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I've always had problems with rankings or comparisons of "The Wire" to "Breaking Bad" because they're two different types of shows. I think it's perfectly fine to say YOU like one over the other, but the minute we try to get remotely empirical about it, we run into some key differences...enough that make comparisons problematic, at least for me.

Point: 
The Wire (TW) is one of the greatest shows of all time. Breaking Bad (BB) is also one of the greatest shows of all time. [Please note that for all instances of the phrase "of all time" only covers about 60 years of public-use television history.] 

But TW is an ensemble show, which is a very different animal than BB, which is not an ensemble show*...it is (ultimately) an adventure duo show. The first allows a world of characters to interact, but rarely to dig very deeply into most or any of the characters. Conversely, we end up with a show of even the most deplorable characters ever created doing horrific things that we LIKE, but don't really know. We develop an investment in these characters in much the same way we do sports teams. We like them for the roles they play, but not so much as people.

BB is different in almost every way, even with an impressive array of characters. Because the primary cast is so much smaller (and the pace was, at times, glacial) we were allowed to dig deeply into the primaries’ lives. Our investment becomes much deeper and takes on all kinds of resonance that an ensemble very rarely incorporates.

So that’s just a mathematical reason why you can’t compare the two fairly.

That said, I think it’s easy to point out other things that make a show good that might have been done better in one than the other, and I think that in almost any list of determining factors you come up with, BB is going to take most of that list. That said, here’s something to consider (and if you know me at all, you knew this was coming): context.

In this day and age, when you can access episodes of shows for near-free at any time of day or night, we forget that some of these shows PREDATE THE OTHERS. When you plot out, say, six – JUST SIX – of the best shows on television in the last 15 years, it bears noting that BB had every other GOAT show to draw from. 

Here’s the math:


- OZ (oh, how quickly we forget what real tension is!) = 1997 - 2003

- The Sopranos (which is the BAR, yo) = 1999 – 2007

- The West Wing (the only network show on this list) = 1999 – 2006

- Deadwood (There was and still isn’t better dialogue on TV than there was on this show) = 2004 – 2006

- The Wire = 2002 – 2008

- Breaking Bad = 2008 - 2013


It’s easy to forget in this whirlwind of DVD releases, HBO Go, Hulu and whatever else we’re watching TV shows on except actual TVs, that BB doesn’t have much competition at its level these days. I say that knowing that I’ve been extolling the virtues of Boardwalk Empire for the last month like it’s the Second Coming of The Sopranos.** 

So kudos to Breaking Bad and its magnificent risks, stories and successes. It’s earned them all, even if it hasn’t had a lot to contend with anymore.




* In fact, Jesse's character was going to be killed around season 1 of BB but he was too popular.
** It’s not, but this fourth season is amazing so far.

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