Liel Leibovitz, who admits to not being much of a TV watcher, argues that as good as the medium has gotten, it “does not now, nor will it ever, meet the same sublime depths explored by the great novels. It is, quite simply, essentially inferior”:
In television narrative, any television narrative, the commandments are few and simple: Something must always be happening, for otherwise there would be little reason to tune in next week; and whatever’s happening must happen on screen, for this is a visual medium, and a shot of Walter White brooding in his kitchen isn’t quite as gratifying as a shot of Walter White shooting some guy in the head. Our new technologies, and the gluttonous viewing habits they’ve created, have given the medium some more room to play, to build, as it were, character. But the primary principles still apply: To keep us amused, a show, any show, has to parade a quick succession of spectacles, far exceeding the scope of thrills and woes that befall any ordinary or extraordinary person in real life. That’s the nature of entertainment.
He’s so wrong. And he’s crazy to pick an example like “Breaking Bad.” Watching the evolution of the central character of Walter White – and those around him – as he sinks deeper and deeper into the easy evil, has been a character study equal to any novel, or even Shakespearean drama. And what makes this show so great is precisely its ability to slow down, to show character in grainy detail, to watch human faces and bodies change, to observe the subtly changing dynamics between, say, Walter and his son. There is silence in that series, just as there is immense psychological complexity. I’m as riveted by the characters as I would be in any novel, and then entranced by the cinematographic elegance and nuance.
Mr Leibovitz needs to watch more great TV. But if he failed to appreciate Breaking Bad, what hope is there for him?