The Sopranos vs Breaking Bad – Hugh

For our most recent blogs we have been asked to take a more personal approach, so I have decided to put two of my all-time favourite TV shows head to head, to see which one comes out on top.

The Sopranos, set in New Jersey between 1998 and 2007, follows the Italian-American mobster Tony Soprano (played by the late James Gandolfini) and explores his struggle with balancing his role as a family man, and his position as a well-respected mob boss.

Breaking Bad, set in Albuquerque, New Mexico, between 2008 and 2010 follows high school chemistry teacher Walter White’s (played by Bryan Cranston) descent into the dark world of the North American meth trade.

Both shows start relatively slow, slow enough to put off many of the people I encouraged to watch them, but I’d argue that a slow climb results in a more impactful conclusion.

The Sopranos was by all accounts a groundbreaking show, with Tony Soprano being one of the first leading men to commit straight-up murder – in the fifth episode of the first season no less – without damaging his lovable Italian-American persona.  

Breaking Bad followed many of the tropes laid out in The Sopranos – amongst other similar shows – but was definitely distinct enough to hold its own in the genre.

Family plays a central role in both shows, where Walter must support his wife Skyler (played by Anna Gunn) and his son Flynn (played by RJ Mitte) whilst keeping them firmly away from his dangerous colleagues.

The Sopranos family is shown to have a ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ approach to the patriarch’s line of work, and Tony treats them as neglectable in comparison to his ‘real’ family, the DiMeo crime family.

Health is also an integral part of both The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, with Tony facing a constant battle with his mental health, which is explored throughout the six seasons of the show with his therapy sessions with Dr. Melfi (played by Lorraine Bracco). This adds a never-before-seen look into the weaknesses and insecurities of a supposed hardened gangster. 

In Breaking Bad, Walter’s cancer is the catalyst for him ‘breaking bad’ into a well-known drug lord, and Flynn’s fight with cerebral palsy serves as a persistent reminder of the challenging hand the White family has been dealt in life.

For me, The Sopranos was funnier. There are endless examples of the jokes told between mobsters, but quite literally every single one is too vulgar to include in a blog post. Trust me, Google them.

Breaking Bad is arguably more quotable, with classics such as: “Say my name”, “I am the one who knocks” and who could forget, “This is my own private domicile and I will not be harassed…b***h!”.

I think Breaking Bad has a clear advantage amongst people my age as it is more accessible via Netflix, whereas The Sopranos was released on HBO almost a quarter of a century ago, and is now just available on Sky Atlantic.

Having spoken to other fans of both shows, we have concluded that The Sopranos is more realistic, with most of the actors coming from the area and none of the storylines being too over the top.

Breaking Bad sometimes made it hard to suspend your disbelief, as they had so many close calls with the law but always managed to escape, and many of the plot lines were a bit more over the top.

I’d argue that The Sopranos Finale was better, largely because it has fans arguing over the true meaning of the final scene to this day. But this doesn’t change the fact that me, my brother and a few mates would sprint home from school every week to watch the final season, leaving our jaws on the floor each time.

To wrap this up, I’m Team Sopranos. Mainly due to the hilarious joke telling and authentic Italian American mafia culture, but Breaking Bad comes in at a very close second.

And for any fans of ‘The Wire’: don’t worry, it’s next on my list.