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Emmys 2013: Will 'Breaking Bad' cook up a sweep at awards?

'Breaking Bad,' a critical and social media darling, might finally seize the moment. 'Louie' could get the last laugh.

September 21, 2013|By Meredith Blake
  • Dean Norris left, and Bryan Cranston star in "Breaking Bad."
Dean Norris left, and Bryan Cranston star in "Breaking Bad." (Frank Ockenfels, AMC )

Fans of "Breaking Bad" have just two more episodes to learn the fate of Walter White and his crystal meth empire, but at Sunday night's Emmy Awards, the AMC drama looks poised to glide over all.

The nail-biting serial, about a milquetoast high-school chemistry teacher who turns to the drug trade to pay for his cancer treatment, is drawing record ratings and generating a social media cacophony every Sunday night as it hurtles toward its Sept. 29 series finale. Created by former "X-Files" writer Vince Gilligan, "Breaking Bad," with 13 total nominations, is now the clear favorite to triumph in the intensely competitive drama category, where it's been an also-ran three times.

"There is no show that has more buzz, more excitement than 'Breaking Bad,'" said Tom O'Neil, editor of the awards-tracking website Gold Derby.

EMMYS 2013: Full coverage | Top nominees | Complete nominee/winner list

In a rarity for a long-running series, ratings for "Breaking Bad" have grown exponentially since it premiered in January 2008. Sunday's episode, "Ozymandias," drew a record audience of 6.4 million. That's double its ratings just a year ago and more than five times its Season 1 average.

Interest in the brutal saga's conclusion has exploded in a similar fashion. Although "Breaking Bad" has always been a critical darling, inspiring countless think pieces about Walter White's Nietzschean journey, it never quite captured the zeitgeist in the way that "Mad Men" and "Homeland" have in recent years.

That is, until it headed into its final, eight-episode home stretch this summer. Since then, it has thoroughly dominated the cultural conversation, spawning marathon screenings at Lincoln Center in New York City and lengthy parodies on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon."

And rightfully so, according to Huffington Post TV critic Maureen Ryan.

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"This is a show that became more and more commercially successful the more it stuck to its guns creatively," she said, likening the current frenzy over "Breaking Bad" to the run-up to the series finales of "Battlestar Galactica" and "Lost."

But following the rise of the TV recap and social media, the mania is even more pitched.

"It's hard to imagine what 'The Sopranos' finale would have been like in the era of the full-blown Internet," said Brett Martin, author of "Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From 'The Sopranos' and 'The Wire' to 'Mad Men' and 'Breaking Bad.'"

Yet there's also something decidedly old-fashioned about "Breaking Bad's" late-game surge. It's the rare show that people feel the need to watch live —- otherwise, as Martin joked, "you're unfit for human consumption."

As Times critic Mary McNamara wrote this week, television shows like "Breaking Bad" are the new novels, and being culturally literate means having your homework done for Monday morning (if not sooner).

PHOTOS: Before they were actors on 'Breaking Bad'

And even though Emmy voters are ostensibly judging "Breaking Bad" based on the eight-episode mini-season that aired last year, the deafening buzz, plus the fact that it's the only drama nominee currently airing original episodes, might prove too hard to ignore.

Still, there are some significant obstacles standing between "Breaking Bad" and Emmys glory.

While it would make sense to recognize what is widely viewed as one of the most important television dramas of the past decade, a "Breaking Bad" victory would also defy Emmy tradition, claims O'Neil. The group tends to honor "aspirational, elitist" series, like "L.A. Law," "The West Wing" and, of course, "Mad Men."

"'Breaking Bad' is not that. It's about a crystal meth cook, and a nasty one at that," he said.

Indeed, the Emmys have been slow to recognize the larger creative accomplishments of "Breaking Bad." Stars Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul have both taken home multiple trophies for their work, but the series earned its first two writing nominations this year. (The opposite is true for four-time best drama "Mad Men" and its leading man Jon Hamm, who's become the Susan Lucci of basic cable.)

PHOTOS: Before they were actors on 'Breaking Bad'

Then there are the other nominees in the drama category, a group as formidable as any Mexican cartel. Last year's victor, "Homeland," is still a fierce contender, even if Season 2's extravagant plot twists alienated some viewers.

"Mad Men's" most recent season also earned some jeers but ended on a strong and unusually poignant note. In the wake of the infamous "Red Wedding," HBO's sprawling fantasy "Game of Thrones" has more momentum than ever, though even that might not be enough to overcome the industry bias against genre fare.

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