Tonight is the moment we’ve all been dreading: the finale of AMC’s Breaking Bad. As we brace ourselves for an evening of emotional devastation and ponder life in a post-Breaking Bad world (much like Low Winter Sun, we imagine), our Sunday nights seem as lonely as the New Mexico desert. We took a temporary leave from mourning to recommend ten television shows that should help fill the Breaking Bad-shaped hole in your heart. The fate of Better Call Saul still hangs in the balance, but these series are a sure thing and offer the drama, mayhem, and characters worthy of a marathon viewing.
If you choose only one series to dive into from our list, make it David Simon’s The Wire. Like Breaking Bad, the crime drama about Baltimore’s drug trade (seen through the eyes of dealers and law enforcement) features challenging, complex characters who can’t be defined by clear-cut archetypes. Michael K. Williams delivers a solid performance as stick-up man Omar Little.
This police procedural stars a stellar cast, including Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito as an FBI agent. The show also features an intense performance from the underrated Andre Braugher. Homicide could be considered a Wire prototype since David Simon was a writer and producer on the show (it’s based on his book, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets), but the gritty Baltimore-set tale deserves far better than that.
It has the wry humor, darkness, cliffhangers, antihero element (Mary-Louise Parker), and parent-selling-drugs-to-support-the-family storyline of Breaking Bad. Weeds features clever satire, writing, and performances.
We’ve seen how difficult it can be to juggle a criminal organization and family thanks to Walter White’s numerous fuck ups, but the original baddie bonded to his clan was James Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano. Breaking Bad has changed the landscape of television, but The Sopranos first opened the door for TV dramas as a serious art form.
Transport Breaking Bad to the late 1800s in gunslinging South Dakota and you have a taste of Deadwood. Foul-mouthed saloon and brothel owner Al Swearengen (the great Ian McShane) lives by his own code and makes a comparable surrogate for fans who will surely be jonesing for another manipulative cutthroat to obsess over.
Outlaw bikers in small-town California, written as multifaceted characters with grit and grime to spare and a Shakespearean edge.
Never mind the Breaking Bad-shaped hole in your heart. What about the cue ball-shaped one? Enter corrupt Los Angeles detective Vic Mackey. Like Walter White, he takes above-the-law measures to protect and provide for his family — sometimes revealing a sliver of humanity.
HBO’s Game of Thrones doesn’t boast blue meth, but there are other criminal transactions afoot — and no one is safe. The psychological tension of the series is a fine match for Vince Gilligan’s show (as is the family element). There’s also a compelling parallel about the abuse of power and status — a middle-class horror story vs. capitalist hierarchies.
The Walter White we knew before he entered the empire business was a relic — much like Justified’s cocky cowboy cop, played by Timothy Olyphant. U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens is a throwback to the Old West, fighting crime in Kentucky, surrounded by all the moral ambiguity we could ever hope for. Sound familiar?
A Gate at the Stairs author Lorrie Moore had this to say about the gripping drama, starring Claire Danes as an unpredictable CIA analyst:
“One of the intriguing aspects of the gripping and widely praised Showtime drama Homeland, a story about the machinations of CIA counterterrorism analysts and their prey, is that it is fearlessly interested in every kind of madness: the many Shakespearean manifestations — cold revenge, war-induced derangement, outsized professional ambition — as well as the more naturally occurring expressions, such as bipolar disease and simple grief.”