1. Breaking Bad
Stars: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Giancarlo Esposito, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, RJ Mitte, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks
At this stage of the game, there’s really nothing to left to do but bow down to Vince Gilligan and his whole Breaking Bad creative team. Last year, the cinematic, viciously dark AMC drama checked in with an absolute beast of a season, ending its run on such a ridiculously high note that it seemed nearly impossible for Breaking Bad to outdo itself in 2011; Walter White (Bryan Cranston, whose Emmy trophy should be standing by) and Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), however, begged to differ.
With his back against the wall and a target on his head, Walt spent Breaking Bad’s tremendous fourth season embroiled in an intelligent and morally corrupt chess match of sorts against Gus, with an emotionally fractured Jesse (the consistently tremendous Aaron Paul) serving as their primary pawn. The show’s supporting players all had their own moments to shine, though some were uneven (Marie’s brief reversion into petty larceny; Skyler’s IRS dilemma). But in the case of Skyler (Anna Gunn), Gilligan and company provided one hell of a payoff in the season’s near-horror-toned highlight, “Crawl Space,” one that reminded Bad fans that even when the show feels like it’s lagging, that’s only because Gilligan is 10 steps ahead of us all.
At the center of Season Four was Gus, the calm, refined, and incredibly cold-blooded antagonist, played with such impeccable greatness by Esposito that he now ranks amongst TV’s all-time best villains (believe that). Even though Walt won in the end (a victory that blessed viewers with an unforgettable death scene involving a half-blown-off face and the fixing of a tie), this modern-day classic of a series heads into its fifth, and final, season with its main character at his darkest point yet. And, as Season Four displayed in superlative fashion, Breaking Bad has no competition when it comes to grim, mind-blowing entertainment.