Cashing in on a television triumph . . .
The Breaking Bad series has created a bizarre and controversial tourism boom in Albuquerque
ASHLIE and her husband are in the middle of a 4000km drive from Pittsburgh to their long- awaited honeymoon in California. ‘‘ We both agreed, though,’’ she tells me, ‘‘that we have to stop off in Albuquerque for some meth.’’
She is wearing a T-shirt that shouts ‘‘Yo Bitch!’’ and waving her little bag of blue crystals as though they were nothing but novelty sweets.
Her husband, also holding a bag, is trying on a familiar-looking black hat and posing moodily for pictures. ‘‘I’m totally Heisenberg!’’ he says, laughing. Their dealer, the legendary Candy Lady, just looks on and smiles.
This is a mere snapshot of a tourism industry constructed around Breaking Bad, the AMC phenomenon in which mild-mannered chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) turns his expertise to producing crystal meth after a cancer diagnosis leaves him fearing for the financial future of his family.
It has evolved into one of the most engrossingly layered character studies put to screen, with Walt’s five-season arc charting his fall from the likable anti-hero into the monstrous depths of his villainous alter-ego, Heisenberg. Its writing is masterful, its performances are iconic and its setting of Albuquerque, New Mexico, has become a character in its own right, even if, understandably, the city didn’t like to acknowledge it. ‘‘At first we thought it made us look grim and would put people off,’’ explains Natalie Kohl, a representative of the local tourist board. ‘‘I mean, you know, it was still a show about drugs.’’
You can see her point, although the subject matter doesn’t consciously define the city as it did with, say, The Wire’s depiction of Baltimore as riddled with crack. If anything, the setting is complimentary, creator Vince Gilligan picking Albuquerque over the original setting of California purely because of its striking sense of depth.
It’s a city that feels at once intimidatingly grand and comfortingly communal, where small towns find themselves neighbouring seas of desert and the looming shadows of mountainous teeth.
As the show gradually eased into popularity, around season three, the