Why a show about meth dealers made me feel closer to God

August 14, 2013 | 85 comments


I mentioned the TV show Breaking Bad in yesterday’s post, and it made me a little nervous when a few upstanding Christian ladies said that they’d never heard of it but might check it out on my recommendation.

It immediately triggered one of my Dominican Sisters nightmares: I pictured one of the sweet nuns checking in on my blog, seeing my recommendation for the show, and assuming that its title must be short for something like Breaking Bad Habits! She pulls it up during recreation time, and the other sisters walk in to see dead drug dealers and methamphetamine labs on the convent television as she screams in confused horror, “Jen Fulwiler recommended it!!!”

So let me throw in this caveat right now: Breaking Bad is about meth dealers. And it, umm, contains exactly the kind of content you would expect from a show about meth dealers.

This prompted me to ask myself, “Why do I watch this show, then?”, and I quickly came up with an answer: because my life is insane and by the end of the day I am so desperate to relax and turn my brain off that I have no standards because I JUST DON’T CARE ANYMORE.

Then I thought about it some more, and came up with a longer answer. It turns out that I do, in fact, have standards for any art that I consume, whether it’s a TV show, a book, a movie, a blog, or anything else. There are a few things I care about, but by far the biggest one is this:

It must be true. Specifically, it must accurately portray the human moral landscape.

One of the first things that caught my attention about Christianity was its idea that objective moral laws exist. As C.S. Lewis explains so well in Mere Christianity, these rules are from God, and they function like a doctor’s prescription for living a life of peace and love. We don’t have to follow them, but our lives will be messed up if we don’t. Christianity articulates those rules, but they apply to every human, whether he considers himself a Christian or not. So, a man living in rural Mongolia may not have ever read the Bible verse about turning the other cheek, but life experience will show him that choosing forgiveness and kindness will lead to a better life than choosing anger and vengefulness.

I often think of humans and our unseen moral landscape as being like a blind person in a room: you’re aware that there’s this stuff all around you, and you can get an idea of what’s there on your own, but you’d be able to move around much more freely if someone would tell you the details.

One of the reasons I considered myself a secular humanist when I was an atheist is because that philosophy offered a pretty good description of the room, so to speak. Its core tenets that emphasized kindness and giving back to other felt right (though I see now that it was based on a lot of unquestioned assumptions). To use the room analogy, it said there was a large chair to my left, and there was. It said there was a rug on the floor to the right, and I’d feel it under my feet when I walked that direction. When it came to the details, however, I found it to be wildly inaccurate. It would say that there was a lovely little fern in a pot by the window, and I’d reach out to touch it and find that not only was it not a fern, but it was a freaking jumping cholla cactus and now I had painful thorns stuck under my skin.

When I discovered Christianity, I was shocked by how much it knew about the room. It told me about the big stuff, but it also claimed that there was a three-foot-high bureau next to the door with two paper clips in the drawer. I’d feel my way over there and find the two paper clips, just like it said. Having this knowledge allowed me to move through the room without falling on my face, or accidentally grabbing any cacti. I found Christianity’s knowledge of this space to be so incredibly accurate and detailed that I concluded that it could only have come from the One who built the room.

But this analogy probably makes sense to no one but me, so I’ll move on to my point:

I do try to avoid books and shows that would tempt me to be a worse person than I already am, yet this doesn’t mean that I avoid all tales that depict immorality. I believe that if a story is truthful about the human moral landscape, it will probably not lead people too far astray. It’s the stories that do a fabulous job of presenting a false moral world that I worry about. I found Eat, Pray, Love and Sex and the City to be far more problematic than The Kite Runner and Breaking Bad, even though the latter two stories contain horrific violence and the former don’t. Eat, Pray, Love and Sex and the City present a beautifully alluring world in which selfishness leads to a glamorous, fulfilling life, whereas The Kite Runner and Breaking Bad speak truth about what is good and what is bad, and accurately show what tends to happen when we choose selfishness over love.

This all clicked for me last night, when I finished another episode of Breaking Bad, and found it to be an oddly faith-strengthening experience. It seemed like a strange reaction, considering that I’d just seen depictions of drug use and murder. But when I thought about it, I realized why.

One of the main themes the series explores is the truth that “if you do evil things, you will bring evil into your life, even if you were attempting to achieve a greater good.” In this episode, the main character once again thought he’d do one small bad thing, because he had all these elaborate ideas about why it would ultimately make his life better. I watched with the character as his plans crumbled and his one bad action triggered a chain reaction of evil that spread even into his loved one’s lives, and I felt his pain as he found himself burdened with new and more painful problems.

Like all good art, it made me feel the pain that you can only experience if you have a soul, which is to say that it made me feel more human. It reminded me that sin makes things complicated and loves makes things simple. And as I closed my tablet after the harrowing episode’s end, I was overwhelmed with the faith-affirming thought, This is what it is to live in God’s world.

(I’d be interested to hear: What are your standards for books, shows, or movies?)


  1. Grace

    I have been waiting for this post forever. Thank you; finally, someone who prefers Breaking Bad to Eat,Pray,Love. 🙂

  2. Silica

    I completely agree. I love Mad Men, which depicts all sorts of immoral behavior – but it’s also pretty clearly showing that that immorality is rotting the characters from inside out. Not that I enjoy watching them suffer – I find myself going “no, no, don’t cheat on your wife AGAIN!” but it’s a fantastic show.

    • Christine

      I also LOVE Mad Men. I think at the end of next season we will see Don coming full circle and taking some ownership for his behaviour, At the end of season 5, I think he is starting to realize who he is and how is actions affect others. (his kids) AH! I love that show!

    • JenB

      I found Mad Men to be super depressing and nihilistic. I am not saying people can’t like it but I am always intrigued when I hear Christians who get good art say they like it. Any chance either of you would comment further on why you like it? I really am intrigued.

      • Christine

        Well first of everyone looks so good! I love the clothes! ha But other then that I have just grown very attached to the characters, as one does if they have watched something from the beginning. The writers do a good job of building story lines slowly. It is my hope that the main characters find some peace or happiness before the end of the show next season.

      • Bryan

        I think it goes back to what Jennifer said in her post above…it rings true. It tells the truth about the human moral landscape. People who make terrible moral choices pay for them either explicitly when others find them out, or implicitly through mental and spiritual “torture” so to speak. But some also find moments of redemption. It seems like Don is on the path to finally understand his demons and stop listening to them and letting them determine who he is.

  3. Beth

    Excellent explanation! I just the saw the show and it made so sad; I guess because of the truth it presents. I’m expecting #5 and feel the same way you do at the end of the day. I try to find something that makes me laugh and is not completely morally depraved.

  4. samantha

    HI Jen
    I love your blog and this is my first comment. I’ve had that show recommended to me a few times but had been kinda hesitant to watch it because i knew what it was about. You are right though that immoral content is ok as long as it’s clearly shown how destructive it is. If I can break free of my kdrama addiction I might give it a shot sometime based on your recommendation.
    BTW if you’ve never seen a kdrama you really really should. If you have no idea what I’m talking about you can go here 🙂 http://kdramafighting.blogspot.com/2013/03/best-korean-drama-recommendations-for.html

    • Patty

      Samantha, I’m a kdrama addict (seriously, if I start one, I watch the entire thing in record time), & I love Breaking Bad. Both are satisfying in such a different ways!

      • Patty

        *such different…

        • samantha

          Yay! a fellow kdrama addict. I’m seriously way too far gone now and even watch a bunch of k-vaireties as well lol. The only western shows I watch are Sherlock, Downton abbey and Person of interest. But like i said I will give it a go since my family thinks I’m completely nuts and think I should watch something normal hehe.

  5. the other Becky

    I know what you mean about how often immoral behavior can show moral truths, and really that turns up in all kinds of classics. King Lear for instance, which I just saw recently for about the 10th time. There is a sci fi series about a whole lot of machines which were created by an alien race and accidentally got programmed to destroy all life, so the whole series is people fighting these machines. Terrible tragedies happen, but it really brings humanity together, to have a common enemy. And there is no moral uncertainty about fighting the machines. They are just machines. I read them over and over. I did not question why I liked them so much for a long time, but when I did I came to much the same conclusion as you did.

  6. Christy

    I’m so glad you love it too Jen! Its such a great show. The writing blows me away. And I find it to be a crazy good example of how sin works. It eats away at you. It effects not just your life but your family’s. And not only is your family effected but society. It grows and grows and it begins as a seed of pride. I’m really interested to see how the show resolves. Walt’s relationship with Jesse it the most important in the show and I’m afraid Jesse is going to suffer even more.

  7. Juliana

    Interesting. You might enjoy The Wire, then (available on DVD from netflix. We’ve been watching it and are in the middle of season 3 right now; there is definitely the element of truth and a moral landscape, much like you describe in Breaking Bad (although I’ve not seen it). The Wire is about drug dealing and cops in Baltimore, and it is about what you’d expect (sometimes the material can be a little bleak), but there is also some truth to it, in the way I think you’d probably appreciate too.

    It occurs to me that I probably seek out the same underlying themes in my own watching as well. (I’ve been digging some darkish Danish films this year–A Royal Affair and After the Wedding being two excellent picks).

    • tim s.

      The same friend who recommended Breaking Bad- which we absolutely love- recommended the Wire- but we couldn’t get past the excessive profanity..Breaking Bad is sanitized just enough since it airs on AMC- but the verbal assault of raw profanity is just too much- like many of the r-rated Hollywood comedies- it is just too painful to have to listen – especially all the blasphemous type of language that seems gratuitous in many cases- I think if the Wire had played on AMC I may have been able to get the message without being blown away by the assault of profanity.

      • Delena

        The profanity was kind of shocking to us, too, however we realized that to feel like you’re REALLY in the middle of Baltimore, it just worked. It would not have been as believeable had they censored it. Do you know that the girl who played “Snoop” on the show had her house raided?! Talk about taking a tv show a little too seriously. That’s how real “The Wire” seemed to me, though–like we were watching a documentary more than a fictional show. Props to the writers and directors because I think it’s still the BEST series we’ve seen. Breaking Bad comes in at #2. Downton Abbey is at #3. All other shows seem to just have ridiculous plotlines and horrible acting now.

  8. Elena

    Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, Dexter and Downton Abbey- best shows on television!

  9. Rachel

    I feel the same way about American Horror Story (the first season)! It has such a sneaky pro-life message! I’m not as eloquent as you so I had a really tricky time explaining it to a friend – without ruining the ending. Thanks for the validation. Even if Hollywood doesn’t intend to send a faith-filled message, sometimes the Holy Spirit does it on their behalf.

  10. Rhonda Ortiz

    I agree with you, Jen – I judge stories first by their moral universe, or lack thereof (and without expecting the protagonist(s) to be goody-two-shoes or the antagonist(s) to do the MWA-HA-HA – as you say).

    My second judgment is whether or not its particular content is good *for me*, given my own weaknesses and issues. I have to apply this even to classics and literary “must reads” – for example, Toni Morrison’s Beloved? Quit after chapter 4. Couldn’t do it – a powerful read, but powerful about things touching on my own issues, and reading it made me physically ill. I happen to know of people who’ve had something akin to a demonic experience reading Moby Dick – stories of friends who’ve chucked the book across the room and the like. (I found Moby Dick fascinating, myself, and never had the temptation to throw it, but I could see why people would.)

    Have you heard of Vigen Guroian’s Tending the Heart of Virtue? My husband read it recently and recommends it; I haven’t yet read it myself, but I guess it goes into some depth about evaluating children’s lit according to these guiding principles. Might be of interest, though I’m sure your To-Read pile is visible from space. 🙂

  11. Amelia

    I totally agree on your assessment….that shows which show sin w/o consequence and in a positive light are completely difference from shows which show sin and the terrible effects of it.

  12. TracyE

    Our faves are: Downton Abbey (hubs and mine) and Once Upon a Time (girls and I). A TV show has got to pull me down and hold me in otherwise, I’m out. We did watch Friday Night Lights for a while but some of the content just became too uncomfortable for Hubby to watch (morally speaking) and too realistic (family drama bringing up old scars) and so I opted out in deference to his feelings, tough to let Coach and Mrs. Taylor and Riggs go…..but it’s all good. Other than that, by the time I have reign over the TV….I prefer my bed; I’m more of a morning person to your, night owl, Jen.

  13. Ali

    There was a show a few years ago called Defying Gravity which was billed as ‘Grey’s Anatomy in space’ so that gives you a bit of an idea of the show’s content. It was very soapy, there was all sorts of infidelity, etc. on the show, but it had an incredibly strong pro-life message. I was very disappointed when it was cancelled after less than half a season.

  14. Amy

    I haven’t watched Breaking Bad, but I really agree with your observations in general and your comparison of Kite Runner, for example, and Sex and the City, which used to be one of my favorite shows (in my atheist days).

    I’m an avid reader and am open to reading lots of different types of books. My main “standard” or limit is that I won’t read books that glorify adultery (or cheating). Even in my non-religious days, I would turn off a movie (like The Bridges of Madison County) or put down a book if I realized it had that type of theme.

    I hope Netflix doesn’t take away your last show 🙂

  15. Leila

    I think this is a very clear explanation of something that is actually hard to express, so, well done!

    It’s not wrong to depict bad things in, say, a story — like Breaking Bad (which I watched the first episode of the other night, so, I’m behind!), or, my favorite example, Anna Karenina. It’s the duty of the artist to tell what he knows.

    The bad things have to be in a greater context and the viewer/reader has to somehow divine that the maker has a grip on the context — the big picture of right and wrong, or, as you put it, “the room.”

    One can’t impose one’s own preconceived ideas on how that connection will be made, artistically, although one can have preferences, of course, and enjoy a costume drama more than a gritty modern scene (although I despise Downton Abbey precisely because it panders and lets go of the big picture).

    It’s when the big picture is missing that I reject the effort and feel used.

  16. JenB

    My standards? Avoiding anything that says “Christian” or “Catholic” in it’s title. Seriously now, if it speaks the truth about the human condition, then it’s Christ-like already.

    And oh my sweet Jesus, I totally get your philosophy reference. I loved it. That was brill!

  17. cathieindiana

    I feel the same way about “Sons of Anarchy”. It’s an insanely violent show, emphasizing the darkest themes of humanity. As a pro-life Catholic, I too, have wrestled the conflict. But what I love about “SOA” is that the heroes of the show always try and do what is morally right, or at least what is morally right in their world. They will do *anything* to protect and defend their family. And the main hero, Jax, only wants to make his world a better place for his sons.

  18. Joy @ Caspara

    So well said, as always. I don’t watch Breaking Bad because I’m so friggin’ exhausted at the end of the day right now, all I can do is thank God for my comfortable bed before my eyelids fuse shut. And if I’m not that exhausted, I should probably be writing on my oft-neglected blog. I think it’s so important to keep the big picture in sight — because there are amazing stories told, even if they have “bad stuff” in them. I HATE when I recommend a movie or book or something, and someone says, “Oh, but the language!!”

    I was kind of floored the other day when a fellow homeschooling mom told me she doesn’t read/ let her kids read the Ramona books (yes, the ones by Beverly Cleary) because she doesn’t like the material in them. I tried to explain that I think it’s good to keep the big picture in mind and think about ultimately happens, not just the scenes you might have issues with, and that it’s a good way to expose your kids to the problems that might be outside your home (i.e., dads who smoke or struggle with other addictions) and discuss it in a safe environment. And at the same time, I was like, “You have a problem with RAMONA?!?! Come ON!!!!!!!” (between you and me) (not that I’m judging, of course) 😉

  19. Lisa

    I loved this post! Also, here’s a recent article that has a similar message: http://bustedhalo.com/features/the-light-and-dark-of-breaking-bad

    “Breaking Bad is a spiral into pitch-black depravity, a story of greed, pride, deceit, betrayal, violence, murder and callous disregard for human life. It is also possibly the most moral thing on television.”

  20. Rebecca Taylor

    Totally agree! Breaking Bad is my favorite show. A fantastic reminder of the wages of sin.

  21. Lisa-Jo @lisajobaker

    Dang you’re on a roll this week. I read this post and immediately emailed it to everyone I know. My brothers own a production company in South Africa and have won all kinds of awards for their film and TV shows and both are passionate believers who are just as passionate about telling stories that accurately tell truth about our fallen world. So not “Christian” stories per se – but stories that reflect the truth of the moral universe. And we have had MANY a long winded conversation over family lunches about this very topic. And man, you said it so great. So thank you. Just thank you.


  22. Karen Edmisten

    Breaking Bad is TV at its best. Achingly well done. True and painful in its depiction of sin.

    And I agree with Juliana about The Wire — exceedingly good. Watch all five seasons and then we’ll talk about Bubbles when I’m in Austin next summer. 🙂

    And, umm, someone not reading the Ramona books? I’m sputtering here. I couldn’t live without them.

  23. Natalie

    Great post. I haven’t watched Breaking Bad, but I can relate. A few years ago I watched The Sopranos from start to finish (thanks, Netflix) and I loved it. But then I would wonder, why do I adore this show? It’s so violent and these people are making terrible decisions. But it did such a great job of portraying how our human weaknesses can take even the best of us so very low.

  24. Calah

    I did not love Breaking Bad. I didn’t make it through more than the first 5 episodes, but it all rang horribly, horribly false to me. Theoretically, it’s a great show about everything you say above. Practically, it must have been written by someone who has never been addicted to meth and/or seen first-hand the consequences of long-term meth addiction. It’s a unique drug, like basically all the hard-core drugs. It causes unique effects on the brain. And everything portrayed (at least in the first few episodes) of Breaking Bad were like effects someone had researched thoroughly but still didn’t understand in the least.

    I’m totally, 1000% onboard with your entire post, btw. Breaking Bad just irritates the crap out of me. Everything you say is also true of, say, Supernatural.

  25. Julie

    I’ve never seen Breaking Bad, but I love this post. I’m very much with you on your standards for what art to consume. I implemented my own little “viewing policy” about ten years ago when I realized that I was watching way too much TV and getting very little out of it. I decided that I would only watch things that either (1) completely and utterly relaxed me and made me happy or (2) taught me something about what it means to be human. HGTV falls into the first camp for me. 😉 But there’s a surprisingly large variety that falls into the second. That said, my little “policy” also included the rule that I could only turn on the TV to watch something I specifically wanted to see, or in a set-aside “relaxing” time. I couldn’t just turn it on to kill time or avoid doing something else. Which means… I almost never turn on the TV these days. Now blog reading seems to be my go-to relaxing activity. (So, yeah, thanks for posting!)

  26. Mrs S

    Another unabashed Mad Men fan. So many Flannery O’Connor/Walker Percy moments. If you watch it just a few times I can see why it would seem awful. But as the characters develop you see that sexual “liberation” is empty & void; you see that what they ultimately long for is marriage & family.

  27. Monica Benninghoff

    I’ve stopped watching TV, which amazes me. I grew up with TV and it was pretty much the center of my married life each evening for decades… sitting in the living room watching what every other American family was watching. Then the shows got hijacked by political groups… shoving homosexual relationships at us at every turn, sex, cursing, and immoral behavior. The list goes on. I could feel the pressure to sway my opinion and let down my guard.

    My Catholic church started adult Bible study five years ago; these studies have opened a new world to me and an appreciation for my relationship with Jesus Christ. I don’t want to soil my soul with scenes and sounds designed to demoralize me. Hollywood has a great disdain for God, and it shows in their choice of programming. They have a disregard for what’s good and decent in the world. On a side note, I had heard the reviews of “50 Shades of Gray” … never had a desire to read it, but I was deeply affected by a critics’ comment about not being able to “unring the bell of prurient desire” … and that was the impetus I needed to turn off the TV crap coming into my home. I was allowing people of questionable character and intentions into MY home with evil or destructive story lines wrapped in glossy hollywood set designs, make-up and clothing. No more.

    I enjoy reading Catholic blogs, (even write one of my own occasionally) and reading all types of books and audiobooks, including the Bible for a few study programs and classics by St. Augustine, Peter Kreeft and Thomas Aquinas. We use the TV to re-watch favorite movies on DVD or Netflix occasionally. I can say that we no longer live our lives based on the TV schedule of commercials, news breaks and “must-see” TV shows. It’s a refreshing change!

  28. dave

    I am sorry to say I must disagree with you here.
    It all sounds a little too much like the ends (presenting a bit of a moral truth for the few who can discern it) justifying the means (bombarding the mind with so much violence and depravity it numbs).
    If viewing the human condition is what you need to “wind down” from the day with the kids, try tuning in to the news.

    • Kelsey

      I don’t think Jen said she watches it with her kids. While I agree with her assessment of the moral landscape of the show, it deals with some very mature content and is definitely not a good choice for young children.

      Watching the news doesn’t depict morality the way a TV show can because there’s no story. Someone did something terrible, the end. A few months later maybe we hear that there’s a trial, and a few weeks after that maybe there’s a conviction. In a well-constructed narrative, whether it’s literature, film, or TV, EVERY choice has consequences, and the viewer/reader experiences those consequences along with the characters.

    • Bryan

      I couldn’t disagree with you more, dave. I didn’t detect any “justifying” going on. It’s just a more detailed explanation as to why some shows that have objectionable content (if you’re excising it from its context) still are worth watching. You can’t just say “extreme violence is always bad to watch.” There’s a difference in something that glorifies and revels in it (such as, say, Natural Born Killers or even Pulp Fiction) and violence that either shows the corrosive effects of indulging in it (like Breaking Bad) or to show you what evil looks like (such as Schindler’s List).

      Similarly, sexual content is different in different contexts. Mad Men clearly shows that the playboy life and cheating on your spouse takes you down a dark path. No amount of conquests or the next new “perfect” woman can heal what is eating at Don on the inside. Neither does it make Roger or the other characters happy. They lose things that matter to them left and right. On the other hand, sloppy romance stuff like “Bridges over Madison County” or “Eat, Pray, Love” turn morality completely on its head and make such exploits part of ‘growth’ or ‘fulfillment.”

      I think you are vastly oversimplifying things.

    • Anyamommy

      I have to agree with you here. I wanted to see what all the talk was about so I watched the pilot episode. I found it to be very shallow, no real depth to the characters. Also, the relationship between the main character and his wife leaves quite a bit to be desired. In this pilot episode, they seemed to relate only sexually, and even that was devoid of emotion . For me- I don’t think I’m being a good steward of my time or mind- by filling it with this hopelessness and ugliness .
      Thanks Jen for keeping it real and getting us thinking . Always a good thing:)

    • Bo

      I’m sorry my friend, but Shakespeare, the first five books of the bible, and the Crucifixion scenes in the Gospels are just as violent (if not more so) than the action of Breaking Bad, so its not simply “ends justifying the means,” it is a matter of showing human fraility to understand the human condition.

      If your point is that watching a show that demonstrates these acts being committed is worse than reading the same acts, I could see your point more, but MacBeth nearly matches Walter White (the main character of Breaking Bad) in bodycount, is also in leauge with witchcraft, and is prehaps even more petty and nihilistic than Walt.

      Still, I expect every one of my children to read it someday, because they will not understand the full potential of humanity evil otherwise.

  29. Dana@DeathbyGreatWall

    Loved this post, Jen. My husband has questioned if it’s right for us to watch Breaking Bad and Mad Men. I really love both these shows because they feel authentic. We watch them on Netflix and sometimes I need a break because both are depressing in the “lostness” of the characters. My husband asked, “Is there anything redeeming about Breaking Bad?” I told him I thought it was one of the most clearly moral shows I’ve ever watched.

  30. KelleyAnnie @ Over the Threshold

    What a great post, Jen! This is exactly my thinking on why I view shows and movies that might be contrary to my moral code but I’ve never been able to articulate it so well. Many conservative individuals close themselves off so tightly from anything that contains any immorality and it makes it difficult for them to even understand souls that do not know Christ. How can we reach out to people whose brokenness we do not understand? Thank you–I will be sharing this!

  31. Jeanne G.

    This makes me feel better about watching Copper. It’s dirty, it’s gritty, it’s violent and explicit. But it really does show (in my opinion) that “the wages of sin is death.” And my husband and I always talk about how the characters could have done the right thing, changed for the better, or turned to God. It doesn’t make me want to be a worse person, that’s for sure. I see the idiot criminals (including the good guys) on the show, and it makes me want to be less like them!

  32. Lindy

    Love Breaking Bad. Also love Mad Men. It’s great art. (And what makes great art? It reveals Truth, and all that.)

    Didn’t one of the Archbold brothers talk about Breaking Bad vs. Mad Men awhile back? I think so.

    Oh, Jen, it’s always so fun to be on the same page as you!

  33. Kelly the Kitchen Kop

    So I have a couple questions for you all…

    I’ve always chosen reading over TV when I have any free time, which isn’t often. I know that many of you blog and also homeschool as I do, so I’m just wondering, how do you guys find time to watch TV? I need your tips!

    Also, say I was going to try watching one good show, and planning to go get the first season and starting there, which show should I choose?


    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      Great question, Kelly!

      In terms of time, the honest answer is that I stay up too late. I can never both read and watch TV on the same night, so I admit that my reading time has been suffering a bit since I got into Breaking Bad.

      If you’re in the mood for a comedy, I thought that 30 Rock was one of the most well done shows I’ve ever seen. I love Breaking Bad, obviously, and of course Downton Abbey. I also enjoyed the show Lie to Me, which is loosely based on a real guy who can read microexpressions in people’s faces. All of this stuff is on Netflix (or, at least was recently).

    • Lindy


      And 30 Rock, like Jennifer said, is terribly hilarious.

  34. Kathleen

    Unless something tempts me to commit sin (near occasion), it’s probably fine. There are exceptions to this, though. For example, I don’t watch porn, even though I don’t think it would “do anything” for me because in order to make it people had to do immoral things. I have much less of a problem with violence, because (unless you’re watching snuff films, in which case you have much bigger problems) the actors aren’t actually hurting anyone. Sex scenes, they’re actually getting naked, which makes me uncomfortable, although I have no issue with simple nudity. As far as standards for what I’ll watch? It has to be entertaining. It has to create realistic enough characters and situations that I care about what happens to them. I don’t mean that the situation can’t be fantastical, just that it has to make sense within the parameters of the world the writers created. And I want the dialogue to be sharp and witty, in jokes for long time viewers or fans of the genre get bonus points if they’re worked into the dialogue subtly. I also want the characters to be people I’d like to have a conversation with. They don’t have to be good people, but they do have to be interesting!

  35. John

    Hello. Your sentiments about what makes a good TV show mirror my sentiment about what makes a good blog… that’s why I follow your blog and those of the other Catholic Moms. Your room analogy makes perfect sense to me and is what I have found most helpful in this post… God Bless.

  36. LeighAnna

    Thank you so much for this post! I don’t watch Breaking Bad (or much television at all lately,) but I have been struggling to articulate succinctly why art that depicts immorality isn’t necessarily immoral in itself. Your phrase about being “truthful to the human moral landscape” really hits the nail on the head. Plus, the contrast with Eat Pray Love is a great clarification, and I love the room analogy!

  37. Amy

    I just watched the first two shows of Breaking Bad. You’re not the only one who recommended it. My dad and brother did too! After the first two shows, my husband and I were really disturbed by the violence, but I find myself thinking about the story line.. contemplating it somehow. I had resolved to not watch it anymore.. but find myself strangely wanting to see what happens next. This is a guy who tries to do something good in a bad way, the bad overtakes him, and now he ultimately becomes what he despises, but he does it because he THINKS he’s trying to accomplish some good. It’s the ultimate storyline of how sin destroys.. the snake in the garden.

  38. Leila@LittleCatholicBubble

    Oh, how my sons will love you for this! I am sending it to them straight away. They are Breaking Bad fanatics, and my oldest son is forever telling me that the show exists in the proper moral framework. I am sure that is true. I just couldn’t get past that bathtub scene in the second episode (was it?).

  39. Megan

    I’m wondering what y’all’s thoughts on “Orange is the New Black” would be? I’ve only watched a few episodes. It seems to ring of the truth, but the subject matter is also hard. It’s a Netflix original series.

    • syd

      I couldn’t get past the first few minutes of the first episode. An opening lesbian sex scene is not what I was looking for. I had heard good things about it on the radio, but it was a little too graphic for what I want to watch. Maybe I’ll try forwarding past it.

  40. Carla

    I love the room analogy! However, I MUST say that it is not enough to portray a downward spiral of bad decisions, sin, consequences and pain, no matter how brilliantly portrayed. I work in medicine and see those consequences every day. When I get home frazzled I do NOT want any more of it, I crave stories about redemption, inspiration, altruism, love, and just generally how to be better. The longer live, the more we really do know how to be bad.

    • samantha

      HI Carla !

      I’m also a healthcare worker and can relate to you 100%. Like I said in my other posts I will give this show a go but if I find it too disturbing I will not continue. Like you I deal with serious stuff everyday, some people are sick through no fault of their own but many are very ill as a direct consequence of a very sinful lifestyle and the outcome is not pretty.
      You should definitely check out kdramas because most of them deal with the subjects you outlined above.

  41. Bonnie

    I like to watch reality based crime shows like Cold Case Files and Cops. I tend to stay away from crime fiction (although I must say I was hooked on CSI in it’s early years when William Peterson played Gil Grissom, and The Sopranos – although the fragmentation of story lines annoyed me after a while). My standard is that I avoid anything that glamorizes immorality or justifies or glosses over wrongdoing, in whole or in part. For instance, I had to stop reading an anthology of Mark Twain’s writings because I found so much distasteful in it. I agree with you about shows like Sex and the City which portray a false moral world. I think they suggest to viewers that immoral choices can lead to happy outcomes and isn’t it a shame if someone believes that because of a show like that? What I enjoy about non-fiction crime shows is the depiction of the human condition in all its tragedy, and the reality of the actual consequences for bad behavior. Most fictional shows don’t do that, so rather than take a chance (because once I’ve seen something it sticks in my head. You can’t unring a bell.) I usually avoid them as a matter of course.

  42. elizabethe

    I love TV and I also like Breaking Bad for the same reason you do.

    My other cultural love is sci-fi fantasy novels/shows and I am really struggling with this right now because all of the “best” ones — the ones in the genres I like — have become self-consciously vehicles for a nihilistic or a specifically anti-Catholic/Christian view of human nature.

    And so I found that these are my four categories:

    If a universe is nihilistic — if there is no difference between good and evil — then it is something I won’t read/recommend no matter how enjoyable it is otherwise (I’m afraid Game of Thrones is starting to move into this category inextricably for me. I will probably continue to watch this, but I doubt if I will make an effort to share it with my children when they are old enough).

    If the book is definitely arguing for a world view that I think is wrong and wrong in a profound way that will lead to bad choices (anti-Catholic, anti-humanist), then I also won’t read it. This would be like the DaVinci Code, the Golden Compass, or even a whole host of uber-environmentalist/Gaiacentric shows.

    If the book only has the clothing or trappings of a worldview that is antithetical to mine (like it has magic or a different Creation story or a pantheon) but underneath continues to proclaim all of the truths that come from the correct understanding of it, then I will watch and recommend it, but I wouldn’t let my kids watch it or read it until they are old enough to understand how to untangle these different aspects. Harry Potter would fall into this category, as well as the show Once Upon a Time which has shaped itself into one of the most pro-life, pro-natural family shows I have ever seen on modern TV, even though some other little messages might be anti-organized religion. The models for this are Tolkein and C.S. Lewis.

    The final question is whether the show is merely voyeuristic about evil choices and actions or if it is examining them. I find this to be the difference between Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Mad Men, for me, since the first season, is really just voyeuristic and I’ve just sort of stopped watching it. There is a sense that Don’s (and others) bad choices are making his life bad, but it’s not examined in the same way as in Breaking Bad. It’s just one thing after another. The main reason to watch the show is to see the train wreck and all the fancy suits. Whereas Breaking Bad is really an examination of evil and good in the best of traditions. It’s always reminded me of MacBeth.

  43. Betsy

    I can’t watch shows like Breaking Bad because I never outgrew getting nightmares, but my sister and her husband love T.V. so much they have a great blog about it. Breaking Bad is one of the shows they write about. That’s their blog down below…

  44. syd

    Breaking Bad is one of the best written shows I have ever seen. I agree with Jen totally. It’s not one of those shows that’s violent just to be violent.

    Breaking Bad takes us by the hand and shows how a seemingly “ordinary” man keeps committing one more small crime, one more bigger crime, one more, one more,… all escalating in scale until it unravels his whole world and those close to him. It is an accurate portrayal of human sin and brokenness. That we cannot lean on our own understanding. That everyone is prone to sin and not everyone is ‘all bad’ or ‘all good.’ We are more complicated than that, and we cannot save ourselves.

    By the way, I only watched until the end of season 4. I felt that it ended perfectly there, and while I know there are more episodes after that, it was so perfect I still haven’t watched anymore.

    Breaking Bad and Battlestar Galactica (new version) = Epic TV.

    PS I see some have mentioned Mad Men. The decor and outfits are fun. However, I watched many episodes in a row of that show, and it was so depressing, I had to stop. I couldn’t take it anymore.

  45. Lisa

    I love “Mad Men”, and feel in awe at the bad choices made by the characters -there is a clear moral message that says “Misery is the fruit of this behavior.”

    I don’t like “Breaking Bad”, (although my husband loves it) mainly because I find watching it stressful, but I think it has that same realistic “consequences for actions” message.

    This was an exceptionally good post, and I loved the idea of nuns thinking the BB title was short for “Breaking Bad Habits”….well done.

  46. the other Becky

    Okay I have a question for all you tv lovers who really seem to get some good out of it. I spent way to many wasted hours in front of the tv set when I was younger to appreciate much about it now, but my husband does like some tv shows. He is not able to explain to me in a way that I can understand any good about some of the ones he likes, so I want to know if any of you have found good in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and if so can you explain it to me?

  47. Sharon

    Assuming meth dealers do not use good language, I will have to play this series on my bad-stuff filtering DVD player. It’s nice to get the storyline while getting to take out the details of a murder scene here and there, too.

    I absolutely agree with Lisa about the nuns and Breaking Bad Habits! Such a hilarious image!
    And your description of Christianity and the room is just awesome.

  48. Tammy

    I totally love this post of yours…I have fallen behind in my Breaking Bad watching but will eventually catch up. Im watching Mad Men starting from season 1.

    My only trouble is that I haven’t picked tv shows in so long, once they all leave the next I wont know what to do with a TV of my very own.

  49. Jessica

    James 3:11 – “Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water?”

    Friends, no matter what you are watching and reading – no matter what you are putting into your mind – just be sure that the water flowing from your lips and your heart remains clean.

    There is a great deal of wisdom in Jen’s post and in these comments. 🙂 God bless you all!

  50. Monica

    Anyone watch Homeland? I think that show is fascinating and I just binge-watched the whole first season. So many interesting moral questions and dilemmas in that show. And an interesting religious/conversion component as well.

  51. Gina

    ” . . . it made me a little nervous when a few upstanding Christian ladies said that they’d never heard of it but might check it out on my recommendation.”

    Oh my gosh, that sort of thing happens to me all the time. (Though, to be fair, I don’t think it’s happened with nuns yet. 🙂 ) So glad I’m not the only one!!

  52. Margaret Miller

    I have an advertising background and love seeing the creative process unfold behind the campaigns. Draper’s speech about the Kodak Carousel slide projector took my breath away. Yes, the characters make bad choices and suffer consequences, and perhaps shows like these are just a notch above soap operas, but they’re well written and entertaining. My two cents.

  53. Fernando

    At the beggining of the show, you see Walter White as a family man desperate to provide a decent life to his wife and son. So what i think it’s great about Breaking Bad is it remind us that evil people are people, and that the path to evil is slippery. It only takes a slip to one become bad, just as Walter White became “Heisenberg”. And we all should keep that in mind…

    • Jen

      I agree. I think one of the main truths the show demonstrates so shockingly clearly is that all of us have the potential for sin and evil. Walter is such an ordinary, decent man in the beginning…with some real faults and habitual sins: he doesn’t take much interest in developing and nurturing his students (see Jesse.) He broods over his wounded pride in being only a high school teacher while his former partner is becoming rich and influential. I think these things speak to a tendency towards selfishness and towards seeing everyone *else* as the problem. His grievances and choices are always justified in his eyes.

      As the show goes on, you can see how these exact same faults are what lead him to commit greater and greater sins, until he’s completely blinded to the reality of his moral situation. And isn’t that what sin does — blind us to ourselves and our condition?

      • Jen

        Meant to add: the thing that scares me, and should be scary to all of us, is how ordinary these habitual sins are that you first see in Walt! I mean, these are the things that, when you confess them in confession (if you’re like me), in the back of your mind you’re always kind of saying, “Yeah, but that’s really not that *bad*…” Yeah, I could care a little bit more about other people, yeah, I should probably get over my wounded pride.. But I’m not killing anyone!

        And eventually, Walter is. That’s the nature of sin. And the producers and writers of this show GET that, which just endlessly impresses me.

  54. Jen

    I especially like your writing about the false glammor of selfishness vs. simple love’s reward.Or as I say,” I hate it when writers set you up to root for the bad guys”.I do love it when writers reflect,as you write here,”the Truth about what is good and what is bad.Thanks for the review.

  55. Jeanmarie

    Hi, I’m new to this site, maybe my second time here. I followed a link from Kelly the Kitchen Kop. I’ve found this discussion fascinating, though I’m neither Catholic nor Christian (anymore).

    We used to watch Breaking Bad but sort of lost interest after 3-4 seasons. I’ve never seen Mad Men but have considered checking it out.

    I am puzzled, though, by a couple of negative references to Eat, Pray, Love. I read the book and loved it, and enjoyed the movie as eye candy. I don’t think “selfishness” was in any way a theme of this story. Elizabeth Gilbert wrote incessantly about her yearning to connect with God, and her pilgrimage to India to immerse herself in prayer and meditation was all about that. A lot of the depth was missing from the movie version, but I still don’t see how it supports a selfish or immoral worldview. I’m not trying to be antagonistic here, I truly am surprised at that reaction to it. I suppose some people misunderstand what meditation is about. It’s not about introspection and brooding about oneself, it’s about letting go of obsessive thoughts and discovering peace from within, many would say through connection with God. Many people find it an important part of their spiritual journey.
    What am I missing?
    Thanks for the discussion!

  56. Jen

    This is so articulate! I was trying to figure out why I like watching “Sons of Anarchy” with my husband and it is for the same reasons. It is very realistic and they experience terrible outcomes for their life choices. Plus the main character is always struggling internally to try and make a new and better life for himself but is so gripped by his violent motorcycle gang life.

    I agree that it is shows that glorify sin without consequences that can be the most destructive. Even the Bible has stories of people doing terrible things but it shows the bad outcomes too.

  57. Becky

    I know my reply won’t be popular but I must say it. While I see your point, seeing truth portrayed as truth and evil portrayed as evil certainly can lead our hearts and minds to God. However this show is NOT 100% truth but rather a mixture of truth and lies which is even more dangerous than obvious lies. You mention CS Lewis but you ought to keep another one of his books in mind “The Screw tape Letters”. Satan is more effective at deceiving us with partial truths. While the main character begins to fall apart as he commits evil acts one of the other prominent characters (Gus) appears to be good and ordered despite how terrible he actually is.
    Also watching all the violence and immorality even if it is portrayed as evil desensitizes our soul. Last and definitely worst, I think the frequent blaspheming alone couldn’t justify any good that may come from this series. Imagine if someone came into your house and insulted your family. You would be furious and kick them out. When someone on TV insults our Lord we should have an even stronger reaction because we ought to love Him above all else. How can we sit back and allow someone to insult our most beloved Lord Jesus Christ and then justify it?

  58. Ann

    I love Breaking Bad for all the reasons you cite and am a total apologist for the show. Evil is ugly and this show doesn’t sugar-coat a thing unlike so many of today’s feel-good shows, particularly chick-flicks, which, in my opinion are nothing more than female porn. There you have it!

  59. Tracy G.

    Jen – Your post finally convinced me to start watching this show. My husband has been wanting to re-watch it with me (he’s seen it twice) for a while now, so we started this week and it’s amazing. Can’t say I “enjoy” it (that doesn’t seem like the right word) but it’s an excellent story with great characters and acting. I’ve burned through five episodes in three days – I think I’m addicted 🙂

  60. Jenna@CallHerHappy

    Spot the frack on.

    I never knew I felt this way until you wrote this. Thanks 🙂

  61. Jen

    Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes. I love the show, even when I can hardly bring myself to watch, or when I close my laptop vowing that I really, honestly, cannot bear the tension anymore…only to come back the next day for another episode (or three).

    I explain it to my non-BB friends by saying, “It’s the best morality play I’ve ever seen, and it’s pure genius–philosophically, psychologically, spiritually, literarily, and artistically.” There are so many subtle truths buried in it under the big, over-arching theme of sin and suffering, I often feel like I could dissect it with friends for hours!

  62. Mollie

    I tried to watch it over the past few days. I don’t mind the subject matter, the violence, the murder, the drugs–but I just can’t stand gratuitous sex scenes. I only made it through the first 2.5 episodes of Season 1 and there were two gratuitous sex scenes. Can’t watch it anymore.

  63. Amy

    Although I converted to Catholicism 10 years ago, it wasn’t until almost 3 years ago that I had a deeper conversion experience. I happened to be watching a Mother Angelica rerun on EWTN and she made the comment, “You can’t walk in the light, and also be in darkness.” Referring to what we surround our self with (books, tv, music, movies). At that moment I realized God was calling me to stop surrounding myself with immoral tv and music. I had loved shows like Grey’s Anatomy and listened to pop culture music. I also realized in that moment how I had been shaped by a culture of Christians accepting that you could be both a believer and still take part in secular entertainment. I decided to give it all up and I can’t tell you the impact it has had in my life and my children’s. The rule I set for myself is does this book, movie, tv show, or song glorify evil? If it does I don’t let myself watch it or listen to it.

Connect With Me On Social Media or Explore My Site



The "THIS IS JEN" podcast is on Facebook & all podcast apps


- Subscribe on iTunes or Google Play (audio)

- Get weekly bonus episodes on Patreon

- Sign up for my email list to be the first
to know about new tour dates