Not a 'Bad' Show. So Where Are the Viewers?

Last night, AMC’s Breaking Bad entered its third season. Did you hear the sound of TV reviewers rejoicing? This hard-boiled and often violent drama is a critical darling in the vein of HBO's The Wire. Like that show, it has all the signs of success -- except one thing. Viewers.

Bryan Cranston has already won two Emmy’s for his portrayal of Walter White, the complicated teacher-turned drug-dealer whose bad choices have snowballed into fatal ones. The show is well-scripted, and shot in a setting unique for TV shows (New Mexico). So why don’t more people watch?

Last night’s premiere offers some clues. The story is riveting, but dark. It picks up in the aftermath of a tragic plane collision. As his town grieves, White struggles to come to grips with his role in the catastrophe. (A young woman who bought his drugs overdosed, and her grieving father was the air traffic controller who made the deadly mistake.) White’s wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), has figured out his secret profession, and anxiously tries to set up divorce proceedings. And White’s baby-faced protégée, Jesse (Aaron Paul), learns in rehab that he needs to accept who he is: “I’m the bad guy,” he says, heart-breakingly.

In the course of one episode, viewers got an unflinching look at addiction, drug trafficking, catastrophic tragedy, divorce, and a slew of characters who are either broken or self-loathing, or both. It’s tough to watch. The show is incredibly well executed, as The Wire was in its day. But who wants to join in such suffering? Viewers who gave The Wire a chance came to realize that the show's dark aspects were lightened by well-placed humor. Breaking Bad uses the same technique. (For example, when the local high school called an assembly to allow students to grieve together, one student made an over-dramatic pitch for the "everybody affected by tragedy should get an A" theory.) 

Hopefully, more people will give this show a shot. The truth is, it's not bad at all.

Plus: The Controversy Behind Kirstie Alley's Big Life

Do you think viewers shy away from shows that depict harsh truths?

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