Breaking Bad celebrated its 15th anniversary on January 20th, 2023, with the years in between only proving how well the series has aged. Breaking Bad was created by Vince Gilligan, and has since become one of the most acclaimed TV series of all time. While the first season received positive reviews on its initial air dates, the following four received rave reception, leading to the show’s status as an all-time classic being solidified.
The first episode aired on AMC on January 20th, 2008, before the fifth and final season culminated the show on September 29th, 2013. The series has since seen two extensions to the story, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie and Better Call Saul. The former is primarily a sequel to Breaking Bad, with the latter serving as both a prequel and sequel. With Breaking Bad still lingering in audiences’ minds long after its initial air date, it is worth exploring why the series has aged so well in the 15 years since its debut.
Related: How Breaking Bad’s Beginning Perfectly Mirrors Better Call Saul’s End
Breaking Bad Poster
One of the main reasons for the proven timeless quality of Breaking Bad is simply how well-written the show is. From its wider themes, characters, and the stories intertwining the two, Breaking Bad remains the gold standard on how to write TV. Firstly, the catalyst of the entire series remains as unfortunately present as ever. Walter White was forced into a life of crime due to the failure of the US healthcare system, perfectly setting up the events of the series and Walter White’s evil turn. This concept remains as timely as ever, with little-to-no change in that respect in the decade and a half since Breaking Bad began.
However, it is the elevation, or more appropriately downfall, of Walter through this catalyst that opens the door to Breaking Bad’s wider themes and one of TV history’s most fascinating characters. From Walter’s dedication to providing for his family turned into an ever-expanding ego to the dark depths the character goes to, Breaking Bad features one of the best-written protagonists in media history. What sets Breaking Bad apart though, is Walter’s simultaneous antagonism. Oftentimes, the show masterfully plays the audience by making viewers root for Walt while he is committing deplorable acts of violence and even evil that are all expertly portrayed by Bryan Cranston in an all-time career performance.
That is not to mention other characters such as Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman, who is a testament to one of Breaking Bad’s most timeless themes that stands in stark contrast to the series’ main character and even its title, redemption. Through Jesse’s character, and Paul’s fantastic co-performance alongside Cranston, Gilligan and his team often explore the idea that no one is beyond self-improvement. With so many crime shows in recent memory regularly depicting criminals as one-dimensional, irredeemable villains, Breaking Bad’s dedication to the humanization of these characters stands the test of time.
All of this only benefits every other character and the engrossing story of the show. From realistic portrayals of the effects of Walt’s actions through Skylar and Walter Jr. to the heroic, sympathetic bravery of Dean Norris’ Hank Schrader, every aspect of Breaking Bad’s characters and their respective stories work seamlessly with one another. This is all without mentioning characters like Bob Odenkirk’s Saul Goodman and Jonathan Banks’ Mike Ehrmentraut who introduce one of TV’s very best villains, Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). This endless list just goes to highlight Breaking Bad’s true quality, and how all these stories and characters combine to help the show stand the test of time.
Related: Better Call Saul’s Latest Awards Disappointment Is Its Worst Yet
Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman in El Camino and Better Call Saul season 6
Despite Breaking Bad ending its five-season run in September 2013, the two aforementioned spin-off projects kept the series relevant in popular fandom. Through both El Camino and Better Call Saul, Breaking Bad’s story was allowed to continue retroactively in ways that both expanded upon and benefited the original show. While it is largely agreed that Breaking Bad’s series finale, “Felina,” ended the series on an extremely satisfying note, one of the larger questions that remained was what happened to Jesse Pinkman.
Through El Camino, writer-director Vince Gilligan explored this question. With Jesse Pinkman taking centre stage in the sequel, alongside Breaking Bad regulars linked to Jesse’s overarching story such as Jesse Plemons’ Todd, Krysten Ritter’s Jane Margolis, and Charles Baker and Matt Jones as Skinny Pete and Badger Mayhew respectively, El Camino paved the way for Breaking Bad to have a mini-resurgence in 2019. In addition to cameo appearances from Jonathan Banks and Bryan Cranston as Mike and Walter which truly solidified the film’s sequel status and made the original show more relevant than ever.
The prequel in question, Better Call Saul, provided even more context to the overall Breaking Bad universe. Better Call Saul was as equally acclaimed as its sequel series, often being considered a worthy successor and in some ways even surpassing Breaking Bad. Through Better Call Saul’s distinctive timeline, which spans both years before and years after the original show, the spin-off only benefits the original story. Not only that, but Better Call Saul stands on its own by crafting equally compelling characters and storylines, so that it stands high next to Breaking Bad as two of the best modern examples of quality TV.
Walter White (Bryan Cranston) in Breaking Bad’s series finale.
One of the other vital components of Breaking Bad that means it has aged exceptionally well is its rewatch value. Firstly, through ending in a way that was acclaimed by both critics and fans alike, Breaking Bad is not hurt upon a rewatch. This issue was found with other popular TV shows such as Game of Thrones, which has since all but disappeared from general TV discourse due to its less-than-satisfying ending. Breaking Bad though has persevered and is still being talked about today due to the rewatchable nature of its engrossing story and fantastic ending.
Related: Breaking Bad: Everything Walt Copied From His Victims
These many rewatches that audiences indulge in also reveal the outstanding attention to detail found in every fiber of Breaking Bad. From its scripts, characters, stories, and endearing themes, the show is still being dissected and analyzed to this day, 15 years after its initial release. New details are constantly being found, and new theories regularly surfacing. This exemplifies just how well Breaking Bad was made, through new aspects being found long after its release that help it stand the test of time.
Breaking Bad’s Darker Themes Are Well Handled
Breaking Bad Heisenberg Bryan Cranston
Another thing that aids Breaking Bad’s – and Better Call Saul’s/El Camino’s – longevity is how its various dark themes are handled. Oftentimes, some acclaimed TV shows as well-received as Breaking Bad begin to show their age in the years or decades after release. With modern society’s changes in views on topics concerning gender, minority representation, and sexuality to name but a few, most “older”‘ TV series are picked apart for aspects they could have handled differently or improved upon in retrospect.
With Breaking Bad though, these criticisms rarely appear. A show focusing on an egotistical man’s downward spiral into the criminal underworld could have very easily led to many elements that turned unsavory after a few years. However, while there are plenty of moments in Breaking Bad that leave a bad taste in the mouth, mostly due to Breaking Bad’s Heisenberg, they were largely crafted to elicit this response rather than being a product of something that is poorly handled due to the time in which it was made. All of these aspects culminate in Breaking Bad being counted among TV’s very best efforts, which still stands in that regard 15 years later.