Niall Anderson cashes in on Breaking Bad, because, well, who isn’t?
We’ve had cool TV shows before. We’ve had cool TV shows getting called the best of all time. We have had cool, best-of-all-time TV shows that have also been genuinely popular. We’ve had award-winning shows that have grown from cult concern to cultural phenomenon in the seeming blink of an eye. We’ve had, for instance, The Simpsons.
But when last April The Simpsons itself decided to tip the hat to AMC’s critical favourite Breaking Bad, we saw something quite as peculiar as a mild-mannered chemistry teacher turning into a psychopathic drug-lord. We saw an apparently high-minded moral drama being given a lap of honour long before the race was over, let alone won. And we saw, almost immediately afterwards, the rise of the Breaking Bad cash-in.
This didn’t happen to The Wire. It hasn’t even happened to Mad Men. The Sopranos may have inspired a few ‘Bada Bing!’ t-shirts and the odd semi-official ‘Music From’ CD, but the sheer boggling range of Breaking Bad tat is pretty much unprecedented outside of kids’ TV. Does this maybe tell us something about the show? Does it say something about the audience? Let’s drive that RV out into the wilderness of the internet and see who wants to take us for everything except our underpants.
Case in point: Betting Bad. This is actually an interesting experiment, and probably not best served by its name. You don’t bet money: you just compete for points against your online friends by predicting when and how particular characters’ fates will be settled. Breaking Bad has quite a small core cast, and Betting Bad has settled on a few ways their stories might end (murder is prominent). It might be worth keeping up with this just to see whether Breaking Bad‘s plotting escapes the rather mechanistic universe of truth-and-consequences you get here. The plausibility of pretty much every scenario is either testimony to the show’s ability to keep ratcheting up suspense, or a faintly damning commentary on the its essential conservatism. We won’t know until we know, but this is still a nice calling card for some web entrepreneur somewhere.
So how about some Blue Meth Candy? Personalised for Valentine’s Day or birthdays. You too can have your own little baggie of outlandishly aqueous fun. This will cost you money, but not a lot, and hey – it’s just a cool colourful thing to buy your Breaking Bad-obsessed partner/BFF. No, it doesn’t mean that you’d prefer to cherish the cool of a popular TV programme over the reality of a public-health crisis in the south-west states. Of course it doesn’t.
But hey, while you’re at it, why not put your Breaking Bad sweeties into a specially designed Los Pollos Hermanos plastic tub?
Remember that bit earlier in Season 5 when Jesse half-articulates a genius plan to cover up his part in a multimillion-dollar plan to destroy the lives of hundreds of thousands of people? Well, of course a fuzzy-felt card is the perfect way to tell your friends that you know they loved it too.
How about some Heisenberg nail decals, then?
How about a calmly iconic tattoo commemorating the moment when Walt tries to reassure his wife, only to terrify her more?
You get the idea. MostlyFilm has written admiringly about Breaking Bad in the past. It is skilful and propulsive almost beyond reckoning. Its creators shouldn’t be held responsible for its adherents – any more than they should be held responsible for the appearance of actual blue meth on the streets. And yet. It has a kind of moral flatness that invites kitsch. The serious points it may be making have been swallowed up in the popular imagination by its general air of badassery. In this it resembles something like Brian DePalma’s Scarface: a technical tour de force, but not a particularly serious piece of work. You might therefore wonder if it deserves to be called the best TV show ever.
Breaking Bad is available on Netflix UK every Monday till September 30.