If there’s one thing you can rely on when it comes to gen Z, it’s that we love our nostalgia—especially when it comes to TV. So many of our favourite shows are ones that ended years ago, but which have found their own ongoing life on social media, kept afloat by the ability streaming services give us to dive back into our old faves at the click of a button.
Among gen Z’s favourites, Breaking Bad surely ranks near the top. For some of us (this writer included), the dramatic story of Walter White was our first taste of what proper adult storytelling could be. Sure, maybe some of the nuances of the show’s complex moral dilemmas might have passed over our heads, but even a teenager could enjoy the sheer variety of iconic lines of dialogue and dramatic moments Breaking Bad offered.
It’s become a huge source of nostalgia for the chronically online generation, whether you watched it all as it went down, or if you binged the whole series in all the years since. Heisenberg, Los Pollos Hermanos, the roof pizza: it’s all stayed within our pop culture, as memorable now as it was a decade ago. People don’t tend to just watch Breaking Bad—they want to revisit it again and again.
One simple way to do that is to sit down and stream the whole series again on Netflix, which would take about two and a half days of your time in total. Easy enough, but what if you took it just a little bit slower?
One such option is a Twitter bot account called @breaking_frames, which runs through the entire series of Breaking Bad literally one second per tweet, ten tweets per hour. The project, created by a teenage coder from Australia going by the handle @pigeonburger began in the summer of 2021, and is set to finish this July, meaning the 62 episodes of Breaking Bad will have taken two whole years to play out, frame by frame.
The bot has turned the events we’re all familiar with into a weirdly fascinating experiment in ultra-slow motion. Hours on the account can go by without anything significant happening. Moments even a slow-burning show like Breaking Bad usually breezes by, like establishing shots at the start of scenes or background dialogue from extras, are caught out and featured. If you’ve ever wondered who all those people are in the rapidly flashing end credits, there’s absolutely no chance of missing them at one frame per second.
What has really given Breaking Frames its minor social media fame (with 174,000 followers and counting), though, is the fun community it’s built up, almost by accident. Breaking Bad was famous for its wild twists and turns, but unless you’ve found a really large rock to hide under, those unpredictable moments are common knowledge now.
Like so many other things that are popular among gen Z, the iconic series has been mixed and remixed again into memes and reaction GIFs that have acquired a life of their own. One of the most famous images from the show—it’s even featured as Breaking Frames’ display photo—comes from a moment that’s shocking and surprising in context, but that has since then been mostly used as a funny meme by fans.
When any iconic moment from Breaking Bad shows up on Breaking Frames, it’s met by a cheering audience who treats it like their favourite team scoring a goal. The entire thing is very reflective of youth culture’s quintessential brand of ironic, self-referential humour, but there’s something sincere to the appreciation that fans bring to the account, too, beyond the jokes.
The anticipation that the bot’s slow progress builds up is part of the fun. There’s a weird reward in having been patient through all the frame-by-frame anticipation that you could never get from just searching for a specific scene from the show on YouTube.
For all the opportunities for jokes and irony it offers, the main appeal of the bot is the way it’s served as a reminder for a whole generation of fans about why they loved Breaking Bad in the first place. After a year of bad press for Twitter, it’s a reminder that there’s a reason we’re still hopelessly addicted to it.
Unfortunately, few things stay pure on Elon Musk’s platform these days, and even simple bot accounts are running into newly created problems. Automated accounts like Breaking Frames are reliant on access to Twitter’s application programming interface (API), a software intermediary that allows users to interact with the website’s code.
In the regular days, API access was free, but one of the Tesla CEO’s many attempts to milk more cash out of Twitter has been the introduction of “paid tiers,” which have forced users like the coder behind Breaking Frames to shell out $100 a month for features that were once open to all. The account is running smoothly at the moment only because its creator set up a GoFundMe page, which generated over £700 in income from fans. Inspiring in one way, depressing in another.
At the time of writing, the bot is inching through the tenth episode of Breaking Bad’s final season, with just five episodes to go afterwards. It seems like an ending, but the fun of the series’ universe is how it kept going so successfully, with six seasons of the acclaimed prequel spinoff Better Call Saul and the epilogue movie El Camino having been released since 2013. There’s plenty more content to keep this strange little Twitter community alive for years more—but that’s only if Musk’s whims allow it to keep existing.
If you’ve ever been a fan of a TV series, it’s a familiar experience: enjoyment of the show, mixed with the worry that the executives up above might swoop down and cancel it at any moment. Let’s hope this particular show keeps running from that axe for as long as possible.