Breaking Bad, and the paradox of ‘good’ TV

(photo credit: AMC TV)

The mega TV hit Breaking Bad aired it’s series finale last night, and social media is abuzz with how things wrapped up. I have never watched the show, but it has come up on my radar a few times over the years.  Therefore, I did some investigating to see if it’s something worth adding to the Netflix queue.

Things seemed promising when I found a recent commentary on Christianity Today that says “we need Breaking Bad” because the consequences of our choices (and lack of good ones) are lived out by main character Walt and his co-horts. His downward spiral is something we absolutely can’t miss, lest we spiral downward ourselves.

But Plugged In concludes that, “Breaking Bad tells us that we can’t excuse evil for an uncertain future good. And by its own measure, we can’t excuse Breaking Bad either.”

Breaking Bad tells us that we can’t excuse evil for an uncertain future good. And by its own measure, we can’t excuse Breaking Bad either.

So, as faith-centered people attempting to live counter-culturally, which is it?

Do we excuse the profane language, illicit drug use, and periodic sexual subplots of explicit nudity all for the greater good of learning some grand lesson that could make us better people? I mean, absolutely everyone in our social media feeds is echoing the millions of viewers who have made Breaking Bad a ratings blockbuster by saying how great of a show it is — so we can’t miss out on something so culturally-relevant, can we?

Sure, we “have standards” in what we watch on TV, and how much time we incessantly waste in front of that productivity-sucking device.  But we’re mature adults and can handle what we see, and differentiate “right from wrong.” And, well our teen kids aren’t adults, but “this show makes sin look messy so that will be a great lesson to live out as a family”, you say.

And for my Christian readers, we’re “saved by Grace” anyway, and “keeping rules” is legalism that is reserved for the self-righteous. Those people are all a bunch of hypocrites — we don’t want to be a hypocrite, after all, especially in our witness to our “unbelieving” friends now, do we?

You probably see where I’m going with this, but even with all that said it’s not up to me — and it’s definitely not the purpose of this blog — to tell people what they can and can’t watch.

However, it’s unfortunate that the paradox of “good” TV is that to obtain high ratings, shows need to “break bad” by way of shock value. And whether that shock value is violence, drugs, or sex, it’s a fine line we walk as viewers between being “set apart” and “mired within” what we’re watching.

Another show on AMC, The Walking Dead, I enjoy immensely. Alongside the violence against the plague of zombies, and occasional foul language, is a story of human survival and reliance on fellow man amidst dire circumstances. Until season 3 there was not much more than a hint of sexual content, and when it does come I prefer to leave the room or simply look away. Those are values my wife and I have decided together, and it works for us.

But I’m sure just stating the fact that I’m a Walking Dead fan will result in comments outlining the hypocrisy of watching one show, but not the other. And you might be right.

I could try watching Breaking Bad, and of course “break good” when inappropriate scenes come, but then the question arises — why tempt my depraved self with that choice in the first place?

Is Breaking Bad “not that bad” and worth watching? Try to convince me in the comments section.