With the days of Breaking Bad and The Sopranos behind us, we are left to wonder: why did we like these scumbags so much? With, between them, their actions including adultery, kinslaying, and the poisoning of a child, these are obviously not characters we emulate. But, in spite of these, we stayed with them through the years, rooting for them even when they descended to their darkest points.
To an uneducated viewer, Tony Soprano would seem like a very unrelatable character: mob boss, violent criminal, rich enough to put his family up in a mansion (and send his daughter to NYU out of state!) but he is more of an everyman than Walter White, the mild-mannered chemistry teacher. While he spends his days extorting business owners, he comes home to the same domestic issues that many Americans face, with the show revolving a large amount around them. He has a nagging wife, he does not approve of the guy his daughter brought home from college, and his son is doing poorly in school. Even issues as seemingly boring as putting an aging mother into a retirement home is made into a plot point. When Tony goes to therapy, he does not talk about the weight of his numerous murders on his conscious, he talks about feelings of insecurity, depression, and anxiety. Tony Soprano was incredibly influential in the integration of antiheroes into the world of television, taking an ugly profession and making it loveable.
At the beginning of the series, Walter White is the world’s punching bag. A highly educated chemist, he went from starting his own company (which he left right before it got profitable) to a high school chemistry teacher, he gets no respect from his family, and on top of that he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Bryan Cranston even said that when he was creating the appearance of Walter White he went to the makeup artist and said “I want this mustache to look impotent.” But, with no money to pay for treatment, and even less to leave for his family, he decides to take matters into his own hands and begin cooking meth. And even though there are many things that go wrong, many go right. As he rises in the ranks of the ABQ meth business he garners more and more money and power, something viewers wish they could have. Walter White goes from bland to badass in less than 2 years (in-show time.) Viewers connect with season one Walt because many of us can relate to his feelings of powerlessness and we wish we could do what he did. Not the whole “starting a meth empire” part, but the part where he grabs life by the horns and do something to change his horrible situation.
Walter White and Tony Soprano are two verified scumbags. But, for all their flaws and misdoings, deep down they are still human. These men are not who we want to be, or people we would want in our lives, but when viewed through the protective screen of a television, they represent more in us than we may realize.