Emmy Favorites: ‘Breaking Bad’

Breaking Bad, Blue Sky

Vince Gilligan’s beloved drama — one of the most visceral, aesthetically articulate programs that the television medium has yet given us — is one of the great shows of the post-Sopranos era, and Walt White is one of the great post-Tony Soprano anti-heroes. Breaking Bad is a great show, of course, but — brace yourselves — it’s not the capital G Greatest Show of all time forever and ever amen. There is no single greatest show. It’s like trying to pick between The Sopranos or The Wire; neither is “better,” and they have such different styles. The Sopranos is cinematic and literary, The Wire gritty, almost like a documentary, more focused on realism than metaphor, and shot in the more conventional-for-TV 4:3 aspect ratio.

The reason I ask you consider that maybe, just maybe, Breaking Bad isn’t the great thing since the big bang, is that this has been a stupendous year for television, and Vince Gilligan’s show will face some heady competition at the Emmys. You may have to face the very real possibility that it won’t win the Emmy for Best Drama or Best Actor.

Shows tend to earn extra favor in their final seasons, and Breaking Bad‘s final season was the most-hyped final season since, you guessed it, The Sopranos. But, keep in mind that James Gandolfini was nominated but didn’t win for the final season of The Sopranos, though David Chase took home a statue for his writing on the enigmatic and polarizing final episode “Made in America.”

The way the Emmys work isn’t exactly how most people imagine: the potential nominees — directors, writers, actors — choose an episode to submit to represent their best work. So Bryan Cranston doesn’t just submit the entire half-season, but chooses one episode. This is at once the fairest way of handling things, as well as an infuriating way, since it boils down an entire season worth of work into one single episode, and helps to elucidate why Jon Hamm has yet to win an Emmy.

Hamm is the opposite of showy, using subtle facial ticks and vocal inflections to convey those percolating emotions shrouded by his pretty visage. Hamm doesn’t get those tense, thrilling episodes to flaunt his acting prowess; his is a slow, gradual performance, best appreciated over the course of a season, of multiple seasons, than any single episode can capture.