Cash­ing in on a tele­vi­sion tri­umph . . .

The Break­ing Bad se­ries has cre­ated a bizarre and con­tro­ver­sial tourism boom in Al­bu­querque

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence -

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

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