Jim Salant argues that AMC’s Breaking Bad is the most overrated show since Mad Men. You may ready your pitchforks.
A couple of things. Salant makes some good points regarding some convenient character development in the first two seasons (something in particular about season two’s endgame, while absolutely thrilling, has never sat quite right with me either), and he has a novel take on the Walter White/Tony Soprano parallel that I find quite convincing. However, the fact that Walter and Tony were different kinds of characters from the start works against Salant’s argument as much as it works for it.
My main problems with this piece are twofold. One, that Salant fails to consider all the reasons besides character development that make Breaking Bad captivating drama. We’re all willing to put up with certain contrivances if the overall narrative thrust of the series is clearly conceived, tense, and told with a coherent yet eclectic visual language. These are the qualities that make the series so fascinating, along with an ensemble that consistently plays the hell out of their parts.
The second issue follows from the first: the false assumption in paragraph one that only some small pantheon of television programs can ever be considered art. There’s a huge landscape out there and there’s room for all kinds of stuff, even variations on things we’ve seen before. A familiar story, well told, is still art. And even if Breaking Bad is overrated, that doesn’t diminish its artistic merit. There’s a lot more room under the umbrella than Salant is willing to grant.