Normally I ignore popularly held misconceptions about me. For instance, many women believe, in terms of looks, I favor Idris Elba, the actor who played Stringer Bell on the HBO classic “The Wire.” I let the comparison roll off my perfectly sculpted shoulders. What’s to be gained by correcting star-struck women and pointing out that I’m more Denzel than Idris?
But there are two misconceptions that truly bother me:
1. Some football fans believe I dislike Peyton Manning and refuse to recognize his greatness out of some twisted loyalty to my high school teammate and former Colts QB Jeff George.
2. Fans of the TV show “Breaking Bad” believe I criticize the show out of insecure loyalty to my favorite TV show “The Wire.”
With Manning launching his reboot this weekend in Denver and “Breaking Bad” wrapping up half of its final season last Sunday, I must clear up these misconceptions.
I’m a fan of Peyton Manning and “Breaking Bad.” What I abhor is overhype. It’s important that someone in the media take on the role as the voice of reason. Peyton Manning and Vince Gilligan, the creator of “Breaking Bad,” are the two most overhyped men in television.
That does not mean that Manning and Gilligan were not great at one time. What it means is their previous greatness and current greatness have both been exaggerated, and I believe it’s my job to point this out.
We live in the “greatest of all time” era, a time marked by the media’s fascination with and rush to define any and everything as the best we’ve ever seen. We’re also living in a period in which there is extreme competition to say something unique and provocative.
Peter King, the highly respected NFL authority, predicted Manning’s Denver Broncos will advance to the Super Bowl and Manning will win the league’s MVP award. That’s about as provocative a prediction as can be made in sports. Manning hasn’t played in a year. He’s coming off multiple neck surgeries. He’s 36 years old. He’s playing for a new team with a suspect receiving corps. Manning has consistently struggled in the postseason.
I believe King believes in his prediction. But I also believe King is being loyal to the pervasive, decade-old, wishful-thinking narrative that Peyton Manning is the greatest quarterback of all time. We, the media, thought Manning was going to supplant Joe Montana and/or John Elway as the G.O.A.T. We thought Manning would win three or four Super Bowl titles and break all of Dan Marino’s passing records. We thought wrong. But we’re reluctant to admit it.
The same wrong thinking and reluctance to admit it are why the media won’t acknowledge that Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad,” the show that was supposed to surpass “The Wire” as the G.O.A.T., has turned into the typical action TV show, a knockoff of “24.”
Chuck Klosterman, a bright thinker and writer, wrote a popular column for Grantland last year suggesting “Breaking Bad” was better than “The Wire.” I respect Klosterman the same way I respect King. That’s why Klosterman’s column infuriated me. I hate it when smart people say really dumb things. Klosterman’s column (and others like it) reset expectations for “Breaking Bad.” Happiness is based on expectations. I’m not happy with “BB” because the critics raised my expectations for the show. It’s the same reason I’ve never been all that happy with Peyton Manning.
By Season 3 it was clear “BB” was making no attempt at being as important or as nuanced as shows like “The Wire,” “The Shield” or “The Sopranos.”
Gilligan’s show has completely abandoned all reasonable character development. Walter White, the main protagonist, is a cartoon character. In brief scenes, he hatches A-Team-like plans to blow up drug kingpins, rob trains, assassinate simultaneously nearly a dozen incarcerated snitches, erase evidence stored by the DEA, etc. The storytelling in the show is embarrassingly sloppy. Walt’s wife went from wanting him dead to happy homemaker within a few scenes. Gilligan doesn’t know what to do with Walt’s criminal sidekick, Jesse Pinkman. The character went nowhere in the eight-episode Season 5.
Based on expectations and hype, the show is awful. If you followed the story arc of Vic Mackey and Shane Vendrel in “The Shield,” then you know it’s laughable for critics to pretend Walter White and Jesse Pinkman are breaking new ground.
“Breaking Bad” is Peyton Manning.
We want both of them to be what they once were. We want them to fulfill their promise. It’s not going to happen. That does not mean I hate either of them. It simply means I’m not going to sit quiet as a significant portion of the media mislead (and in some cases lie) you into believing something that isn’t true.
Elway and/or Montana are still the greatest. Tom Brady has the best chance of catching them. Manning is one of the 10 or 15 best QBs to ever play the game.
“The Wire” is greatest show in the history of television. “The Shield,” “Mad Men” and “The Sopranos” are a cut below “The Wire.” Gilligan’s “BB” is probably in the top 20.