Breaking Bad is an American neo-western crime drama television series created and produced by Vince Gilligan. The show originally aired on the AMC network for five seasons, from January 20, 2008 to September 29, 2013. It tells the story of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a struggling high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. Together with his former student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), White turns to a life of crime by producing and selling crystallized methamphetamine to secure his family's financial future before he dies, while navigating the dangers of the criminal world. The title comes from the Southern colloquialism "breaking bad", meaning to "raise hell" or turn toward crime. Breaking Bad is set and was filmed in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Walter's family consists of his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) and children, Walter, Jr. (RJ Mitte) and Holly (Elanor Anne Wenrich). The show also features Skyler's sister Marie Schrader (Betsy Brandt), and her husband Hank (Dean Norris), a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent. Walter hires lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), who connects him with private investigator and fixer Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) and in turn Mike's employer, drug kingpin Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). The final season introduces the characters Todd Alquist (Jesse Plemons) and Lydia Rodarte-Quayle (Laura Fraser).
Breaking Bad is widely regarded as one of the greatest television series of all time. By the time the series finale aired, it was among the most-watched cable shows on American television. The show received numerous awards, including 16 Primetime Emmy Awards, eight Satellite Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, two Peabody Awards, two Critics' Choice Awards and four Television Critics Association Awards. For his leading performance, Cranston won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series four times, while Aaron Paul won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series three times; Anna Gunn won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series twice. In 2013, Breaking Bad entered the Guinness World Records as the most critically acclaimed show of all time.
Breaking Bad was created by Vince Gilligan, who spent several years writing the Fox series The X-Files. Gilligan wanted to create a series in which the protagonist became the antagonist. "Television is historically good at keeping its characters in a self-imposed stasis so that shows can go on for years or even decades," he said. "When I realized this, the logical next step was to think, how can I do a show in which the fundamental drive is toward change?" He added that his goal with Walter White was to turn him from Mr. Chips into Scarface.
The show title is based on a Southern colloquialism meaning, among other things, "raising hell", and was chosen by Gilligan to describe Walter's transformation. According to Time entertainment editor Lily Rothman, the term has a broader meaning and is an old phrase which "connotes more violence than 'raising hell' does ... [T]he words possess a wide variety of nuances: to 'break bad' can mean to 'go wild', to 'defy authority', and break the law, to be verbally 'combative, belligerent, or threatening' or, followed by the preposition 'on', 'to dominate or humiliate'."
The concept emerged as Gilligan talked with his fellow writer Thomas Schnauz regarding their current unemployment and joked that the solution was for them to put a "meth lab in the back of an RV and [drive] around the country cooking meth and making money".
Before the series finale, Gilligan said that it was difficult to write for Walter White because the character was so dark and morally questionable: "I'm going to miss the show when it's over, but on some level, it'll be a relief to not have Walt in my head anymore." Gilligan later said the idea for Walter's character intrigued him so much that he "didn't really give much thought on how well it would sell", stating that he would have given up on the premise since it was "such an odd, dark story" that could have difficulties being pitched to studios.
As the series progressed, Gilligan and the writing staff of Breaking Bad made Walter increasingly unsympathetic. Gilligan said during the run of the series, "He's going from being a protagonist to an antagonist. We want to make people question who they're pulling for, and why." Cranston said by the fourth season, "I think Walt's figured out it's better to be a pursuer than the pursued. He's well on his way to badass."
While still pitching the show to studios, Gilligan was initially discouraged when he learned of the existing series Weeds and its similarities to the premise of Breaking Bad. While his producers convinced him that the show was different enough to still be successful, he later stated that he would not have gone forward with the idea had he known about Weeds earlier.
Breaking Bad received widespread critical acclaim and has been praised by many critics as one of the greatest television shows of all time. On the review aggregator website Metacritic, the first season scored 73 out of 100,the second season scored 85 out of 100, the third season scored 89 out of 100, the fourth season scored 96 out of 100, and the fifth season scored 99 out of 100. The American Film Institute listed Breaking Bad as one of the top ten television series of 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. In 2013, TV Guide ranked it as the ninth greatest TV series of all time. By its end, the series was among the most-watched cable shows on American television, with audience numbers doubling from the fourth season to the fifth. In 2016, Rolling Stone ranked it third on its list of 100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.
During the final season, the show also received praise from George R. R. Martin, author of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, particularly the episode "Ozymandias"; Martin commented that "Walter White is a bigger monster than anyone in Westeros." In his review of the second half of season 5, Seth Amitin of IGN stated, "This final batch of Breaking Bad is one of the best run of episodes TV has ever offered," and praised "Ozymandias" in particular, referring to it as "maybe the best episode of TV [he's] ever seen". Jonah Goldberg of National Review called it "the best show currently on television, and perhaps even the best ever". The veteran actor Sir Anthony Hopkins wrote a letter of praise to Bryan Cranston, telling him that his "performance as Walter White was the best acting I have seen – ever". He lauded the rest of the cast and crew as well. The letter first appeared on Steven Michael Quezada's (who portrayed DEA Agent Steven Gomez) Facebook page, and in spite of it being taken down, the letter soon went viral. In 2013, Guinness World Records named Breaking Bad the highest-rated TV series of all time, citing its season 5 Metacritic score of 99 out of 100.