Breaking Bad 

Breaking Bad: 10 Similar TV Shows About The Drug Trade

Shows about the dr*g trade don't always need shootouts or bloodshed. The best shows, like Breaking Bad, delve deep to explore the human cost involved.

Illegal drug manufacturing, the industry, and addiction have been the subject of many classic movies and some binge-worthy shows. As a result, any new drug trade-related outing needs to offer some novelty in terms of its storytelling and perspective, to be able to stand out. Breaking Bad achieved something quite extraordinary as it doggedly pursued a sense of balance in narration, to keep the show from slipping into the glorification of something historically problematic.

There have been other shows that have managed to offer a grounded look into how the drug trade operates and influences people in a community, and how the war on drugs has been maneuvered in the last few years. And some of these drug trade-related shows have made for some really engaging content.

Ozark (2017 – ) – Available On Netflix

Marty and Wendy Byrde standing next to each other in Ozark

Though Ozark shares many similarities with Breaking Bad, many viewers consider the show to be better-paced. But there are definitely some distinct parallels between the two because both the male leads get involved in drug-related crimes out of desperation.

While a cancer-ridden Walter wants to take care of his family, Marty has to clean the mess left behind by his partner. The shows even share the same laundering designs: Walter uses a car washing business as a front to “clean” the huge amount of cash he makes off meth, and in Ozark, Marty uses The Blue Cat bar and later a casino to hide the cartel’s black money. Both men also had to use their children at some point: while Walter uses Walter Jr’s fundraising site to launder his money, Marty’s son, Jonah, helps his dad by creating offshore accounts.

Top Boy (2011 – ) – Available On Netflix

Top Boy and Breaking Bad may be deemed very different, specifically because Breaking Bad was anchored by its dark comic tenor while Top Boy is a drama and takes a very different approach to talk about morality. The British show unravels in the fictional Summerhouse estate in the London Borough of Hackney and follows an underground drug business. It manages to incorporate some social commentary about the criminal justice system and its effect on underprivileged young people of color.

Breaking Bad‘s narrative also takes a wry look at how the justice system operates and though the basic modus operandi on both shows may differ, both shows try to explore why and how the drug trade ensnares the working class who feel victimized by their system.

Weeds (2005 – 2012) – Available On Hulu

Weeds may have triumphed over Breaking Bad in several aspects, especially because its premise is earthier and the stakes are considerably lower, which makes the show more believable. Both shows feature protagonists who turn to the drug trade to support their families and get pulled in deeper, but Weeds is considerably breezier, mainly because Nancy Botwin deals in marijuana, which is less deadly and dangerous than Walter’s product-of-choice, and thus less risky.

Weeds also achieves a better balance in its storytelling by giving equal attention to Nancy’s work and family life, and fans may just find this show a more comprehensive watch.

Good Girls (2018 – 2021) – Available On FuboTV

Ruby, Beth, and Annie from Good Girls

Though the four anti-heroines on Good Girls aren’t directly involved in dealing drugs, they do help a drug lord launder his money. Good Girls can actually be an educational watch for viewers planning to watch Breaking Bad for the first time because the show breaks down how the modern drug trade operates through mainstream channels.

Like Walter White, the protagonists on the show are also suburbanites who need money to keep their families afloat, so the walk-on-the-wild-side narrative would definitely be familiar to viewers. But Good Girls‘ design is definitely different as it leans on a sense of escapism, so it makes for a lighter watch.

Queen Of The South (2016 – 2021) – Available On Netflix

Teresa walking with henchmen in Queen of the South

Breaking Bad wasn’t a cartel drama and therein lay its appeal, but Queen of the South manages to re-think the workings of a cartel-driven crime drama by following the trajectory of runaway-turned-queenpin. Therefore, the show manages to do away with many hyper-masculine tropes that are usually found in shows or movies about the drug trade.

Season 3 brings in some really interesting storylines that are somewhat aspirational and help flesh out Teresa as an anti-heroine, like her attempts at rescuing trafficked girls, or devising a business model based on mail-order drugs, and Teresa’s evolution into a cartel boss does not come off as inorganic.

Bloodline (2015 – 2017) – Available On Netflix

Bloodline's John and Meg Rayburn standing side-by-side

Bloodline is, at its core, a family drama but manages to incorporate the workings of the drug trade quite seamlessly and also offers a glimpse into the law enforcement’s perspective on the drug trade. The murky, inner tensions within the Rayburn family only grow tauter as the show progresses and add a fantastic layer of complexity to its story-telling.

Danny, the black sheep of the Rayburn family, rejoins the family business, only to be lured back into his murky past, and ends up using his family’s business as a front for cleaning money for a drug lord. Much like Breaking Bad, the principal characters grow more corrupt as they consistently re-prioritize their personal means and have to resort to crimes.

Drug Lords (2018 – ) – Available On Netflix

As Decider puts it, Drug Lords acts as a cheat sheet to some of the most nefarious drug operations in modern history. For Breaking Bad viewers, this series could serve as research material, as it offers first-person accounts as well as a dramatized re-enactment into the operations of the biggest drug cartels.

The show also highlights the operations of some of the lesser-known gangs, like New York’s Frank Lucas or Australia’s Pettingill Clan. To be fair, there are several other fact-checker shows for someone looking to learn about how drug empires function, but this show has been styled to offer a sense of juxtaposition since it is a truly global account of how drug trafficking has evolved in the world.

El Chapo (2017 – ) – Available On Netflix

El Chapo pointing a gun at someone in El Chapo

The show recounts notorious drug lord El Chapo’s rise to the top of the Sinaloa Cartel, and his subsequent downfall, and takes a deep dive into Mexican turf wars, gang violence and political corruption. The storytelling is sleek and yet manages to steer away from a glamourized re-telling, like Narcos, which helps the show stay rooted to its material.

El Chapo’s personal journey and his influences get a lot of attention, and his personal arc is more fleshed out than that of Pablo Escobar in Narcos, which helps the viewers get a better perspective on the tumultuous timeline.

The Wire (2002 – 2008) – Available On HBO Max

Omar wears a do-rag and gold chain on The Wire.

The Wire unfolds on the drug-ridden streets of Baltimore, and the show’s way to look at this trade was through individual stories. In a way, this helped the viewers get insight into what motivates the war on drugs and also help them understand victims of the drug trade. The show also explores how drug pushers and abusers are trapped in a cycle that is doomed to repeat itself.

The show’s overarching theme is still relevant today, which is why, much like Breaking BadThe Wire ranks high for its rewatch value. The show’s message conveys how some of its characters’ lives are almost entirely governed by institutions that do not care about them. The Wire‘s humanist approach was a gamechanger in crime fiction since it offered a look at both sides of the narrative to offer an almost unbiased look.

Narcos (2015 – 2017) – Available On HBO Max

Navegante takes a woman hostage in Narcos.

Interestingly, in spite of being a biographic depiction of one of the most flamboyant drug kingpins in recent history, Narcos is more grounded than Breaking Bad. Not just because of the tragic outcome, but also because it strips down the aura of power.

In spite of being one of the richest men in the world, Pablo Escobar could never stop running. This connects his arc with some of the most poignant stories in criminal history and pop culture. The show consistently tries to convey how high-level drug trading isn’t all that different from any other industry, while simultaneously making a point about the real human cost involved in the drug trade.

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