Breaking Bad was great. As a TV series it was supremely unconcerned with instant gratification, and set forth a bold, cinematic vision that showed TV doesn't have to be quick and dirty. It can stand toe-to-toe with the big screen on every level.
Its writing was superb. Its characters were real, its action perfectly calculated and delivered with a deliberation that left many speechless. Yes, TV could be great.
Breaking Bad fucked it up for everyone, really.
In the first episode of season 10 of the Walking Dead, it was decided that a forest fire would make for an amazing set piece as the brave survivors try to tame both the undead and the flames.
It's pretty. There are fast cuts, close-up shots of Daryl's untamed sexiness before he brains walkers with his crossbow, and much dramatic tension as lives are risked... for nothing at all.
There was no reason for the survivors to cross a dangerous border they shouldn't have crossed. In order to get to the fire they were so concerned about, they had to cross a natural fire barrier: a trench at least ten metres across. They were in no danger. There was no urgency. They could have taken s'mores to the border, and made a picnic day of watching the forest of their enemies burn down. It was stupid.
As stupid as everyone having a tiff and leaving Rick alone on a bridge. As stupid as Daenerys' turn into madness because someone had budgeted effects to burn a city down. As stupid as... every single episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Almost as stupid as the second season of True Detective.
This is dangerous territory, of course. Successful TV shows easily run over five seasons, and the average person doesn't really have many friends of pursuits to which they dedicate that much time. People who can't bother to find time for a walk or reading will religiously arrange their schedules around new episodes of their favourite shows.
Fans will justify every excess for the sake of following a few more hours with their favourite characters. There is nothing wrong with that attitude, except that allowing this idiocy to run unchecked... is stupid.
Breaking Bad was powerful and effective because it had the courage to deliver four minute establishing shots to a single, deserted road. It took its time. It knew how to tell a story. Remember Walter and the barbeque? That long, uncomfortable sequence as the main character contemplates the decay of his flesh without a word, just by staring at a charring piece of meat? It took time. It explained everything.
Breaking Bad was written amazingly well. And good writing is much, much cheaper than multi-million dollar productions. Writing well is complicated, but not as complicated as the logistics of having multiple camera angles with dozens of characters and twice as many extras fighting it out in the woods.
Good writing could have saved The Walking Dead, but it clearly is not a priority of the show, or of its frontrunners. Good writing is that made the first season of True Detective an astounding, gut-wrenching experience. The lack of writing a good sequel is why the second season of True Detective read like it had been vomited out in a few weeks. It basically had been.
Viewers are, of course, the problem. Everything on TV is stupid because audiences accept mediocre shows that don't treat them with the respect they deserve.
By removing all critical spirit from the equation, by focusing on fetishised lenses through which stories are consumed, by not accepting criticism of ideas or lifestyles, this increasingly fragmented society will continue to produce increasingly shallow, moment-by-moment stories that hold less and less weight.
Preaching "but I enjoyed it, you can't question my tastes" won't save our stories. Most shows are already two steps away from becoming reality TV, so how about getting cranky, and letting the Davids & Co that we're unhappy with their work?