“Breaking Bad” entices, relates to Americans

Every Sunday night, I feel very left out and lonely. I’m filled with questions, but all I receive are loud hushes and angry stares. Confused and forced into silence, I sit and watch some angry white guy run a meth empire, manipulate his family and deal with a fatal illness.

If you haven’t guessed already, I am talking about the extremely popular television drama “Breaking Bad.”

This Emmy Award-winning show created by Vince Gilligan has been expanding its viewer base and popularity since its debut in 2008. Something about Walter White’s fight to make the most of what little he has left in life has enticed audiences to keep watching over its five-season span. Currently, I have only made it partly through the first season, and so far, so good.

But I was curious as to why this show is so popular, especially considering its extreme nature.

A high school chemistry teacher gets diagnosed with stage 3A lung cancer and does not have the monetary means to pay for the treatment, so he starts selling the purest crystal meth with an ex-student, Jesse Pinkman. How does one transform from a lower-middle-class chemistry teacher to a crystal meth kingpin?

It is these two opposites that add to the complex characterization of Walter White. Not to mention that White carries out some very abnormal actions, like when he ruthlessly stares his former partner Jesse in the face and tells him that he watched Jesse’s girlfriend overdose and die even though he could have saved her.

Some students here at the University have been fans from the beginning. When asked what kept him coming back to the AMC network every week for more “Breaking Bad,” LAS freshman Tommy Koelzer said, “Because once you start, you can’t stop.”

This addictive nature draws a perfect irony to one of the main themes of the show. Just as the addicts get addicted to Walter’s pure methamphetamine, students here on campus become addicted to the myriad plot twists like when Hank, Walter’s brother-in-law and a Drug Enforcement Administration agent, is assassinated, even after Walter pleads for his life to be spared.

However, when asked if the drug culture that is exposed on the show is a major part of why Koelzer watches the show, he said that it is not so much the drugs as it is the criminal aspects of the show. This really isn’t surprising.

In the real world, meth use is not increasing in popularity, with the number of meth users in sharp decline over the past decade. Nevertheless, the interest in all the criminal activity on the show is not that surprising, either.

Consider the fact that the very crime-based game “Grand Theft Auto V” sold a record number of copies on the first day of its release just last week. Crime and violence grab the attention of Americans everywhere, so a show with both obviously garners a lot of attention here in the United States.

If “Breaking Bad” was set in a different country, like the United Kingdom, you would probably be surprised to know that the show would most likely end right after the pilot. Walter White would walk into the doctor’s office and receive the terrible news of his illness, but then he would plan out his free treatment because of the universal health care that is in place in England.

The show simply would not be as popular as its American cousin because the plot line would no longer be as relatable.

Either way, “Breaking Bad” has clearly become an entertainment spectacle. “Breaking Bad’s” popularity parallels that of past shows like “M*A*S*H,” which garnered the same social involvement because of the stark contrasts it drew between the Korean War and the tragedies of the Vietnam War, from which America was still recovering. When the series finale of “M*A*S*H” aired, 45 percent of Americans — about every other person — sat down in front their television and watched “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.”

Will “Breaking Bad” break that record? Well, regardless, “Breaking Bad” has truly entered the social atmosphere of America, as well as the proverbial television Hall of Fame.

Max is a freshman in DGS. He can be reached at [email protected]