As the entertainment world enters 2020 and the third decade of the 21st century, it's become an undeniable fact TV has changed. Once considered cheap, disposable entertainment, the advent of "prestige TV," which began on HBO, has colonized the landscape. And perhaps the most influential series that helped bring about that change was Breaking Bad, one of the first to air not on subscription, but AMC. Running from 2008 to 2013, it helped redefine what TV could look like on basic cable. For those looking to start watching shows like Breaking Bad, here's a list of some of the best.
Breaking Bad had all the ingredients to make it a hit with critics and viewers. It's an anti-hero story about a chemistry teacher who turns to drug dealing because of America's failing healthcare system. It touches on so many aspects of modern life, from the need to keep up appearances, to the American dream of running one's own business, to the addiction to making money and having power. It's also a gripping character study of Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and how his life goes completely off the rails as the path to hell is paved with good intentions.
But Breaking Bad isn't the only show that can say that. Here's a list of the best of the best for those who love great TV.
1. 'The Wire'
Love downtrodden working-class anti-heroes in a story that's also a commentary on our current capitalist society? Look no further than HBO's classic The Wire. It's a bit more on the anthology side, with each season focusing on a different aspect of the city of Baltimore's institutions, but it all hangs together of a piece. And can we talk about this cast list? Dominic West, Idris Elba, Wendell Pierce, Aidan Gillen, Reg E. Cathey, Pablo Schreiber, just to start. If you're looking for well-acted entertainment that also makes you think, this is a classic to put on the list.
2. Peaky Blinders
At the other end of the spectrum from The Wire, there's Peaky Blinders. This historical "what if" scenario focuses on a different sort of crime family, one that ran Manchester before the outbreak of World War I. The series asks, what if it had managed to continue through the interwar period. The show has aired five seasons out of a planned seven on the BBC that will take it straight to the arrival of World War II. (All five are currently on Netflix in the US.) But despite the trapping of the UK and the 1920s and 30s, the series has never been more timely.
Breaking Bad might not have the dry humor of a Coen Brothers project, or the legacy in film the way the TV version of Fargo does. But otherwise, these series are two peas in a pod. Fargo takes the anthology seasons a step farther than most, but the working class unique crime capers set across a backdrop of American desperation resonate on the same theme.
For those into the "normal person turned into a drug kingpin to keep a middle-class lifestyle" aspect of Breaking Bad, the next show to check out is Weeds. The series ran from 2005-2012, and Mary Louise Parker's Nancy Botwin was a bit of a forerunner to Cranston's Walter White, except in her case it's growing marijuana, not cooking up meth in a lab.
The dirty secret of Breaking Bad is that it's actually a genre TV series, a modern western. For those who can't get enough of that aspect, please watch Deadwood, the gritty, historically authentic recreation of 1870's South Dakota and real-life figures Seth Bullock and Al Swearengen. Like Breaking Bad, it's working on so many levels at once, it's remarkable.
6. 'The Sopranos'
For fans of Breaking Bad who haven't watched The Sopranos, now is the time. Generally accepted as the show that defined the "prestige TV drama" genre, this show has it all. From the attempts at living a normal life when your profession is outside the law, to gripping character portraits of an American family trying to maintain a lifestyle, it's all here. As for the infamous ending, once you've seen the show, you'll understand it.
7. 'Better Call Saul'
But the real show to fill the Breaking Bad hole in anyone's life is the spinoff, Better Call Saul. Creator Vince Gilligan admitted, when he pitched it, people would watch for Walter White’s horrible lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk). Instead, the show has become its own beast, with fans who regularly tell him they actually like it better than the show that spawned it. People like it better than Breaking Bad? Now that's high praise, indeed.