Bafta Radio Times Audience Award 2014: Why you should vote Breaking Bad

Ben Dowell salutes Vince Gilligan's masterpiece and says that there was only one standout programme last year - and it starred Bryan Cranston as a meth-manufacturing chemistry teacher

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Bafta Radio Times Audience Award 2014: Why you should vote Breaking Bad
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So, how many shows on the audience award shortlist have been compared – by an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony-award winning film director, no less – to Tolstoy?

Can we speak about The Great British Bake Off in the same breath as the Russian Master? Can we compare Gogglebox to War and Peace? Or Educating Yorkshire to the Death of Ivan Ilyich?

No, I believe we can’t.

But Mike Nichols, director of The Graduate, likens the astonishing AMC series Breaking Bad to the work of probably the finest novelist ever to put pen to paper. And he is not alone. 

Samuel L Jackson, Keith Richards, Jon Hamm, Gary Oldman, Bret Easton Ellis, Jennifer Aniston, Ron Howard and Salman Rushdie all love this show. And so do I...

In case you've been living on another planet for the past few years, it’s the series that follows Walter White, the erstwhile New Mexico high school chemistry teacher who begins “cooking” the highly addictive illegal drug crystal meth to fund his medical bills and secure his family’s financial future after a cancer diagnosis.

Played to absolute perfection by Bryan Cranston, Walter’s descent into this world is chronicled in a a five-series arc as he takes on a Mexican drug cartel and strives to become the biggest drug supplier in America’s Wild West.

But why is Breaking Bad so addictive? For me, it is compelling, thoughtful TV that has the ability to mix high, almost operatic, melodrama with nuanced portraits of believable relationships. Chief among these are the exchanges between Walter and his wife Skyler (played by Anna Gunn), who deduces what her husband is up to and becomes a reluctant accomplice. Gunn by the way won the Emmy for best supporting actress in a drama series, and she deserved it too.

Like another box-set favourite, HBO’s The Wire, this is a series that forces you to think about the world you live in, but it is morally ambiguous as well as sophisticated.

Just how much can we identify with or sympathise with Walter? He is our hero after all, and the man we follow. But creator Vince Gilligan admits to not liking him – while I as a viewer rooted for him right up until what was one of the best TV drama finales ever witnessed.

I won’t say more in case you haven’t seen it yet but even if you’ve just watched ten minutes of it you will know that it was easily the best thing to have come out of the small screen last year and – especially following its sensational finale – would be a worthy winner of the audience award.

You've still got time to vote Breaking Bad, with entries closing on Thursday May 15 at 12:00pm. Head to our voting page for all of the details