When it comes to world-building, it’s one of the few advantages the medium of television has over movies, as TV shows have dozens of hours to build on exciting characters’ backstories and to go into more depth about the world’s social economy. Few shows go into as much detail as Breaking Bad, as it seems like even people and places that are just mentioned in passing have more of a backstory than some other shows’ main characters.
The criminal underworld of Albuquerque has been delicately put together and has now been explored at length in a spin-off prequel and a movie. However, there are other series that have an evil criminal underbelly that are just as screwed up as Breaking Bad’s, and they all bring something original to the table.
Breaking Bad: The Different Crime Syndicates
It’s almost possible to imagine different factions in Albuquerque like a video-game map, as each gang and crime syndicate has its own territory. There’s the neo-nazi compound, the cartel, Gus’ much more organized business, Tuco’s slums, and many more.
All of the different crime syndicates act in their own way and interact with each other in such unique methods, whether it’s civilized, like Gus Fring and his men, or guns blazing, like Jack and his gang of swastika clad cop killers.
Before the release of Fargo, expectations were low. TV adaptations of movies have a bad reputation, and as the original movie was helmed by the masters of cinema, the Coen brothers, their lack of involvement was suspect. However, against all odds, the show turned out to be incredible thanks to great uses of stunt casting and the fact that it wasn’t a remake or sequel to the movie.
Instead, the show is simply set in the same world as the movie, and the way the show expertly intertwines the events of the film with the new characters is genius. Breaking Bad clearly had a big influence on the show, as Fargo’s recurring characters are just as absurd as Breaking Bad’s.
Breaking Bad: The Depth Of The Organised Crime
Though it’s much more theatrical than many other organized crime shows and isn’t so much grounded in reality, the creativity of the organized crime is brilliant not just because of its characters, but because of how deep the show delves into it.
Breaking Bad really goes into detail about how the actual organizational method works in Gus’ business, such as how he hires gang-bangers to do his dirty work but works with legitimate lawyers for more civil situations. And, of course, the way that Saul Goodman has his fingers in all of the pies in some shape or form is a work of art.
Alternative: Peaky Blinders
Peaky Blinders is easily the best crime drama based outside of the US, but it isn’t just the location that makes the BBC show unique. The show is the only crime drama based in the early 20th century, and it’s based on the real-life gang of the same name, albeit heavily stylized.
From the very first five minutes of the opening episode, audiences understand how big and exciting the world is. As Tommy rides through the streets of Birmingham in 1919, it bounces from a Chinese brothel owner and a fortune teller to industrial workers cowering at the sight of the Shelby family leader. Police officers even doff their helmets to Tommy right before he enters a house that’s a front for a giant betting shop.
Breaking Bad: The Pecking Order
Whether the episode is following Gustavo Fring, the guy at the top of the pyramid who makes all of the orders, or Combo, a two-bit drug dealer working the streets, Breaking Bad gives audiences an in-depth look at both of them and everything in between.
The way orders get passed down from the Cartel to Gus, to Mike, to Walt, to Jesse, etc. is so methodical of the writers, and any of the other shows would have completely skipped those steps. The same goes for Better Call Saul, which goes into even greater detail of the pecking order.
Alternative: The Sopranos
The subject matter of The Sopranos was one of the many ways the show revolutionized television, as there wasn’t anything like a gritty crime drama about gangsters before it. From the swearing to the violence, to the sex, the show was the first serialized drama that allowed audiences to be a fly on the wall and get a look-see at money laundering, shaking down family businesses, and putting hits out on people.
The show’s world-building was a cross between Goodfellas and The Godfather, as Jersey was a world where every mom-and-pop store paid vig to one of the families, and the feud between those families was a feast for any Godfather fan.
Breaking Bad: All Of The Creative Fronts
Of all the great American crime dramas, very few of them have any creative businesses that are fronts for seedy operations. Tony Soprano has his strip club, but that’s essentially as far as it goes. However, it seems that almost every independent family business in Breaking Bad is really a front for some sort of criminal under-goings.
The car wash becomes a way for the Whites to launder their drug money, Los Pollos Hermanos is a front for Fring’s meth empire, and Madrigal is a front for all kinds of criminal activity. And the best of the lot is the vacuum store, a front for changing people’s identities, and it’s the scene for one of the best scenes in El Camino.
Alternative: The Shield
Though most shows about crime syndicates feature a protagonist that’s a villain, The Shield flips it on its head by having the bad guys be the cops. The show sees Vic Mackey and his unit openly take bribes from gangs and coordinate gang wars. The pilot episode says it all, as when a new cop sees too much, Vic shoots him straight in the head.
It’s an extremely overlooked show that deserves to stand with the ranks of The Wire, The Sopranos, and of course, Breaking Bad. However, it’s not for the faint of heart, as The Shield is easily the darkest show about criminal underworlds ever.
Breaking Bad: The Colorful Characters
Without a doubt, it the shady characters and the scum of Albuquerque that makes the Breaking Bad criminal underworld better than any other. Whether it’s Saul Goodman, who is seemingly the only criminal lawyer that works in the city, the low-brow meth dealers like Tuco and Crazy Eight, or the untouchable Cartel elder-statesmen like Hector, they’re all iconic.
Even the recurring characters have more depth than most shows’ main characters, as Old Joe only briefly appears in a couple of episodes, but in those scenes, audiences learn about his role in the Albuquerque underworld and his deep knowledge of criminal law.
Alternative: True Detective
There’s a lot that makes no sense about True Detective, and it might be the most inconsistent show on television, but this is the burden of creating an anthology series. Regardless of the show’s quality when it comes to its narrative, True Detective has built a truly captivating criminal world, not only because it perfectly combines elements of the supernatural, but because of the mystery that spans decades.
The way it crosses the murderous biker gangs, such as the Iron Crusaders, with evil cult leaders makes it one of the most unique underbellies of a city.