Breaking Bad: A Serial TV Show

In their article, “How Has the Culture of TV Changed?” Scott Tobias and Noel Murray debate the proper ways to watch television.  Tobias believes that people should watch a show from the beginning of a series, while Murray thinks that people can jump into a show at any point.  I have to agree with Tobias’ side.  Shows should be watched from the first episode for the viewer to fully grasp the importance of every action.

Murray has been addicted to television since he was a little kid.  He grew up planning out his television watching for the entire month.  His entire life revolved around TV.  This is why today as a TV critic he focuses on episodic shows.  An episodic show is a show where there is a new problem every week and by the end of the week the problem is resolved and everything is the same the week before.  For this type of show it is not to important what happens from week to week because changes rarely happen and character development is very slow.

Tobias has a very different background in television.  His love for TV came out of shows like The Sopranos.  This led him to focus more on serial television shows.  A serial TV show is a show in which the plot line is continuously moving forward and evolving, and there tends to be a lot more character development.  Because of this, Tobias believes that these shows should be watched from the beginning.

While I mostly agree with Tobias, I think the Murray has some good points too.  I think that they are both right when it comes to their own type of TV show.  It does not matter if someone jumps into a random season of Law and Order because it follows the formula of every other police procedural and the viewer will be able to understand the character’s roles and personalities after a couple of episodes.  However, in a show like 24, the viewer would be very lost if they jumped in at a random episode because the plot develops extremely quickly and it would be very difficult to follow what was going on.  Finally there are hybrid shows like DexterDexter has a continuous plot line, but Dexter also has a new victim every week.  I think hybrid shows should be treated like Serial shows.  Even though there are episodic elements in these shows, it is still important for understanding the characters the watch the show from the beginning.

Breaking Bad is the perfect example of a serial TV show.  Its plot line is continuous, and if someone skips an episode that person would be completely lost in what was happening.  Also, if someone started watching the show in the middle, the character development, along with several other elements, would be completely lost.  If someone does not see how difficult it was for Walt to kill Crazy 8 in second episode of season one, then the significance of Walt murdering ten prisoners at once to get rid of loose ends in the eighth episode of season 5 is lost.

Another part of Breaking Bad that would be lost by starting the show in the middle is the relationships between the characters.  One relationship that went through a dramatic change was Walt and Skyler’s marriage.  At the beginning of the series, Skyler was a loving wife who would do anything for her husband.  When she found out the Walter had cancer, the first thing she did was search for the best doctor in the Southwest.  However, things change when she finds out his dark secret.  When she discovers that he cooks meth she does everything in her power to get him out of her and her family’s life.  She tries to file for divorce, and when that doesn’t work she has an affair with her boss to try to make Walt want to leave.  Eventually, she gives up on the idea and Walter is able to manipulate her into letting him stay in the house.  Their relationship gets even worse when Skyler discovers that Walter killed Gus.  This is a major discovery for her because before this Walter was not necessarily a bad person, just someone who made bad choices.  This made her realize that he was a very dangerous man.  From this point of this show on she is petrified of Walter and what he can or will do.  This is only one example of the complicated relationships on the show.  If a viewer started watching the show in the fifth season they would not understand why Skyler is so scared of Walt.  This immensely important relationship would not be understood by not watching the show from the beginning.

Character development and relationships are not the only things lost by not watching the show from the beginning.  The show also foreshadows events.  For example, in the first episode of the series Walter says “chemistry is the study of matter, but I prefer to think of it as the study of change.”  This clearly is foreshadowing all of the changes that Walter goes through during the series.  The show also foreshadows Jane’s death several times.  Jane dies from choking on her own throw up in her sleep while on heroin.  In the episode “Over” Jesse makes Jane a surprise breakfast but she wakes up early.  Jesse tells her she wasn’t supposed to wake up, and she responds “like, ever?”  Her death is also foreshadowed in the episode Phoenix when Walter roles his infant daughter on her side when putting her to bed so she doesn’t choke in her sleep.  The creators of the show had been working toward Jane’s death for a while and all of that work would have been completely lost if the first episode someone watched of the show was the one where she died.

Breaking Bad is a series that needs to be watched from the beginning to be fully understood.  It has many elements like character development, changing relationships and foreshadowing that are vital in appreciating the show that could not be observed from starting anywhere but episode one.  Tobias was completely right on how to watch a serial show like Breaking Bad.

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