The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad and How Good Television is Destroying Cinema


The battle between movies and television is an age old duel of fates that has gone through many phases. There are years when the theatrical releases slaughter any story being told every Sunday night on AMC and there are years (such as these we’ve just lived through) were the movies simply don’t hold up to those very same series.

Hollywood producers just can’t seem to find characters that a wide audience can fall in love (or hate) with on a consistent basis and television show runners of late obviously have. Fans of these shows speak of their favorite characters on Breaking Bad, Dexter, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead as if they were real people mixed in with real events.

I’ve known someone whose mood changed depending on what happened to her favorite character the night before on The Walking Dead and Dexter. The attachment is real and tangible and beyond anything I can remember a movie producing.

Breaking Bad came to an end today in a glorious 75-minute finale that no doubt attracted an abundant audience. And depending on how rabid a fan you are it no doubt will have its fair share of detractors and supporters. No matter if the episode turns out to be well received or not, the choices made by series creator Vince Gilligan will resonate and live on long after the show’s end.

But this should be it. There isn’t any need for a Breaking Bad: The Movie (admit it, you thought about it; it’s the next stage of your infatuation with this show). Anyway, you just saw it. And if you were one of the people in Los Angeles or New York who booked for theater seems at a participating venue, you came even closer to that feeling.

I never got into a show like Breaking Bad, Dexter, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. These shows are obviously the best of the best in terms of what production companies are churning out nowadays (proven by their dominance at the Emmys last week), but for me, I soon grew tired of their contrivances, style and narratives after just a few episodes.

I’ve watched most of these shows in bits and pieces throughout their many years on the air, but they always seemed to be glorified soap operas to me (The Walking Dead especially. They don’t even remotely try to hide that its essentially a soap with zombies). They tried too hard to look and feel like a movie, but couldn’t get over the sometimes uneventful episode or reworking of past (and yea, better) shows and just fell flat on their faces.

I don’t mean to dismiss these shows. I actually admire them a great deal. But I also hold a healthy dose of spite for them. The aforementioned attachment I mentioned is a trait that seems to only follow weekly television shows. In the general sense, hardly any film franchise inspires so much passion from its fanbase (Star Wars being the obvious exception).

It seems that every other year or so a new show pops up and gradually gains a following that earns it the title of “The Next Sopranos (The Wire, Deadwood, Six Feet Under, Sex and the City, etc.)”. The major networks (CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox) are all trying to find their own way back into this current trend of show running. The Blacklist inherently won’t last long enough to be given the chance to shock audiences the way Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones have.

Of course the other end of this spectrum is that I’m a giant hypocrite; I absolutely love shows like Veronica Mars, Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation. All three of those shows emulated a movie going experience that was very unique to television. And when the time came for movies to spin-off from those shows, both iterations of Star Trek faired very well. All ten of those films not only had the spirit of the show on their backs, they expanded on their source material in ways only a good two hour film could. Veronica Mars is taking the plunge into the world of major motion pictures and has yet to be tested, but her 21st century sleuthing has everything going for it to succeed in that new arena.

Movies honestly do it to themselves. Reboots, remakes and the plethora of subpar sequels, prequels and midquels saturate the market with repetitive, boring and worst of all familiar stories that simply cannot excite on the level that Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire or Game of Thrones can. No one gives a shit about a 2013 Total Recall when the 1990 Total Recall is perfectly fine. It isn’t like movies have to look too hard for good stories to tell; books provide a ready and willing source for plenty of movies (Game of Thrones’ show runners obviously remembered what Hollywood producers forgot). There really is no need to recreate past successes for new audiences.

But these shows can’t last forever….can they?

If studios and producers would stop being so lazy and just find new stories to tell (they’re out there; no one ever said it’d be easy), television wouldn’t have this stranglehold on audiences that they currently find themselves gripping.

Movies inherently have the advantage in this holy war.

Shows end. They go out of season. And writers eventually lose their characters or repeat themselves and lose their audience.

Currently, that is where the movie industry stands. They have no idea who they are writing and producing for (despite insisting otherwise) and stick too close to university-taught templates to ever really come up with something as out of left field as Breaking Bad is for the silver screen. Sure, every once in a long while, we are granted something worthwhile from studios, but lately, those have been exceptions to the rule laid down by major Hollywood studios.

But if television is able to sustain the high quality of shows that they have been producing for the past decade or so, the way we know films today and enjoyed them yesterday will surely be gone sooner rather than later.

Excuse my ignorance and close-mindedness when I admit that, for me, television will always be for multi-camera situational comedy, drama and variety and that I will always hold out any day of the week for a good movie over a show. I appreciate shows like Breaking Bad, I really do. I just wish that the same creativity and grit would find its way into movies more often than is currently the case.

Now if you’ll excuse me, The Amazing Race is on.

Tags: Boardwalk Empire Breaking Bad Dexter Entertainment Movies Star Trek Star Wars Television The Amazing Race The Walking Dead TV Shows

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