Mad Men or Breaking Bad?
June 10, 2012 1:55 PM   Subscribe

Mad Men or Breaking Bad?

now that Game of Thrones is done, I'm thinking of catching up on some tv that I missed the first time around..... Should I invest in Mad Men or Breaking Bad? I've never watched an episode of either. But I do love a good drama....Yes, I could watch both...but I try to limit my tv addiction a bit.... Any advice? Arguments for either?
posted by pearlybob to Society & Culture (55 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Both. They are both amazing, but in different ways. Although Breaking Bad has been more consistent in my opinion... Season 3 of Mad Men was sort of meh. So maybe start with Breaking Bad. Its first season isn't as strong as Mad Men, but it is very short and gets better from there.
posted by barnoley at 2:00 PM on June 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

Mad Men is tiresome. Breaking Bad is awesome. Why? Because I said so.
posted by rhartong at 2:00 PM on June 10, 2012 [15 favorites]

I vote "Mad Men". Many of the characters are easy to fall in love (or hate) with.
posted by Jeff Morris at 2:01 PM on June 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

Mad Men!
posted by katypickle at 2:07 PM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Breaking Bad, by far.
posted by maggieb at 2:09 PM on June 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think it would help to know what it is you liked about Game of Thrones and what it is you want out of your next TV show. The only things Mad Men and Breaking Bad have in common, really, are high production values and difficult-to-like main characters who often do terrible things to each other. Lots of people watch both, but it really comes down to a matter of taste.

Personally, I prefer Mad Men's larger cast of characters and lower body count, and I'm generally more interested in the kinds of stories it choses to tell. But again, that preference is completely subjective, and you might very well feel differently!
posted by Narrative Priorities at 2:09 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mad Men is great in its way but is much more prone to delivering soap opera-ish story lines and occasionally spinning its wheels in episodes that don't have enough forward momentum. Breaking Bad however almost never gives the sense that it's wasting time or doesn't know where it's going.

It's pretty amazing, actually, how the tension has built in such a complex and consistent way over the course of its seasons. Every single episode ratchets it up incrementally to the point that you don't know how much the characters (or you) can take and it's almost excruciating to watch. It almost seems like the Mad Men writers are making it up as they go along (a la Lindelof) while Vince Gilligan started from the end and worked backward. Don't know if that's a real difference in terms of how the shows' writers actually work, but that's how it feels, and Breaking Bad is far more rewarding--from a story viewpoint--as a result.
posted by Trespassers William at 2:11 PM on June 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

They're both brilliant in very different ways. Breaking Bad is much more high octane, but I think the writing in Mad Men is better. I'd say Mad Men if I had to pick, but they're both well worth watching.
posted by Magnakai at 2:12 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Wire.

Then, Breaking Bad.
posted by glaucon at 2:13 PM on June 10, 2012 [8 favorites]

Breaking Bad. (Or The Wire, then Breaking Bad.)
posted by jeather at 2:15 PM on June 10, 2012

Breaking Bad. You may hit an emotional block very early in season 1, as a previously sympathetic character acts in horrible ways, but the whole ride is worth it. I like a lot of what I've seen in Mad Men, but Breaking Bad is more challenging in how you view the characters. And some of the episodes, and the unique openings for each, are incredibly artful set pieces. Their version of a Narcocorrida to summarize the action and set you up for more in an episode of season 2 just knocked me out.

Plus, if you plan to be watching on a large monitor or a half decent tv, the cinematography in BB is absolutely stunning.

Plus plus, the main characters in BB lend themselves better to awesome pop-cult re-renderings.

(Required: if you haven't already seen The Wire, you should make plans for that, too.)
posted by maudlin at 2:16 PM on June 10, 2012

Breaking Bad now, in marathon sessions before the premiere of the new season on July 15.

Then, Mad Men, between now and when the next season starts early next year.
posted by box at 2:18 PM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Mad Men is much more polished; Breaking Bad is more raw.

Both are equally good.
posted by lobbyist at 2:18 PM on June 10, 2012

Mad Men is the best show on television. Not coincidentally, it also has a lot of women characters that aren't one-dimensional--much like GOT!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:18 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Good point, I realized when I posted that I didn't give enough info..... I have to admit, I'm a TV nut....I like lots of different things about different shows. I love the story and sweeping grandeur of GoT but I also loved the mental gymnastics of OZ. The only thing that I really can't get my mind around is the vampire thing (no offense to vampire lovers out there). I think I would probably like both but if I'm tempering myself and if I hope to still function....I need to choose one series to start with, and, I still have to finish Arrested Development before the movie!! Just thought I would see what my fellow mefis thought about BB and MM.
posted by pearlybob at 2:19 PM on June 10, 2012

Game of Thrones, Oz, Arrested Development.... Has to be Breaking Bad after that list.
posted by Hobo at 2:22 PM on June 10, 2012

They are both great but Breaking Bad is better.
posted by saul wright at 2:22 PM on June 10, 2012

Mad Men is a beautifully produced soap opera.

Breaking Bad is about one man doing his best to hold his family together through the healing power of meth, gorgeous cinematography and some hilarious black comedy.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 2:25 PM on June 10, 2012 [7 favorites]

I love them both but think Breaking Bad is ultimately the richer story. It's also the harder of the two to stop watching when you really need to go to bed but think you could maybe do one more episode....

Also, if you haven't gotten sucked into the Wire yet, please do.
posted by elizeh at 2:31 PM on June 10, 2012


As a Mad Men freak it's the show I prefer, but for some people (namely younger, male people) breaking bad is going to be a more enjoyable experience

When people say breaking bad has a great "story" they mean it's absolutely insane and great like a roller coaster ride. When people say mad men has a great story they mean it's like reading a long novel that almost gets better after you finish it.
posted by Patbon at 2:35 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I tried the wire....Watched 2 seasons.....Couldn't get hooked. I recognize that is a problem with ME, "OMG, you didn't love the Wire???" (Everyone loves the wire) but it has made me research my tv shows a little more carefully...
posted by pearlybob at 2:40 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Try The Wire first, it's the best TV show I've ever seen. However, some people find it a bit slow or boring, if so, then watch Break Bad. (Even if you watch The Wire, watch Breaking Bad Afterwards.)

Mad Men is a good show, but I'd never watch it if the GF didn't insist on watching it every Sunday. I, too, am looking for a Sunday night show now.
posted by Brian Puccio at 2:46 PM on June 10, 2012

This is a win-win; you won't go wrong with either one.

Breaking Bad has a lot more dark humor, and is much more violent. Mad Men is (obviously) a period piece with onion layers of surprises, especially in the first few seasons.

Breaking Bad reveals how far Walter White will go; Mad Men focuses on where Don Draper came from.

I am crazy about both. If I HAD to pick one, it would be Mad Men.
posted by The Deej at 2:51 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I genuinely believe that Mad Men is the most well-written show on television now and quite feasibly ever--it also holds up in quality to the best of Six Feet Under, only consistently. You know how the last several episodes of each Game of Thrones season are really, really nuanced and well-written? Mad Men is like that, all the time. Even when episodes seem to be doing very little, there's actually complex foreshadowing and character development going on.

For what it's worth, I find it neither slow nor soap opera-ish. I think the more lurid aspects are the type of things that really did happen to people around the era the story takes place, but you have to care about small personal crises and family drama to get behind them, I suppose. I think this--"When people say mad men has a great story they mean it's like reading a long novel that almost gets better after you finish it"--is a remarkably apt descriptor.

That doesn't mean that Breaking Bad isn't good. I've just never seen it. But Mad Men is really, really good.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:00 PM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Breaking Bad is bleak and powerful and affecting, and has some really well-done character development; people change for the better and (more often) for the worse in believable ways, nobody is sympathetic but everyone's decisions make sense.

I stopped watching Mad Men partway through season 3. It was entertaining, but felt a little more formulaic to me in terms of episode structure, and I just didn't find myself caring enough about the characters to keep spending time on it. I guess it feels more like a TV series to me where Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones feel more like serialized films; there are story arcs within each episode but the main focus is on the long-term narrative. You could miss a few episodes of Mad Men and come back to it without feeling lost, with Breaking Bad you can't really miss one and have any idea what's happening in the next one.
posted by contraption at 3:01 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mad Men or Breaking Bad?

This is like the waiter wheeling the exquisitely appointed dessert cart your way. There isn't any such thing as a bad choice, but only your taste buds can tell you which you'll enjoy more.
posted by dhartung at 3:02 PM on June 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

As much as I like Mad Men I'm gonna have to say Breaking Bad is better.

Mad Men sometimes seems--especially this season--like the writers are making it up as they go along. They take good advantage of 1960s historical markers but now it's getting to be as if the show exists mainly to depict those markers in clever ways. One particularly clever way was so expensive that I think it cost the show the full presence of several key characters this season.

In addition, this season of Mad Men has been dragged down by too much concentration on a relatively peripheral character while a main character has been purposelessly floundering. I guess we're going to find out in the season-ending episode where said main character is headed but geez it's been a long slog.

Breaking Bad has always seemed to me like it's had a destination from the very beginning and you almost feel like you're accomplishing something as you watch each show and season. And, while Jon Hamm is a good actor who has captured the '60s middle-aged playboy image perfectly, Bryan Cranston just goes all in with his a depiction of a character that is nowhere near a cultural stereotype.
posted by fuse theorem at 3:03 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mad Men plays the sixties vibe up gorgeously, but also for the most part accurately. Cigarettes everywhere, a world where racism is treated much differently, and sexism in the office that makes you understand why sexual harassment rules and laws now exist. I work in advertising, so I really enjoy the show. It's a look at a really cutthroat world where ethical lines get blurred easily. There are soap opera aspects to it, but give it a chance.
posted by azpenguin at 3:08 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

They're very different. Why not try the pilot episode of both? If nothing else, you'll have a (slightly) better idea of what people are talking about when they discuss the characters on the show.
posted by acidic at 3:24 PM on June 10, 2012

Breaking Bad starts out promising but eventually devolves into slo-mo Gunfight At the OK Corral. Mad Men I found unwatchable, because I was actually alive in those times, and the flavor is uncaught. Where's all the amphetamine jockeys, for instance?
posted by telstar at 3:29 PM on June 10, 2012

Breaking Bad. It's a fantastically nuanced drama (with a fair dose of black comedy). Mad Men is a soap opera - a very good one - but a soap opera nonetheless. I found it started well, but I lost interest by the 3rd season.
posted by mleigh at 3:39 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd watch the first six episodes of each and see how you feel.

I fell into Mad Men headlong and never looked back. Conversely, while I understand that Breaking Bad is a "good" show with high production values, etc, and I can see that the kind of storytelling the show is doing is important, I had a hard time squeaking through those first few episodes. As folks above have said, it's just not the kind of storytelling I like. Conversely, I know plenty of people who feel the opposite way.
posted by Sara C. at 3:55 PM on June 10, 2012

Breaking Bad requires me to suspend belief a little too often, which is a bit of of peeve of mine when it comes to dramas set in the real world. This doesn't make it bad, however. I just find myself rolling my eyes during Breaking Bad more often than Mad Men.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:04 PM on June 10, 2012

IMO, Mad Men is kinda overrated--seconding everyone who called it a soap opera. If you're like me and you like to watch a bunch of episodes in one sitting, I've found that it gets a little frustrating cause you might hit a stretch where nothing happens. YMMV, obviously.

Breaking Bad is my favorite show on TV--constantly interesting, visually arresting, amazing character work. I'm a little jealous that (should you choose to go down the BB road) you get to watch these character arcs develop for the first time.
posted by ElCuadrangular at 4:18 PM on June 10, 2012

Mad Men is a much deeper show, featuring complex, believable characters with involved relationships and unknowable motivations. Breaking Bad has meth cooks and guns. Both shows are good, but only one is great.

Also, you should watch The Wire before either one, because it's the king of all TV. Don't bother with the Sopranos unless you really love gangster movies.
posted by Afroblanco at 5:01 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

To anyone that gave up on Mad Men in season 3, I don't blame ya. But season 3 ended with a great finale, and season 5 has been simply incredible...
posted by JoeZydeco at 5:23 PM on June 10, 2012

Mad Men is the best show on TV. It's so well thought out. The office politics are fascinating to me. I don't mind if there are quite a few episodes when nothing really big and dramatic happens. You're still finding out interesting, unexpected things about all the characters well into the fifth season.

I love The Wire, but I started watching out of order, while it was still airing - the final episodes of season 3 and then season 4, so I had more patience when catching up on seasons 1 and 2. Season 3 with the whole Stringer/Avon epic tragedy is what got me hooked. I would give it a shot in Season 3 before writing it off.
posted by citron at 5:26 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

They are both excellent. Contrary to what you will hear from detractors, Mad Men is not a soap opera at all, but Breaking Bad occasionally is. That said, the end of the fourth season of Breaking Bad is truly amazing. Mad Men is probably more consistent and every character is written extremely well, as opposed to one or two in Breaking Bad.
posted by spaltavian at 5:49 PM on June 10, 2012

Deadwood is the greatest show ever made. Breaking Bad is in the top 10. Mad Men is not. Once you've watched (or rewatched) Deadwood, watch Breaking Bad. Only bother with Mad Men if you've watched Deadwood at least 5 times.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 5:54 PM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

I quite like both, but I would pick Mad Men. It's plot moves slower, but is, in my view, more believable, and relies less on deus ex machina than any show I've ever seen; Breaking Bad has had some plot devices that left me wincing, including the ends of each of the last two seasons.

Mad Men can be fascinating even when the plot is light. I can't think of another show I would say that about as emphatically.
posted by deadweightloss at 5:56 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and Season 2 of The Wire sucked. You should have skipped that and just watched 1, 3, and 4.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 5:58 PM on June 10, 2012

If you've seen seasons one and two of The Wire but haven't quite managed to get into it, I would humbly suggest you give the third season a try.

Season two has a reputation for being the "difficult" one, and not without reason: the dramatic shift of focus to the docklands and the introduction of unfamiliar characters against an equally unfamiliar backdrop does tend to test the viewer's patience.

Season three reunites us with the street and the cops, introduces a rival drug outfit, and is the season where The Wire's grand ambition to show how "everything is connected" starts to become apparent, most notably through its examination of local politics. If you make it through the third season and you still don't like it, I'd be satisfied that it's simply not the show for you, but I'd also be very, very surprised. It just seems to take a long while with some viewers, and that's okay.

Do you have any friends who did watch the entire run, and would be willing to help you pick up where you left off? I know people who are on their fourth or fifth viewing just to guide others through the series and enjoy the pleasure of another run. (FWIW, some of them do have regular jobs, most of them were introduced to the show by yours truly, and none of them speak English as a first language. So the arcane lingo could not be an excuse: if that is your objection, then trust me, you'll find your footing.)

I should also mention the Guardian's "The Wire Re-up" series of episode commentaries for a non-American perspective on the series. Note though that they are geared to viewers who have already seen the entire run and thus are chock-full of spoilers.

I understand some people may seem flippant when they suggest this show in spite of your explicit suggestions, so I will note for the record that I absolutely love Breaking Bad. It has fewer and (therefore) more saturated plot lines than The Wire, is very dark and violent at times and sometimes just plain dark, and makes exquisite use of irony and character development. When Breaking Bad is good, it's brilliant. I can't wait to see the upcoming season.

But all in all, let's not forget this is all just television we're talking about. If you were ask me which show you should watch and still feel like it wasn't a waste of time afterwards, it would be The Wire by a country mile.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:04 PM on June 10, 2012

I also think Deadwood is the best show I've ever seen. So far (early in season two now) Breaking Bad is almost as good.

I watched the first four seasons of Mad Men, and while any episode goes down easily, I just don't get the attention the show gets. I don't actually buy its take on history, I find the plotting incoherent, and I don't even think I've learned anything about advertising.

But, it's probably my failing as I also found the Wire to not be the cliche-busting, breakthrough show I'd been led to believe it was.
posted by Philemon at 6:12 PM on June 10, 2012

I also think Deadwood is the best show I've ever seen. So far (early in season two now)

My god, to be in your shoes. The wonders you have before you! I am truly envious.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 7:23 PM on June 10, 2012

Battlestar Gallactica then The Wire then Mad Men then Downton Abbey.


I could not get into Breaking Bad. As it turns out, I really can't sympathize with people who make meth.
posted by amanda at 7:40 PM on June 10, 2012

Red Riding,Edge of Darkness, House of Cards,Wire in the Blood, Breaking Bad.

Mad Men is pretty much very pretty garbage.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:36 PM on June 10, 2012

Breaking Bad, by far. I watched every episode of Mad Men on Netflix and I still don't get that effing show. It makes less and less sense with every episode. But every episode of BB leaves you wanting more.
posted by vignettist at 9:48 PM on June 10, 2012

Watch Breaking Bad. The characters in BB can sometimes be a bit stony and unrealistic, but the fast plot helps carry them forward through rough patches. In Mad Men the characters are also stony and unrealistic, but there's no real plot to drive it - MM's all about the characters...which are stony and unrealistic (and I say this as a viewer).
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 10:06 PM on June 10, 2012

I second the idea of watching both, since they are both great, but if you had to choose just one, I'd say Breaking Bad.
posted by Effigy2000 at 10:17 PM on June 10, 2012

I also couldn't get into The Wire. Like Mad Men, I found it to be tiresome and extremely overrated.

Breaking Bad is awesome. It's not perfect, but it is some of the best television I have ever seen. It looks great, is funny, dark, interesting and just really done well.
posted by Polychrome at 2:23 AM on June 11, 2012

Breaking Bad, and definitely The Wire and Deadwood before Mad Men
posted by FeralHat at 2:54 AM on June 11, 2012

Breaking Bad requires me to suspend belief a little too often, which is a bit of of peeve of mine when it comes to dramas set in the real world. This doesn't make it bad, however. I just find myself rolling my eyes during Breaking Bad more often than Mad Men.

Seconding this. I love Breaking Bad, and I can think of no other show that makes my jaw drop in genuine shock with more consistency (the fact the show is on Sunday nights is a killer, I can rarely sleep for hours after watching an episode since I need time to come down emotionally). But like any other thriller, there are a number of deus ex machina moments and other bits that really stretch believability at times (would give specific examples, but obviously don't want to spoil anything).

Man Men, being more of a slow-paced, character driven show doesn't reach the same level of intense excitement and thrills as Breaking Bad, but I also don't roll my eyes nearly as much.

Overall, I agree with the "They are both among the greatest shows ever on TV and you win either way" stance.
posted by The Gooch at 9:01 AM on June 11, 2012

I love both Mad Men and Breaking Bad, but if I have to pick one for "greatness," I have to go with Breaking Bad. The pacing is definitely better, and while I find Mad Men much more enjoyable in a group setting with a little heckling, my boyfriend and I watch Breaking Bad in a hush, almost holding our breath. Watch them both! Just watch Breaking Bad first. (And the new season will come on much sooner: it starts July 15th. Already on my colander.)
posted by fiercecupcake at 4:54 PM on June 11, 2012

I could not get into Breaking Bad. As it turns out, I really can't sympathize with people who make meth.

I really don't think you're expected to, but that's a good point to make. If you require the presence of sympathetic characters to stay engaged, you might not enjoy it.
posted by contraption at 6:07 PM on June 11, 2012

Wow....just wow. I decided to start BB first since the new season starts soon and I'm floored. I could not stop watching. I honestly think it's the best series I've ever seen. Not just the arc of the characters, but the scenery, the colors, GUS!!! The very last scene of season 4, the last 15 seconds......holy hell. CANNOT wait for Season 5!! I would start MM tonight but I've spent the last 5 days doing nothing but watching BB and reading reviews and commentary, etc.... Thanks all!! Now, y'all come help me catch up on my laundry!!
posted by pearlybob at 5:09 PM on June 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

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