The nail-biting serial, about a milquetoast high-school chemistry teacher who turns to the drug trade to pay for his cancer treatment, is drawing record ratings and generating a social media cacophony every Sunday night as it hurtles toward its Sept. 29 series finale. Created by former
"There is no show that has more buzz, more excitement than 'Breaking Bad,'" said Tom O'Neil, editor of the awards-tracking website Gold Derby.
In a rarity for a long-running series, ratings for "Breaking Bad" have grown exponentially since it premiered in January 2008. Sunday's episode, "Ozymandias," drew a record audience of 6.4 million. That's double its ratings just a year ago and more than five times its Season 1 average.
Interest in the brutal saga's conclusion has exploded in a similar fashion. Although "Breaking Bad" has always been a critical darling, inspiring countless think pieces about Walter White's Nietzschean journey, it never quite captured the zeitgeist in the way that
That is, until it headed into its final, eight-episode home stretch this summer. Since then, it has thoroughly dominated the cultural conversation, spawning marathon screenings at
And rightfully so, according to
"This is a show that became more and more commercially successful the more it stuck to its guns creatively," she said, likening the current frenzy over "Breaking Bad" to the run-up to the series finales of
But following the rise of the TV recap and social media, the mania is even more pitched.
"It's hard to imagine what
Yet there's also something decidedly old-fashioned about "Breaking Bad's" late-game surge. It's the rare show that people feel the need to watch live —- otherwise, as Martin joked, "you're unfit for human consumption."
As Times critic Mary McNamara wrote this week, television shows like "Breaking Bad" are the new novels, and being culturally literate means having your homework done for Monday morning (if not sooner).
And even though Emmy voters are ostensibly judging "Breaking Bad" based on the eight-episode mini-season that aired last year, the deafening buzz, plus the fact that it's the only drama nominee currently airing original episodes, might prove too hard to ignore.
Still, there are some significant obstacles standing between "Breaking Bad" and Emmys glory.
While it would make sense to recognize what is widely viewed as one of the most important television dramas of the past decade, a "Breaking Bad" victory would also defy Emmy tradition, claims O'Neil. The group tends to honor "aspirational, elitist" series, like "L.A. Law,"
"'Breaking Bad' is not that. It's about a crystal meth cook, and a nasty one at that," he said.
Indeed, the Emmys have been slow to recognize the larger creative accomplishments of "Breaking Bad." Stars
Then there are the other nominees in the drama category, a group as formidable as any Mexican cartel. Last year's victor, "Homeland," is still a fierce contender, even if Season 2's extravagant plot twists alienated some viewers.
"Mad Men's" most recent season also earned some jeers but ended on a strong and unusually poignant note. In the wake of the infamous "Red Wedding," HBO's sprawling fantasy
Last but by no means least is
"It has a very urgent industry message. It's a serious threat to the reign of establishment TV," O'Neil said of "House of Cards." "I think you will hear a howl across Hollywood from broadcast and cable TV executives if it wins."
But in its first showing at the Emmys, Netflix might just be its own worst enemy. The "Breaking Bad" ascendancy is due, in no small part, to the online subscription service, where the series became available for streaming in September 2011, enabling the curious to binge-watch on their own time.
"They have a symbiotic relationship," said Christopher Vollmer, leader of the global media and entertainment practice at the consulting firm Booz & Company.
Even in the comedy realm, there are hints that Emmy might turn away from the shiny and affluent and embrace its dark side.
"Louis C.K. is himself the academy," O'Neil said of the balding, soft-of-belly comedian.
The eclectic mix of nominees, which also includes the
There's a certain irony in the fact that the Emmy Awards tend to be far less exciting than the medium they celebrate, particularly in this golden age of television (case in point: even the most obsessive awards-trackers will be tempted to switch over to AMC when "Breaking Bad" comes on at 9 p.m. ET). TV's biggest night can feel remarkably like
On Sunday night, however, there could be more twists and turns than an episode of … well, pick your favorite.
When: 5 and 8 p.m. Sunday;
Rating: Not rated