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Is Breaking Bad The Greatest Television Show Of All Time?

There are a few spoilers sprinkled in here and there, although I avoided them as best I could. Proceed with caution when reading about shows you haven’t finished.

The final episodes of Breaking Bad began airing August 11, and the debate on its place amongst the greatest shows in television history gained steam with every passing Sunday. Latecomers who failed to hop on the bandwagon during earlier seasons abused amphetamines to forgo sleep and catch up on Netflix before the series finale, while longtime viewers began the mourning process knowing it would be over all too soon. Not since the final season of The Sopranos have we seen such a buzz surrounding the conclusion of a show. Now that the finale has come and gone, a great depression has swept the nation. But we force a smile, knowing that Vince Gilligan’s ambition matched Brian Cranston and Aaron Paul’s talent.

Now what? Now you just pound wine, watch Homeland, lie to yourself and pretend it’s anywhere near as good. Watching any other show after Breaking Bad is like watching Peyton Manning masterfully lead his offense down the field for a touchdown, and then watching Matt Schaub mope around like a balding, partially retarded man-baby after throwing yet another laughable interception.

There are shows that belong in the conversation with Breaking Bad, and shows that don’t. We’ll cover some of both in this column, and at the end you can vote on which show you consider to be the greatest of all time. I’m going to bounce around all over the place, so hold onto your butts.

The Wire

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This show is, without a doubt, deserving of consideration when discussing the greatest television series of all time. Set and produced in and around Baltimore, The Wire beautifully dissected every facet of American society from crime, to politics and bureaucracy, to the school system, to print news media. It was created and written primarily by author and former police reporter David Simon, giving the show an unmatched sense of realism, which ironically is what made it difficult for some people to really get into it. The Game of Thrones fan that expects nonstop action, gratuitous violence, and a hailstorm of boobs from his HBO programming is going to be sorely disappointed. Detractors will say it’s too slow and boring. Detractors are stupid. Give it a few episodes and you’ll be hooked like Reginald “Bubbles” Cousins on heroin.

Between the several days I’ve spent in county jail for a laundry list of misdemeanors, and the two times I’ve made it through every season of The Wire, I am inarguably more thug than Drake.

Dexter

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The final episode of Dexter aired just weeks ago, and it was incredibly underwhelming according to my Twitter timeline. I can’t give an opinion of my own, because I fell behind when Time Warner Cable cut off Showtime three episodes into the season. (It should be noted that Time Warner Cable is the worst company in the history of organized business.) The first few seasons of Dexter were great, but then the storyline lost some of its luster. Without spoiling anything for those who haven’t watched the series, there were only so many situations Dexter Morgan could survive before I found myself asking, “How are they going to top this?” That’s the same question I asked season after season during Breaking Bad, but somehow it always came through. Dexter did not. It peaked too early, like a star college athlete that fails to get it done as a pro. It shot its load prematurely, like an inexperienced porn star that can’t handle the heat from his female counterpart. It failed to deliver, like an Amazon package that never quite makes it to your doorstep. I could keep going, but I won’t.

Is it worth watching? Absolutely. Could it last even one round in a boxing match with the likes of Breaking Bad? Not a chance, especially after what was apparently a lackluster finale. I might not even watch the episodes I missed to prevent them from sullying my memory of the other solid seasons.

Mad Men

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Whether it’s the hog that Donald Draper holds captive in his pants, or the watermelons that Joan Holloway’s assumedly custom-made bras struggle to contain, something keeps you coming back for more Mad Men even though the most exciting plot line is watching Pete Campbell’s hairline race LeBron James’ to see which one will reach the top of the head first. I can already guarantee I’ll be thoroughly frustrated by how this series ends. Probably with an artsy shot of a shitfaced Don Draper flying down the highway in a brand new convertible, hair blowing in the wind with a cigarette between his lips while he stares longingly into the sunrise and wonders where it all went wrong.

Who am I kidding? I love this show. I just don’t know why. Most of the time while watching, I’m thinking one of two things: “This is poetry in motion created by a fucking genius” or “If someone doesn’t get fucked or murdered in the next three minutes, I’ll fall asleep.” Similarly to The Wire, you have to go into each episode with a certain mindset. This is grownup shit. You’re basically stepping into a time machine every time you watch it, and that’s what makes this show so special. It’s every real American man’s dream to smoke and drink constantly at work while running through hot secretaries like toothbrushes. The ’60s truly were a golden age.

Is Mad Men worthy of being thrown into the hat with all-time greats? Probably. That many Emmys don’t lie.

Homeland

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Don’t even start. A show that has only been on the air for two full seasons can’t possibly be in the running for greatest of all time. Sure, the first two seasons are good, and yeah, it’s fun to make jokes about how much white people love Homeland, but have you been watching season three? We’re two episodes in and we haven’t even seen Brody yet. Instead, we’re watching his suicidal daughter play grab ass with some chiseled piece of man candy in the laundry room of a mental health facility while Saul tries to prove to the world that he is the worst government employee of all time by single-handedly getting the CIA shutdown. What the hell is going on? I actually laughed several times during the most recent episode because it was so bad. My interest is rapidly waning.

Band of Brothers

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Technically Band of Brothers is a miniseries, but it still deserves a mention here. I wouldn’t consider it in the running for greatest show of all time, not only because it’s a miniseries, but also because it’s based on a non-fiction book of the same name. That being said, it’s one of my favorite pieces of television ever. Never have I hated my generation more, or felt like more of a pussy, than when I was watching Band of Brothers. “Bastogne” actually gave me nightmares.

Deadwood

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Deadwood flew under my radar when it was on the air from 2004 to 2006, but I’m on season three right now, and I fucking love it. In fact, I can’t believe it didn’t last longer than three fucking seasons. The word “fuck” was used 43 times in the first hour of the show, and apparently the series has a total count of 2,980 “fucks” on an average of 1.56 “fucks” per minute of footage. Do you realize how many fucks that is? You have to respect that. On top of an absurdly awesome amount of profanity, Al Swearengen is easily one of the greatest characters ever created. I highly recommend it, you cocksucker.

Lost

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If you’re one of the soulless lunatics who considers Lost to be the greatest TV show of all time, I despise you with every fiber of my being. I spent three weeks watching this show from beginning to end in an effort to stay sober during the daylight hours of my final summer in college, and I’ve never been more confused, frustrated, and all around angry in my entire life. I would fight literally every single actor, producer, cameraman, writer and director that had anything do to with this sham. A smoke monster? You have to be shitting me. 4 8 15 16 23 42, motherfuckers.

The Sopranos

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Up until I finally got around to watching The Wire, this show was firmly planted in my personal number one spot with no challengers in sight. I was legitimately upset for a few minutes when James Gandolfini passed away. I had a poster of the above image on my wall in college. I’ve made my way through each of the six seasons on DVD at least five times. I’m a bigger fan than you, and I’ll murder your family if you say otherwise.

People were upset with David Chase over the show’s famous final episode, when the screen suddenly went black, leaving the audience to determine what happened. Similarly, there were people who complained about the ending of Breaking Bad, and the fact that after all the evil Walt had done, he seemed too easily vindicated in the end. Pipe down, fun-suckers. When a show captivates you for years on end, episode after episode, to the point that you’re legitimately emotionally affected by it, you have to trust the creator to end the show in whatever way he or she sees fit, and respect that decision. Personally, I loved the ending of The Sopranos. I thought it was perfect. I didn’t want to see Tony murdered on screen, and deep down I’ll always pretend that he’s still out there running Jersey like the motherfucking mob.

The Sopranos and Breaking Bad are now in a very, very tight battle for my number one spot, with The Wire holding down second place.

Sons of Anarchy

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I’m still making my way through Sons of Anarchy on Netflix as we speak. (Holy shit, I watch too much television.) It has been endlessly entertaining thus far, but I can’t speak to where the show should be ranked based on the fact that I’m not caught up. We’ll let the votes do the talking.

Boardwalk Empire

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Boardwalk is a fun one, but probably not worthy to be in the conversation when it comes to greatest of all time. Something about Steve Buscemi makes it impossible to take him seriously. It’s his face.

Entourage

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No, bro, Entourage is not a realistic contender. All the feel good, happy ending bullshit that went on in this series was unbearable. “It’ll be okay, guys! It always is!” Fuck you, Vinny Chase. Johnny Drama and the endless amount of eye candy were the only reasons I kept watching.

The Newsroom

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Lol.

House of Cards

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We’ll have to come back to this one in a few years. House of Cards had an awesome first season, but I’ll need more evidence before I can make a call.

Californication

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Maybe this is the year that Hank Moody finally gets his shit together! No, no it’s not. He might get it together for a few minutes of one episode, but the next thing you know he’s doing a line of cocaine off a hooker’s ass and getting arrested for assaulting his baby mama’s new boyfriend. I was a huge fan during the first few seasons, but since then the repetitive storyline has lost me. To be honest, I didn’t even finish the most recent season. Showtime has a serious problem with closing.

The Walking Dead

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Zombies are pretty cool. The Governor is an awesome bad guy. Rick’s kid is a sociopathic little monster and I look forward to his inevitable demise. I don’t really have much else to say about The Walking Dead.

Game of Thrones

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God, I love Game of Thrones. Boobs and fighting and drinking and sex and boobs and cussing and betrayal and boobs everywhere. It doesn’t feel right putting a show based on a series of incredible books in the same boat as an original creation like Breaking Bad, but you can’t do a better job of adapting literature to television than HBO has done with Game of Thrones. I can’t wait for next season. Speaking of next season, George R. R. Martin better hurry his fat, hobbit-looking ass up with that next book, because if HBO catches up to him and there is a delay between seasons, or, God forbid, he dies and never finishes, I’m going to lose my fucking mind. Khaleesi, so hot right now. Khaleesi. She is the mother of my dragon.

Breaking Bad

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Finally, we’re at the show that started this conversation. Through all five seasons, Breaking Bad had me on the edge of my seat with a level of anxiety that only a stage 5 hangover can replicate. Watching Walt go from a feeble high school chemistry teacher to a terrifying meth kingpin was a captivating transformation unlike anything in the history of television, and maybe any other medium of entertainment. Over the course of the series, I found myself going from feeling bad for Walt, to actively rooting for him, to hating him and then actually being disgusted by him and rooting against him. Jesse‘s character transformation was almost the perfect opposite of Walt’s, and equally enthralling.

The fact that Breaking Bad was able to be as good as it was without being on a premium channel like HBO or Showtime, which obviously would’ve allowed for nudity and F-bombs, makes it that much more impressive. If for some unfathomable reason you haven’t already, I highly recommend watching this series from the beginning, as it very well might be the greatest television show of all time.

Was a show that you think should be considered not mentioned above? State your case in the comments section and I’ll talk it out with you. Otherwise, cast your vote and then attack anyone in the comments section that disagrees with you.

*Obviously there are no comedies being considered in this conversation. That just wouldn’t make sense. I’ll break those down in a separate column.

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Ross Bolen

Ross Bolen is a New York Times Bestselling author, co-host of the Oysters, Clams & Cockles: Game of Throbes podcast, co-host of the Back Door Cover sports podcast, 2017 Masters attendee, bigger and more loyal Rockets and Astros fan than you, cheese enchilada aficionado, and nap god.

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