Editor’s Note: We here at Points are happy to welcome back guest blogger Ross Aikins, a self-proclaimed sports-nerd, journalist, teacher, and postdoctoral fellow at the National Development and Research Institutes in New York City. A recent PhD from UCLA’s School of Education, Ross blogs at www.yourblogondrugs.com. Today, he provides us with a meditation on one of television’s great drug-related programs, Breaking Bad.
Breaking Bad might be the greatest TV show ever about drugs. And it’s about to end.
For those not familiar, Breaking Bad is an exceptionally high-quality AMC drama about a high school chemistry teacher named Walter White who, after discovering that he has terminal cancer, resorts to cooking meth in order to provide for his family’s future. His (literal) partner in crime is Jesse Pinkman, a former student of Walter’s and amateur meth-maker. Needless to say, the story gets complicated from there. You can read a fuller synopsis here.
What you need to know about Breaking Bad is that it is a critical hit, having won Emmys to date. It’s days are numbered, though, as it’s just entered the halfway mark of its fifth and final season that concludes next year.
Now read that completely loaded first sentence again and consider the pedantic lunacy of what I’m about to argue. What does it mean to be a qualitatively “great” show? And what makes a show “about drugs” anyway? Granted, these are hopelessly subjective classifications, but this is a drug history blog. For the sake of argument, let’s consider the entire history of television within our purview. I’ll respond to those two questions in reverse order.
- A show is “about drugs” either if its central plot revolves around drugs or if the main characters are addicts, dealers, cops, an anthropomorphic pothead talking towel, or otherwise primarily involved in the drug trade.
A good “about drugs” litmus test would be if somebody who had never seen a particular show were to ask an ardent fan “what’s that show about?” The first words in any credible response would have to include “drugs.” Lots of people love Sons of Anarchy, where drugs are a recurrent theme. But SOA fails that test since it is primarily about “biker gangs.” Similarly, The Sopranos is about a mafia family.
A show is also not “about drugs” if drugs or addiction are only an occasional subplot or multi-episode arc. For example, just because Jessie Spano was hooked on pep pills and The Pointer Sisters does not make “Saved By the Bell” a show about drugs. Same goes for the time Roger Sterling dropped acid, or the time Homer Simpson ate a hallucinogenic chili pepper.