Is This The Next 'Breaking Bad'?

Now that Breaking Bad's series finale has aired, there's a palpable sense of loss. What do we do now? How do we live? How do we breathe? What can possibly obsess over like a pack of rabid wolves who subsist solely on the dramatic journeys of others? Read a book? Alright. Watch a great dramatic film? Sure, okay. But where is the next series that will engage, enrage, and envelop us for seasons upon seasons until we all erupt in a fever of televisual ecstasy (or anguish, depending on your point of view)? When are we going to feel Gilliganian levels of fervor once more? The answer might just be on Netflix.

First, we must unpack the idea that there will be a "next Breaking Bad." Before Vince Gilligan tied us all to our televisions, groping desperately for the next piece of Walter White's fate, there was another. While Breaking Bad was just ramping up, the question at hand was: which new television series could possibly engage us as a group the way J.J. Abrams sci-fi saga LOST did?

While networks were scrambling to make apocalyptic dramas that balanced fate, the nature of evil, and unthinkable sci-fi premises, clinging to audiences who were hungering for their next obsession, nothing seemed to stick. Then suddenly, at the start of Breaking Bad's fourth season, we had our new LOST.

Sure, they both involve fateful plane crashes and people have argued the final shots of each series were eerily similar, but the kindred elements go deeper than that. Breaking Bad was rooted in the rusty, arid reality of Albuquerque, New Mexico, far away from the fantastical happenings and theological debates we craved when LOST was still working its way through a seasons-long string of mysteries.

In no way, shape, or form are LOST and Breaking Bad of the same genre. They are worlds apart when it comes to plot. Their impact on fans and culture in general, however, are similar. Breaking Bad was, for all intents and purposes, the new LOST.

And when the crown was passed from Abrams' work to Gilligan's, the method of experiencing the show was not grandfathered in. While our voracious need for consumption stayed the same, the way in which we, as a group, devoured Breaking Bad entered new territory. Many die hard fans of the AMC series didn't even discover Walter White until the first three seasons had made their way to Netflix, accounting for the way in which ratings for Breaking Bad have grown exponentially since the series' debut.

Yet, fans who started late had just as much emotion invested in Sunday's finale as those who'd watched from the beginning, which is why the final episode was so popular it actually garnered more viewers than the prime time NFL game. LOST fans had to have been avid watchers from the beginning, aided by Tivo and summer replays should an occasion ever arise that forced them to miss an episode's initial airing.

If you fell behind, you were, well, lost. With Breaking Bad, all roads and all timelines led to that finale, accounting for the avalanche of lists, theories, think-pieces, and contrarian click bait that flooded the Internet the month before Walter White met his end. Much like LOST in its final hours, Breaking Bad was everything, but it also ushered in the next iteration of television obsession and now that it's over, the process is due to evolve yet again.

Enter Netflix's already wildly popular and critically-acclaimed series House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black. Kevin Spacey's nine-time Emmy nominated series takes us through the Washington D.C. underbelly, where we're made privy to the actual democratic process: lying, cheating, and scheming for the greater good. We follow Spacey's Francis Underwood into the realms of investigative reporting, elections, voting in Congress, and every other facet of turning bills into laws and well-educated frat boys into leaders of the free world. It's riveting, enthralling, and like the name suggests, a model that can only hold for so long.

Orange Is the New Black is a delicious prospect as the potential successor to Breaking Bad, because for once, it would mean the series that captures America is one about a woman's journey. LOST had Jack and Breaking Bad was all about Walt, isn't it time that the show that takes us all for a ride is one that focuses on a woman? And a woman who's not the textbook definition of a "strong woman character who's good enough so stop complaining, please."

Piper Chapman is a deeply complicated, privileged woman thrust into the cruel, exacting world of a women's prison. She's not easy to root for, though like Walter White, she enters the series as a victim of terrible circumstances. By the end of the series' first season she's become the person she truly is deep down, leaning further towards anti-hero than victim. Piper's compelling journey and the journeys of her fellow, robustly-written inmates makes OITNB a prime candidate to be the next Breaking Bad.

But should OITNB or House of Cards take the title, the entire obsession process will shift greatly once more. When Breaking Bad overtook LOST, we jumped from network to cable, and now we're looking at jump from cable to web content — a sentence that still feels a bit uneasy. Like AMC once was when Breaking Bad and Mad Men were still newborn series, Netflix is quickly earning clout among other providers of excellent drama — just look at the fact that it won the first big Emmy for a web series ever, thanks to David Fincher's directing award, not to mention the eight other nominations the series nabbed in 2013. The times, they are a-changing and Netflix is a-leading that change.

Look, I'm not going to put any actual money down on House of Cards or Orange Is the New Black. If we learned anything the last time around, it's that definitively declaring a series the next culture-consuming obsession is a surefire way to ensure that it doesn't take the title. But, the way in which our methods of obsession and discussion about that obsession (on social media and among our actual, real-life friends as well) has evolved, it only makes sense that it's ramping up to evolve again.

Lucky for Netflix, they're holding some damn good cards.

Images: Netflix (2), ABC, AMC