With announced TV-movies for both The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad, it’s as though some new, young executive at AMC has just discovered that long-form series aren’t the only medium for storytelling.
You get a movie, and you get a movie! All our beloved franchises get a movie!
As far as The Walking Dead goes I think this is the right decision for the brand. Robert Kirkman and co have established his world as the zombie fiction universe. We live in the age of franchises, more content is only a good thing. Hardcore fans will watch everything regardless of quality, and word will get out if a specific film or series has a narrative worth watching.
AMC did their usual bait and switch last Sunday, as they had teased the “departure of Rick Grimes”, declaring episode five of season nine as “Rick Grimes’ final episode”. I’d fallen for their tricks before (Glenn, dumpster), so I knew the character wasn’t going to die. But I was curious to see how they would write him out of a show in which death walks on two legs and is around every corner.
Rick has been taken somewhere else in America, so that Andrew Lincoln can star in three films set in The Walking Dead universe. The latest episode was the best written in some time, in fact, this whole series is the strongest the show has felt since season five.
On top of this, they’ve introduced a major time-jump after Rick’s departure, as a way of soft-rebooting the characters and allowing for completely new narratives. This is, presumably, thanks to new show-runner Angela Kang.
I can imagine a world where the old show-runner remained, and we then had a subsequent twelve episodes of our cast crying about Rick. A (minimum) five year time jump allows for the characters to change, and have moved on from the leadership of Rick Grimes. Although I doubt his memory will be at all forgotten.
These movies can be good if they’re kept to small, personal stories — Reminiscent of the first series of the show. Some of the best narratives in modern fiction have been low-concept, character-driven stories, set in high-concept, often post-apocalyptic worlds.
The Walking Dead is a universe filled with sprawling narratives, hundreds of characters, and plenty of comic books to still be adapted. Making TV-movies as spin-offs, that feature the central protagonist of the entire show, makes perfect sense for the franchise. More of those stories can be told, and the world can grow at a faster pace, ultimately pleasing the content-hungry fans.
But what about Breaking Bad? A show often, and rightly, cited as the best open and close narrative in TV history. Breaking Bad is the very definition of golden-age television. Vince Gilligan took a simplistic, genius premise and allowed both his story and characters to breathe over the course of sixty episodes.
Breaking Bad wouldn’t have the same effect across a two-hour story. There would be room for all of the big scenes, but entire characters, sub-plots and beautiful, small moments would be lost.
Now, rumours are that the film will be about Jesse Pinkman, following the events of Breaking Bad. Even though I think his character’s eventual fate would be best left to speculation, and that more time spent with Jesse would weaken his characterisation, I also didn’t think an entire show about Saul Goodman was necessary, but it remains compelling television.
My main issue here isn’t Gilligan’s need to return to his established universe, but that we’re to only get a couple more hours in it.
If AMC had announced a Breaking Bad sequel, with Aaron Paul as the lead, following the life of Jesse Pinkman ten years after his escapades with Walter White, then I’d be all-in. Gilligan has proven himself a highly competent storyteller, who has a real gift for long-form television narratives.
I’m worried that a TV-movie, two hours of new content, would either feel too rushed OR be kept small-scale, but leave us wanting more. No matter which it is, the Breaking Bad sequel film likely won’t feel as satisfying as a brand new full series, or it not even happening at all.
Movies based on TV shows rarely work, and a successful transition in the opposite direction is more common. The fact that AMC are slated to be making them as TV-movies work in favour of the projects, as they will be kept on a smaller-scale and hopefully close to the narratives they blossomed from.
I’d like to see Vince Gilligan eventually work on something that isn’t set in the Breaking Bad universe. He can tell a similar story — Character-driven yet still about the deep world of organised crime — with a similar tone, and nobody would complain.
His ability to create richly unique and compelling characters is enviable, and so, personally, I’d like to see that brain put to use on a new story. However, we live in the age of franchise and bankable property, and unless your name is Stephen King, you aren’t going to get by as a writer on your name alone.
It could be that Gilligan has many ideas for other TV shows or movies, but AMC is throwing enough money at him to continue telling the stories of the people he originally dreamt-up a decade ago.
It’s as though AMC have remembered that the M in their initial stands for Movie, and so now they’ve decide to return to the roots of their original branding without thinking too much about the consequences.
No matter how I feel about them, they’ve peaked my interest enough for me to watch the movies of The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad universes, and that’s all that matters from a business standpoint.
People, like me, complain about the over-reliance on established franchises in modern fiction, but we only have ourselves to blame. We’re the ones who’re still shovelling it all down, like the filthy little content goblins we are.
Today is Thursday, November 8th and bigger things have happened in the last twenty-four hours, I just needed to write about something light. Stay safe, hold on to each other.
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