Best TV shows ever: Breaking Bad

62 episodes of TV perfection. Walter White’s journey from Mr Chips to Scarface is considered by many to be the greatest TV series ever. Here is why it remains a must-watch.

By Alex Fletcher Published: 15 January 2021 - 9.13am
Drama AMC

Breaking Bad

AMC Bryan Cranston as Walter White

The Sopranos may have got in first. The Wire may have had more to say about society. And Mad Men had better costumes. But you’d be hard pushed to find a modern drama series in the last 30 years, as a complete piece, more compelling and essential to watch than Breaking Bad.

Following the journeys of respectable high school teacher Walter White and drop-out drug dealer Jesse Pinkman through an incredible journey into the world of drug cartels, gangs and some of the most tense and tightly-plotted episodes ever.

Created by Vince Gilligan, the series managed to slowly build a sense of dread and excitement, unravelled characters and built them up again and managed across five perfectly paced seasons to tell a story that never lost focus from its central, propulsive storyline.

Densely packed with hidden references, sight gags, call backs and teases of future twists, the series stands up to repeat viewings as there is nearly always something you didn’t spot the last time you watched.

And if you’ve never got around to watching, there is no better show to bump to the top of your watch-list. Trust us, you won’t regret it.

Breaking Bad - In Numbers

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul as Walter White and Jesse Pinkman AMC

Series dates: 2008-2013

Number of episodes: 62 episodes, 5 seasons

IMDB Rating: 9.4

Awards: 16 Emmys, 2 Golden Globes, 2 Peabody Awards

Spinoffs: Better Call Saul

How to watch Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad season 4 is currently airing on Sundays at 9pm on AMC.

AMC is exclusive to BT TV customers.

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Why it’s one of the best TV shows ever

Rarely could the word Shakespearian be used to talk about a TV show without it sounding hyperbolic or ridiculous, but with Breaking Bad it feels apt and appropriate.

Across the 62 episodes, the show never went down any dark alleys or meandering sub-plots, with the smallest of details planned, and every character fully formed and developed.

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul as Walter White and Jesse Pinkman AMC

Cranston and Paul deliver performances of a lifetime, balancing the empathy, moral murkiness and crumbling lives of Walter and Jesse.

But the whole cast from Bob Odenkirk’s Saul Goodman and Anna Gunn’s Skyler to villains Giancarlo Esposito’s Gus and Jesse Plemons’s Todd and smaller roles such as Matt L Jones’s Badger, Lavell Crawford’s Huell and Larry Hankin’s Old Joe, all come perfectly formed.

Not surprisingly, the Breaking Bad universe was so rich it spawned a spinoff series, Better Call Saul, which has been similarly critically acclaimed – a testament to the richness of the show’s world-building.

At five seasons long, Breaking Bad managed to bow out without ever taking one twist too far or wheel-spinning episodes that meander.

It always feels like Breaking Bad knows where it’s heading from the very beginning. It keeps its eye on the prize and as a result doesn’t underwhelm, like so many TV shows, when it comes to season cliffhangers, shock deaths and the tricky task of putting together a conclusion.

And perhaps more than any TV show before or since, Breaking Bad is all about the details. Every shot, every object and every line has been considered and that mind-bending level of effort rewards repeat viewings and your investment in the show.

It's a show that makes you gasp, laugh, cry, pump your fist with celebration and most importantly, really makes you care.

Where are the Breaking Bad cast now?

Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn and Aaron Paul on a red carpet in 2013 Getty

Bryan Cranston has not been short of work since bidding farewell to Walter White, starring in critically acclaimed movies such as Argo, Trumbo and The Upside.

Cranston returns to TV with a lead role in Showtime’s Your Honor, which will air in the UK on Sky Atlantic in March.

Aaron Paul returned to TV screens with a lead role in the third season of Westworld in 2020.

He’s also been the voice of Todd in the hit Netflix animation BoJack Horseman.

On the big screen he’s appeared in Need for Speed, Triple 9 and will appear in the upcoming sci-fi thriller Dual.

After finishing her role as Skyler White, Anna Gunn has gone on to star in series such as Gracepoint (the American Broadchurch), Criminal Minds and in 2019 Deadwood: The Movie.

Dean Norris has rarely been off TV screens or cinemas since finishing as Hank, starring in TV shows such as Under the Dome, The Big Bang Theory, Scandal and Claws.

After playing Flynn, RJ Mitte has been busy appearing in TV shows such as Chance, This Close and Now Apocalypse and the films Rivers Run Red, Standing Up for Sunny and The Oak Room.

He also took part in The Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls and presented Channel 4 coverage of the Paralympics in 2016.

Breaking Bad trivia

  • The studio originally wanted Matthew Broderick or John Cusack to play Walter White
  • In the original series plan, Jesse didn’t live past season one.
  • You can buy the meth used in the show. It is actually candy from The Candy Lady store in Albuquerque.
  • Vince Gilligan said there is one thing he wishes he could change on the show. Aaron Paul’s teeth, which are too white and perfect for someone who got in scraps and took drugs.
  • During the fight scene between Jesse and Tuco, Aaron Paul ended up getting knocked unconscious and suffered a concussion.
  • When Walter throws the Pizza and it lands on the roof, that was a complete fluke – Bryan Cranston did it in the first take.

What the reviews said...

Where to begin when it comes to the glowing reviews of Breaking Bad. The show was a slow-burn with the public, building up a TV fanbase with every series until it felt like the whole word was watching when the series concluded in 2013.

Entertainment Weekly critic Ken Tucker said: “For all its bleakness and darkness, there's a glowing exhilaration about this series: It's a feel-good show about feeling really bad.”

The New York Post critic Linda Stasi said: “Cranston and Paul are so good, it's astounding. I'd say the two have created great chemistry, but I'm ashamed to say such a cheap thing.”

Critic Nick Harley concluded: “Expertly written, virtuosic with its direction, and flawlessly performed, Breaking Bad is everything you could want in a drama.

“Critics will spend the next decade dissecting and arguing about what made it great, but the reasons are endless and already well documented.”

The show’s most popular episode, the much-lauded Ozymandias, has frequently been listed among the greatest episodes of TV ever.

The Guiness World Records even named the series the highest-rated TV series of all time when it concluded in 2013.

What the fans said...

The show sits proudly atop IMDB’s top-rated drama series of all-time list with an incredible score of 9.4. Only Band of Brothers and Sky Atlantic’s Chernobyl have matched the show’s impressive rating.

The fervent fanbase must encouraged Gilligan to return to the Breaking Bad universe in 2019 for a one-off continuation of the Jesse Pinkman story – El Camino.

The movie – which even featured a brief Walter White cameo – picked up where the original series concluded and gave fans one final nail-biting adventure for Aaron Paul’s character.

Perhaps the best sign of the enthusiasm and passion of the show’s fans is that Gilligan had to make a public statement in 2015 urging fans to stop re-enacting the famous scene where Walter White throws a pizza angrily in the air and it lands on a roof of the house.

Fans doing tours of the show’s landmarks were causing problems for the house’s real owner as people kept hurling pizzas on his roof. 

What are the best Breaking Bad episodes?

Bryan Cranston as Walter White AMC

Pilot: Season 1 episode 1

If you’re going to see the end of Jesse Pinkman’s journey, you need to remember where it all began. The iconic opening sequence, the unforgettable sight of Bryan Cranston in his underwear and the early signs of incredible chemistry between Paul and Cranston are all reasons to rewatch the series premiere. But more importantly, it’s also the first time Jesse finds himself in more trouble than he can handle – a recurring theme in the series.

Cancer Man: Season 1 episode 4

What would Jesse have become if Walter White hadn’t come into his life? Although we’ll never have the answer, this episode revealed the reasons that Jesse fell so easily into the role of criminal sidekick. Taking us back to Jesse’s parents house, we see a very different life that was within his grasp. The episode also gives us a classic moment of Jesse heartbreak as he takes the fall for his brother Jake – one of those beautiful glimpses into the soul of the character that Vince Gilligan delivers again and again.

Peekaboo: Season 2 episode 6

It is well documented that the character of Jesse was originally going to die in season one. However, the casting of Aaron Paul quickly changed all that as Vince Gilligan and the crew quickly became aware of the chemistry between the cast and the huge heart of this character.

It was clear at this point in season two that Jesse was so much more than a side-story to Walter White and this solo episode for Aaron Paul is one of the most touching and memorable in the whole series.

Anna Gunn as Skyler White AMC

Phoenix: Season 2 episode 12

Arguably the most powerful episode in the show’s history, it was one of the moments where Breaking Bad elevated itself into something more than just a really good TV drama. It became something with an emotional hold over its audience.

Phoenix was the episode where we saw Jesse’s dreams shattered and ripped apart in the most brutal fashion. Will El Camino finally give Pinkman peace? Or should we expect more shocks and horrors like Phoenix?

One Minute: Season 3 episode 7

Probably Aaron Paul’s finest hour in the whole series, this was the one episode that he rewatched before filming El Camino – so it clearly has some significance to the actor.

Featuring a couple of jaw-dropping speeches from a battered and beaten down Jesse, the moment he told Walter: “I have never been more alone. I have nothing! No-one!” is one of the most significant junctions in Jesse’s story.

It was the moment that he truly saw Walter for the villain he was (or was becoming, depending on your point of view). But did the actions of Walter before he died change Jesse’s perspective on his old mentor?

Felina: Season 5 episode 16

El Camino will flow directly from the end of the series, so you’d be foolish not to remind yourself how it all ended six years ago in that gut-wrenching, heart-pounding, glorious finale.

Walter’s last stand. Jesse’s break for freedom. We presumed the final chapter in their relationship has been written – but that’s all about to change.

Breaking Bad season 4 is currently airing on Sundays at 9pm on.

AMC is exclusive to BT TV customers.

BT TV. Now with Sky channels from NOW TV

We've got more sport, drama, cinema & kids' TV than ever before. Discover the right TV package for you.