It's been two days since Breaking Bad aired its final episode, and for many fans who have been riding the high of the action-packed finale, the first pangs of withdrawal are probably just starting to set in. Breaking Bad is roundly and correctly regarded as one of the best TV shows of the past decade, if not ever — and now that it's over, what can possibly take its place? Breaking Bad's heir apparent, Low Winter Sun, is so bland and by-the-numbers it almost functions as a parody of antihero dramas, while prestige dramas like Boardwalk Empire suffer badly in comparison.
But never fear, Breaking Bad fans: While no show will ever be able to fully replace what it left behind, there are plenty of terrific TV shows you might not have seen that will give you a similar fix. I'm assuming you know the obvious options here — if you haven't seen The Sopranos, The Wire, or Mad Men already, you should definitely stop reading this article and go watch them. But consider this list your next stop, a place you can turn to for support as you adjust to life without Breaking Bad:
1. The Shield
(AP Photo/FX, Prashant Gupta)/p>
Long before Walter White graced our TV screens, FX gave us another chrome-domed antihero on the other side of the law. The Shield follows a group of corrupt Los Angeles police officers, anchored by the Emmy-winning Michael Chiklis, as they serve up their own troubling brand of justice. The Shield's gritty action, colorful characters, and fascinatingly murky questions about morality bear a striking similarity to Breaking Bad at its strongest, and sometimes even exceed it — particularly in the ending, which finds a kind of moral harmony that eluded Breaking Bad in its final hour.
Where you can watch it: Subscribers to Amazon Prime can stream all seven seasons for free. The entire series is also available on DVD.
Breaking Bad's pulpy stand-offs and New Mexico setting owe no small debt to the western, right down to Walter White's alter ego Heisenberg, the show's literal embodiment of a black hat. It's a quality Breaking Bad shares with another terrific contemporary drama: FX's ongoing Justified, which has spent four seasons following federal marshal Raylan Givens as he investigates a wide range of criminal masterminds. Justified is close enough in style and tone to Breaking Bad that the shows could probably have sustained a crossover without missing a step — so throw on an episode of Justified and imagine Walter White and company are still operating just a few states to the west.
Where you can watch it: Subscribers to Amazon Prime can stream the first three seasons for free. The first three seasons are available on DVD and Blu-Ray, and individual episodes can be purchased on Amazon Instant Video.
The show that would have been AMC's next great original drama didn't end up on AMC at all. AMC began developing Rectify all the way back in 2008, with Justified's Walton Goggins intended for the lead role — a convicted murderer exonerated after 19 years on death row due to DNA evidence. After a long and murky development process, the series finally appeared on Sundance Channel earlier this year with Aden Young in the lead role, and AMC's loss was Sundance Channel's gain. Rectify's brief first season, which was developed by the producers of Breaking Bad, offers the quietly riveting story of a man, a family, and a town that's been permanently shaken by a terrible crime. Rectify may lack Breaking Bad's humor and action, but not its ambition.
Where you can watch it: The first season is available on DVD, and individual episodes can be purchased on Amazon Instant Video.
A large part of Breaking Bad's appeal was the magnetic, prickly relationship between Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, whose relationship made up the backbone of the show. Much of the credit goes to the innate chemistry between stars Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, who managed to extract all the complexity of their bond over the course of the series. It's a pairing few shows can match, but FX's tragically short-lived crime drama Terriers, which similarly relies on the bond between two troubled men trying to make enough money to survive, comes close. Though the relationship between Terriers' Hank (Donal Logue) and Britt (Michael Raymond-James) is far less mutually destructive than the relationship between Walt and Jesse, it's just as fraught with intelligence and complexity — and just as worth your time.
Where you can watch it: The entire series is available on Netflix Instant Watch, and individual episodes can be purchased on Amazon Instant Video.
5. Malcolm in the Middle
For years, Breaking Bad fans have joked that the end of the series would see Walter White enter the Witness Protection Program and reemerge as Hal, the affable family man played by Cranston on Malcolm in the Middle. But while the Breaking Bad finale didn't actually offer up the Newhart-style crossover so many had predicted, you can still pretend it did by starting Fox's hit sitcom from the beginning — and appreciate Bryan Cranston's remarkable range as an actor all the more.
Where you can watch it: All seven seasons are available on both Netflix Instant Watch and Amazon Instant Video. The entire series is also available on DVD.
6. The X-Files — season 6, episode 2: "Drive"
If the previous suggestions aren't chemically pure enough to help fill the gap Breaking Bad left behind, why not go all the way back to the Vince Gilligan-penned X-Files episode that paved the way for Breaking Bad all the way back in 1998? In season six, Gilligan wrote an episode called "Drive" that follows protagonist Fox Mulder as he attempts to save the life of Patrick Crump — a character played by Bryan Cranston. In a later interview, Gilligan explained that he needed to find a way to ensure that the "asshole, creep, kind of a racist, anti-Semite" supporting character he had written would still somehow be likable — and that only one actor, Bryan Cranston, was able to capture the tone he was looking for. Nearly a decade later, Gilligan tapped Cranston for a similarly tricky role, and the result was Breaking Bad.
Where you can watch it: The episode is available on both Netflix Instant Watch and Amazon Instant Video. The episode is also included in the X-Files: Season 6 DVD box set.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why the West should let Russia have eastern Ukraine
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- The amazing resurrection of Mitt Romney
- The dangers of our passionless American life
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- Your literary playlist: A guide to the music of Haruki Murakami
- The essential techniques that every home cook should know
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- 4 strategies for organizing your money, based on your personality
- What would a U.S.-China war look like?
Subscribe to the Week