You know, there's a lot of potential in television. Like the creators of The Wire said, you can make a TV show like a "visual novel" if you know what you're doing.
And yet, potential is a promise you don't have to make a commitment to. People have this notion of what you will be in a couple years based on what they see now.
And we've seen a lot of shows that made a promise of something crazy happening in the future, only to come up short.
Some shows delivered. Supernatural had there own "Kmart Apocalypse" in the fifth season that made out on all the things it promised. Granted, it wasn't a John Martin painting, but with all the creative, artistic, and managerial difficulties of television, I can't really blame them for this.
And we have had many disappointments. Jericho. Heroes. The later episodes of Twin Peaks.
The Epitaph episodes of Dollhouse that came a little too late.
And Lost rebounded after every other option was experimented and played with.
But there's reasons why Breaking Bad succeeded where those shows failed:
They held nothing back.
Usually, a four episode rule applies when it comes to television. A creator and their writers don't really know what a show is yet, and so they have to play around for the first four episodes to figure out what they are. As many television shows are now available on DVD, you can watch the first disc of a show and wonder if it's something worth continuing.
The pilot episode of Breaking Bad did not have any of these problems. We know who Walter White is going into this. We saw his life.
A lot of television doesn't undergo the rewriting that movies do since they evolve with each episode, but the opening of Breaking Bad was cinematic.
Breaking Bad was also amazing in how they slowly revealed Walter's wrongdoings to Skyler.
There wasn't any Clark Kent/Lois Lane thing going on. Skyler was catching onto things. And the show's writers didn't jump any sharks with each revelation.
There was no amnesia. This wasn't any Pinky and the Brain/Coyote and Roadrunner chaos without growth. Things carried on. Things you as an audience member might even forget about. You didn't scratch your head wondering about Peter Petrelli's lost Irish girlfriend.
Watching Breaking Bad felt like I was reading one of the best graphic novels of all time. You know that feeling you got when you read Watchmen for the first time? Yeah, like that.
You can tell that Vince Gilligan cared.
It was really refreshing. People have been telling you since the age of nine that you have to leave your brain at the door when you engage in pop culture or else you will alienate a part of the audience.
They Knew What They Were Doing
Breaking Bad didn't treat the audience like a dummy, and they weren't dummies either.
They did their research. And they knew where the show was going. They were prepared. They took calculated risks (like Walter White) and everything resonated because of it.
Even when they didn't know where the fifth season was going (showing Mr. Lambert and going backward) they excelled since it challenged them. They weren't going through the motions.
There's this video online of Louis C.K. talking about how much George Carlin meant to him. C.K. said that his career changed when he listened to an interview of Carlin's where he explained that the secret to coming up with new material was throwing it away after his special was done.
Carlin explained that a person has to dig deep to find new material once they throw away what they had before. And in this digging, one finds himself.
Breaking Bad feels that way. You know how characters in horror movies do dumb things for the purpose of plot? I can't recall a time when that ever happened in Breaking Bad.
There was never an easy way out of things. The villains were as smart as Pinkman and Heisenberg. You honestly didn't know how things were going to be. It was awesome.
They Knew When To End Things
When things look great, you have this tendency to keep going until it's bad. When things look bad, people tell you to give up.
The creative staff of Breaking Bad quit while they were ahead. I know a lot of people who thought that they should have kept going. These are the same people who also thought Dexter should have ended sooner.
Breaking Bad is also the one show that knew both when to kill characters, and how to give deep meaning to each character's death.
There was no Kirk falling on a bridge that you got with Star Trek Generations. You felt pain when people died. And they died with dignity. There wasn't any crying. They anticipated it.
It was all very badass.
You didn't have people who should have died two seasons ago hanging around for ratings.
The show made tough decisions. Creativity comes from knowing what to cut. The same goes for the length of a production.
An early finish that leaves them wanting more.