As Breaking Bad enters its final season tonight, I found myself almost relieved given this relentless, often silly rivalry. I’ve had this argument with close friends who swear to me that Breaking Bad is better than Mad Men. But I am not interested in who is better — for me, I find Mad Men to be the better of the two shows, but that is entirely subjective of course. And where all else is somewhat equal between the two (the writing, character development, sub-plot construction and over-all plot development) I find Mad Men overall more appealing for one reason: It’s a world I actually like going to every Sunday night.
When we choose to watch a show or a film, we are externalizing the internal. A well-written, well constructed show or film leaves us with a certain impression from its collective efforts. When we sit down during prime time, we are sitting down ready to go on a journey. We travel through these elaborately constructed worlds through the lens of various characters. The more elaborate the characters and the world, the more we are able to externalize the internal. Both shows do this extraordinarily well. And it is because both of these shows do this so well that I come to prefer Mad Men.
Mad Men is set on Glamorous 1960’s Madison Avenue and pristine mid-century suburban New York (and LA too). Despite all the flaws of Don Draper, men want to be him and women want to sleep with him (I know I do). The advertisement agency provides a brilliant tool to be able to excavate social controversies of the time as well as it provides for intimate character dynamics and social hierarchies. As a woman, I also find myself rooting for Peggy Olsen because she represents this determination that was so rare for women at the time, she is an inspirational character in that sense. And so every Sunday, I find myself fascinated by this simple, yet extraordinarily complex world. I find myself excited to return to that 1960s NY glamor, in spite of all its inner ugliness and exclusionary atmosphere. In a sense, it is like being admitted every week to a highly exclusive club, and to be apart of this hierarchy if for only an hour a week. And so, I find myself enjoying the journey through this world, because it is relate-able and also a lesson in recent history that makes us who we are today.
Contrast the world of glitz and glamor of 1960s New York with contemporary and rather boring New Mexico. The world is so average, it is practically un-inspiring. And that is the brilliance of Breaking Bad, it is almost too real in a sense. And it is the fact that it is too real, despite its near ridiculous premise, that leaves a bad taste in my mouth every time I watch it. Every week we are treated to the sinewy world of drug addicts, their destructive path and the criminal enterprise that caters to them. We feel for Walt, because of the decisions he has been led to make, but despite being an anti-hero he’s also a really horrible person. I personally don’t like journeying to this world of unforgiving violence and abject failure. I don’t feel comfortable watching the way good people are led to kill out of desperation.
I feel so much more with Breaking Bad than I do Mad Men, and on some levels that’s what makes it a better show to some, but not for me. It is not externalizing the internal the way I want it to. I don’t like traveling to this world every Sunday the way I do Mad Men, because it leaves me with an uncomfortable feeling. I don’t like the characters, nor would I ever want anything to do with them. And if you’ve ever seen Requiem for a Dream you will know exactly how I feel when I watch Breaking Bad. Sometimes things are just too real, and for me I watch film/TV to escape reality, especially when its a subject like that covered in Breaking Bad.
On many levels Breaking Bad is a better show to some because of just how much it externalizes the internal. It is no doubt an amazing show, one of the best in recent history. But for me, I prefer Mad Men, and that is because of the world covered versus that of the world in Breaking Bad. I don’t enjoy watching a show where people are killed in horrifically violent manners for a subject (drug addiction) I prefer to avoid. I have seen drugs devastating effects on former friends, family and often enough in the news that I don’t need to watch a whole show dedicated to that seedy underworld. And so when I sit down to choose a TV show or film, its not just because of how well done a show is but whether it is a journey I want to take — Breaking Bad is a journey I would rather avoid. And so that is my preference, and you may take it with a grain of salt.