I have been watching Breaking Bad Season 2 for the past two weeks - it's on every night on Five US from midnight to 1am. Two episodes to go.
I was talking about the new type of quality TV show which has come into full form in the last decade or so. Breaking Bad is not as deep and complex as The Wire, or as beautifully written as Deadwood, or as numinous as Mad Men. These are my trilogy of genius television.
I think Breaking Bad falls into a second tier, somewhat below these. But like Firefly it just for some reason appeals to me very strongly. Unlike The Wire/ Deadwood/ Mad men, it is tightly focused around just two characters - Walter White, a chemistry teacher, and Jesse Pinkman his ex-student. There is a small constellation of secondary characters, in particular Walt's wife Skyler. In this narrower focus, and its overall premise of a man with a false life, it resembles Dexter. To my mind it is a better show than Dexter - not to disrespect Dexter, but I think Breaking Bad is more tragic and moving. However, for fans, here is Abigail's excellent review of Dexter season 4 (which I haven't seen).
Breaking Bad is not more realistic than Dexter, but it is more 'naturalistic'. Dexter operates within the stylistic parameters of mainstream cop shows, subverting them, which is a perfectly legitimate approach. BB breaks from mainstream style by not explaining in words what is happening, leaving it for you to understand the point when someone realises they are being lied to, the point later on when they decide they don't care, and so on. Much of it is ambiguous in meaning. This makes it difficult to quote dialogue, because the framing is as important as the script.
However, both shows are non-realistic because like old fashioned comedy the characters transgress but are ultimately protected by the writer from completely degrading themselves. They kill, but there are worse things than killing, which approach but never completely engulf them.
The scope of Breaking Bad is the the development and testing of a very small range of characters. I'll do one more Breaking Bad post, about the two main characters, after I have seen the season finale.