Breaking Bad” – AMC.

The gold­en age of Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion con­tin­ues, and an august lin­eage that began with The Sopra­nos, The Wire and Mad Men con­tin­ues apace with Break­ing Bad. Series 4 of the AMC show went out in the US last autumn, and the fifth and final sea­son is due to be aired there lat­er on this year. But it’s yet to sur­face on ter­res­tri­al tele­vi­sion here, and many peo­ple on this side of the Atlantic will only be com­ing to it now.

All the best tele­vi­sion depends on a series build­ing a care­ful­ly con­struct­ed micro-world that you com­plete­ly trust in because they know every square inch of it, and into which you’re invit­ed for an hour once a week. What’s unusu­al about each of the above, is that they each focus on two com­plete­ly dis­parate worlds, both of which you believe in and cru­cial­ly, both of which are giv­en equal weight when they inevitably come into collision.

The con­flict cre­at­ed in The Sopra­nos aris­es when the mun­dane domes­tic­i­ty of fam­i­ly life comes into con­tact with the world of orga­nized crime. But both worlds are giv­en equal impor­tance, and each of their char­ac­ters are equal­ly deserv­ing of our sympathies.

Sim­i­lar­ly The Wire has the good guys – the cops, the unions, a school and a news­pa­per – and the bad guys – the street gangs – but refus­es to take sides. Instead, both sides are shown to be equal­ly taint­ed by pet­ty per­son­al pol­i­tics and con­flict­ed loy­al­ties which makes both sets of char­ac­ters all the more fascinating.

Mad Men is a bit more com­pli­cat­ed. The two worlds that come into con­flict here are, on the one hand the black and white cer­tain­ties of the late 1950s, which is what the show looks and sounds like, and on the oth­er the pitch black and oh so con­tem­po­rary cyn­i­cism of the show’s sto­ry­lines and its char­ac­ters, which is what the show feels like.

Break­ing Bad takes this tem­plate and reduces it to its purest form. The two worlds here are the whiter than white col­lar world of an ele­men­tary school teacher and the bleached blond vanil­la world that he and his fam­i­ly live in, and the dank and dark, grim and grimy realm of under­world drugs. When the school teacher (Bryan Cranston) is diag­nosed with ter­mi­nal lung can­cer, he decides to pro­vide for his fam­i­ly by man­u­fac­tur­ing crys­tal meth, and two worlds that ought nev­er to have come into con­tact collide.

What’s so cap­ti­vat­ing about the show is that once that deci­sion has been made, they treat every­thing he has to do, drug wise, as seri­ous­ly as they do fam­i­ly wise. So for instance, when he has to dis­pose of a dead body, they real­ly take you through, step by step, exact­ly what you’d have to do if you real­ly were faced with hav­ing to get rid of a corpse.

Sim­i­lar­ly, when he and his side­kick decide to offer their pristine­ly pro­duced crys­tal meth (he is after all a Chem­istry teacher) to one of the under­world’s main dis­trib­u­tors, and sug­gest that per­haps he might con­sid­er using them instead of his usu­al pro­duc­er to sup­ply him with all his chem­i­cal needs, all Hell breaks loose, just as you’d have expect­ed it to, should such an unlike­ly event have ever occurred in the real world.

All the advance reports on Break­ing Bad were wor­ry­ing­ly rev­er­en­tial. For once, they were entire­ly justified.