
    My favorite episode per season
    S1-Pilot
    S2-Four Days Out
    S3-One Minute
    S4-Face Off
    S5-Dead Freight

  • James Parr

    But great movies have great screenplays. How many great movies have terrible screenplays?

  • holly

    Breaking Bad is THE best show of all time. It’s in a league of it’s own.

  • holly

    Breaking Bad is THE best show of all time.

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