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Epic Retro TV Shows: Breaking Bad, Sopranos, Hill Street Blues

Updated on April 17, 2018
Jason Marovich profile image

Jason believes that a writer's contribution to television shows and movies are as important as the actors who bring the stories to life.

Vince Gilligan's Breaking Bad shocked television audiences for five seasons.
Vince Gilligan's Breaking Bad shocked television audiences for five seasons. | Source

See Breaking Bad as It was Meant to be Seen

Breaking Bad might be shown again on TV, but the likelihood of catching the entire series unedited is remote. Another issue with not owning the DVD collection is having to worry about recording episodes you aren't able to watch as they are shown.

Generally, AMC and Sundance air the episodes in order over a period of time; that's great, but it isn't like owning the collection and watching it on your terms. Throw in all the extras and owning Breaking Bad is a must for those who want to savor an epic viewing experience.

Some of the Unforgettable Cast of Characters:

Bryan Cranston is Walter White.

Anna Gunn seamlessly potrays Walter's wife, Skyler, as she goes from innocent nurturer to enduring survivor.

Aaron Paul gives an amazing dramatic performance as his high school chemistry teacher's unlikely protégé, Jesse Pinkman.

Giancarlo Esposito gives the performance of a lifetime as despicable yet well-mannered drug kingpin, Gustavo Fring.

Dean Norris is amazing as Hank Schrader, whose life is turned upside down by his brother-in-law's hidden criminal life.

Chemistry's Master Criminal Surprises TV Critics

When Breaking Bad aired its first episode on AMC in 2008, most people ignored it.

It's ironic, considering the character build-up required to capture a TV audience's attention in the Modern Age, that Episode #1 contained a scene that would immortalize Walter White.

After the show's final episode in 2013, people were still talking about actor Bryan Cranston cooking methamphetamine in his 'tighty whities' (his underwear) in the show's first installment.

What seemed outrageous in 2008 became iconic (and hilarious) after audiences grew curious about the high school chemistry teacher turned criminal master mind.

Breaking Bad is hailed by critics as one of the most imaginative shows ever written and acted out on television. Its cast was made up of mostly unknown actors. Somehow the ensemble managed to portray a fascinating and diverse union of personas in a mesmerizing story that toyed with our emotions and made us question our own moralities like nothing ever seen on TV before.

This was a television series that allowed viewers a glimpse into what one seemingly ordinary man might be capable of when faced with despair and hopelessness.

Walter White was diagnosed with cancer and, while concealing an inner hurt brought about by a bad business relationship from his past, unleashed the inner drug manufacturer, murderer, and betrayer on his way to fabricating a facade conjured up to explain his actions: to make enough money to care for his family after he's gone.

Breaking Bad is the first of its kind and, at times, it's just emotionally painful to witness the carnage and chaos 'Heisenberg' (Walt's alias) creates around him.

This isn't a tale where the main character is a hero and all works out for the best in the end; but whether you're a fan of this sensational show or not, it's hard not to look at the implosion that is Walter White.

A Glimpse into the Life of the Sopranos Mob Family

Perhaps the most iconic show ever to air on television was HBO's The Sopranos. America's fascination with organized crime has spanned a hundred years; but never before was there such an intimate look at an actual family inside a mafia "family".

A cast anchored by James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano) and Edie Falco (Carmela Soprano) brought to life a modern Italian-American soap opera-syle depiction of gangsters and their families in New Jersey.

This show wasn't like Breaking Bad, above, in that it didn't rely on suspense to carry it. The mundane lifestyles outside the frequent violence and crime lent an absurdity to the series that appealed to viewers. The idea that the head of an organized crime family was vulnerable, neurotic, and filled with a tragic lust was so complex that audiences were infatuated with Tony Soprano.

The other cast members never upstaged James Gandolfini, though performances by Falco and Michael Imperioli (Christopher Moltisanti) did leave unforgettable memories behind.

Who can forget Carmela's near-breakdown when Tony's Russian girlfriend called the house to let Falco's character know all about Tony's infidelity. And Imperioli's mastery of a heroin addict's struggle to remain relevant has gone down as one of television's most realistic portrayals.

The Sopranos was a great TV show because the acting and writing never deteriorated. Whereas the players in Breaking Bad often struggled to come up with new seasons that wouldn't detract from the previous ones, Sopranos just kept rolling.

The final episode left some wondering if the show might make a big screen splash, but Gandolfini's sudden death in 2013 ended any such speculation.

So the Sopranos will be remembered as it was--the best HBO ever offered for cable TV viewers.

The infamous New Jersey meat market where Soprano family members sometimes hung out.
The infamous New Jersey meat market where Soprano family members sometimes hung out. | Source

No Blues for Hill Street Fans

Hill Street Blues was a cop drama set in a northern American city in the 1980s. This author remembers thinking the setting reminded him of Chicago or Detroit. The show ran from 1981-1987 and was comprised of 146 episodes.

The Steven Bochco series had a cast of mostly unknowns who would go on to have broad careers in the 1990s and beyond. The exceptions were Daniel J. Travanti (Captain Frank Furillo) and Michael Conrad (Sergeant Phil Esterhaus) who had long careers before Hill Street. Conrad died in 1983 and, in one of the most memorable moments in television history, his cop alter-ego died in the episode Grace Under Pressure.

Hill Street played on our emotions like no other cop drama before it. Though many crime dramas followed in its footsteps, none have been able to capture the feelings we had for the simple men and women in blue who lived elives outside their extraordinary profession.

Many of the characters have faded to remembered faces; we've long forgotten the names of the actors who portrayed them. Watching the episodes again brings back to vivid recognition Andy Sipowicz's (Dennis Franz) heart-stirring battle with alcohol or Mick Belker's (Bruce Weitz) barely contained rage against criminals.

And no one who loved Hill Street Blues will ever forget its opening theme music. This is one show worth revisiting again and again.


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