We're in a golden age of television, and it's hard to know which show(s) to watch. It's like trying to get through classic literature - everything is great, so where do you start?
You start with Breaking Bad.
If we start on the surface and work our way in, we'll notice the show has earned a lot of awards in its 5 seasons:
Emmys for Best Drama - nominated second through fourth seasons, won fifth season.
Emmys for Best Actor - won first three seasons, nominated last two seasons.
Emmys for Best Director - nominated every season except the second.
Emmys for Best Supporting Actor - nominated second, fourth, and fifth season, won third season.
Emmys for Best Supporting Actress - won fourth season, nominated fifth season.
AFI's Best TV Program of the Year - won every season except the second.
I'm just going to give up listing and say this: it has won 50 awards and been nominated for 151, outranking all but a handful of TV shows. Why?
You know how when you see Samuel Jackson in a movie, you say "hey it's Samuel Jackson." Or you see Morgan Freeman and say "hey it's Morgan Freeman." Or you see Nicolas Cage and just start laughing? Well, what happens is there's now a degree of separation between you and the character that actor is portraying. You'll always see that actor in a certain way, and won't fully accept them doing something new. Therefore The Rock can't play a bookworm and Ryan Gosling can't play someone unattractive. So how do you cast for a role that demands subtlety in the expression of every line but also huge swings in character over long story arcs? You cast people who are unknown. Like Bryan Cranston (only known as the dad in Malcolm in the Middle) and Aaron Paul (only known as the kid in that Juicy Fruit ad).
Tack on some more unknowns for the supporting cast, and now everything is believable if the actors can sell it. And sell it they will. For example, take a look at this two-minute scene from one of the first episodes. Here we see Walter dealing with some of the side-effects of having cancer. Other than that it's totally spoiler-free.
I love the graphic novel Watchmen, and one of my favorite things about it is the song quote concluding every chapter. They're all real lines from real songs, and it'll drive you insane how tailored they are to the happenings of that chapter. You'll think they bent their story around a handful of popular lyrics. It's the same with Breaking Bad, where every song isn't just chosen for its mood but also for its words. To the point where the lyrics sometimes explain more than the episode does, making you wonder how the song was written twenty years ago. Especially in that series finale...I mean Jesus, you could write a dissertation on the song choices for those last fifty minutes.
It also intricately knows what each person is fighting for and how they can get it. But the driver of the story is a moral one, and the show keeps that in mind. This leads me to a big idea I've been developing about another popular series:
Game of Thrones is beautiful and impressive, but look at the character arcs.
good -> stays good -> dies
good -> becomes bad -> lives
good -> becomes bad -> dies
bad -> stays bad -> lives
bad -> stays bad -> dies
bad -> becomes good -> dies
The good characters die and the bad characters live or die. This creates soap opera-y writing, where people are killed on whims and there's no destination in mind. Not just any characters either - mass amounts of people we've been following from the beginning die in seconds. The competent die and the incompetent stay in power, and it all has this tone of "this is real life man, it's dark and hard and makes for great writing because it's unpredictable." But unpredictable doesn't matter when there's no higher level for people to reach.
Harry Potter is great for this reason because, being a series for kids, it puts these terms on simple levels that can serve as a kind of template for anything else. Game of Thrones has no post-Voldemort era, where all the people rally against evil and see a better day for future generations. Or no post-Sauron era for the Hobbits, elves, dwarves, and men to rebuild. There's no Jennayyy for Forrest to woo and no Darcy for Elizabeth to wed against society's demands. And a fun side effect of those things is we learn from one that even an impaired person can change the world if he's just a decent human being, and from the other that character matters more than appearance or status in choosing a spouse. In Harry Potter there are hundreds of things to learn, from eradicating slavery (house elves) to not fearing death (Dumbledore). Some run really deep, way beyond any normal kid's understanding, and that's why there's college courses dedicated to this HP stuff. In Game of Thrones there's no evil to overcome, because there's no good to replace it. And because of this, I don't really care about any of the characters. I want Joffrey dethroned and Tyrion to replace him, but I'm sure he'd die within minutes. Or maybe he wouldn't, but he wouldn't get anything done either way.
To bring this back to Breaking Bad, the show has a higher plateau for every character to reach. The intensity comes from watching them fumble up and down the ladder, affecting others as they go. And although you can say Harry Potter is too simple (which is like complaining that there's too much fat on your bacon), you can put Breaking Bad on the Harry Potter template and see that it holds up just fine.
Don't spoil things. Don't be that person. Don't be that person who spoils things for yourself either. The whole point of every story ever is to take you on a roller coaster of emotions and triumphs and trials and change that can only be done when you don't know the outcome. When you tell me Titanic is "sad" I spend the whole movie waiting for someone to die, and that really takes the fun out of those dance scenes. That's a dumb example because the Titanic is a real thing and I already know the ending, but you get my point. So if you're reading this and deciding maybe you'll watch Breaking Bad, don't google the ending to see if it's what you want first; I could write a whole 'nother blog on how you're living life wrong.