Breaking Bad (Robert Wallis):
I'm a fan of both Breaking Bad and The Sopranos (who’d-a thought it?), but while the former was certainly television of the highest caliber – it went a long way towards redefining the gangster genre – only one of them provided a true must-watch, edge-of-your-seat experience, and that was Breaking Bad.
While Nicholas would doubtless argue that this is a sign of the show’s middlebrow aspirations, I would argue that it speaks of Breaking Bad’s accessibility, its ability to entertain on any level you choose to access it. Some people may have watched for the thrills, the prospect of Walter White doing bad-ass things; others, like myself, chose to watch for the dramatic and thematic ripples that came from Walt’s transformation, its impact on his loved ones and the world at large.
Breaking Bad is, simply put, iconic, sui generis TV, focused and intense, with, perhaps, the strongest character arc ever committed to the cinematic arts – a statement I will do my best to build a case for over the course of the coming essay. The Sopranos has a pre-existing legacy as all-time great TV, up there with The Wire, but Breaking Bad, upstart though it may be – for one thing, it didn’t appear on HBO – is just as much a claimant to the throne.
Though the hype currently surrounding it may make it difficult to take an objective view, Breaking Bad is so good because it was, at its heart, a show about a man battling against death, against failure, and that has to be, at least, more universal than a paunchy New Jersey mob boss suffering panic attacks (magnificent though James Gandolfini’s performance was).
Both Breaking Bad and The Sopranos are morality plays to one extent or another, but only Breaking Bad truly engages with the grand themes of good and evil. The Sopranos may be broader in scope, but for Tony Soprano it’s always just about business: while The Sopranos’ “hero” doesn’t change in any fundamental way – he can’t, it’s crucial to the show’s premise – Walter White’s story is all about change, about man’s attempt to shape his destiny, however misguided it might be.
Breaking Bad was chemically pure with no adulterants, much like Walter’s product itself. It simply can't be beat.
The Sopranos (Nicholas Hearst):
Only moments ago I finished re-watching the entirety of David Chase’ magnum opus The Sopranos and I can safely say that it remains to this day the greatest TV series ever made. (Diplomacy be damned)
Over the coming weeks Robert and I will go head to head in an effort to put to bed one of the most pressing and divisive questions to plague the developed world since Coca Cola fans were first confronted with Pepsi: Sopranos or Breaking Bad? As far as I am concerned there is simply no comparison. Admittedly, Breaking Bad is a brilliant show, it thrived, and justifiably so, on the basis of its consistently audacious and innovative approach to everything from storytelling to cinematography… but it’s no Sopranos.
The Sopranos set the standard by which all quality television series are compared to today. Its success spearheaded a cultural revolution no less important than the one that swept the American film industry in the late 60s and early 70s; a period defined by the ascension of auteur directors like Robert Altman, Francis Ford Copolla and Martin Scorcese. Without Sopranos the landscape of American television wouldn’t be the same today – in other words, no Deadwood, no Wire, no Mad Men, no Game of Thrones, no Six Feet Under, no Shield, no Boardwalk Empire and certainly no Breaking Bad.
The Sopranos developed a template for television drama that broadened the artistic horizons of the medium exponentially. Tidy resolutions and linear morality quickly became a tell-tale sign of mediocrity in the wake of a show as complex, intelligent and subtle as The Sopranos. Week after week, audiences were confronted with a challenging vision of Bush-era New Jersey, told through the eyes of one Tony Soprano, a duck-feeding, robe-adorning, existential-angst-ridden patriarch-cum-mob boss, who found himself flanked on all sides by every kind of obstacle ranging from the criminal to the familial. It’s a show that managed to find a perfect balance between tragedy and realism, humour and poignancy, all the while maintaining its own unique voice and visual style.
It remains peerless in this regard and I hope ensuing contributions to this blogathon can come close to reflecting its genuine supremacy over that other series.
With that in mind, let the battle commence…
WARNING: Future installments may include spoilers..