Bad to the bone: Just what is the addictive appeal of 'Breaking Bad'?

As the final series is about to air Hugh Montgomery examines an unlikely candidate for mass adulation

They're certainly no superheroes. But a couple of crystal meth dealers are currently inspiring as much fanboy devotion as any Lycra-clad world-saver. They, for the uninitiated, are Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, the morally murky protagonists of US TV hit Breaking Bad, which starts its concluding run of eight episodes next month.

Produced by cable network AMC, it seemed an unlikely candidate for mass adulation. The tale of White, a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher cooking up drugs as way to secure his family's future, and assisted by a feckless ex-pupil (Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul), it appeared, at first, to be a small-scale domestic drama with a nasty twist. But just as the pair have risen through the ranks of the underworld over five seasons, so Vince Gilligan's show has acquired ever more epic resonance. The New Yorker called it a "strange kind of must-watch: a show you dread and crave at once"; recently, it picked up 13 Emmy nominations, the most in its history.

Viewers have grown just as zealous in their support. Earlier this month, the cast and crew appeared in a panel discussion at San Diego's Comic-Con in what was one of the geek convention's most talked-about events, despite it being outside its sci-fi/fantasy remit. In a brilliant self-reflexive touch, Bryan Cranston wandered among the crowds wearing a rubber mask of White, the character he plays, to avoid being mobbed.

Viewing parties are being planned across the US for the series premiere on 11 August, but British fans need not worry about missing out as online streaming service Netflix will make each episode available the day after its American broadcast.

As excitement builds for the show's return, so fans are preparing to mourn its passing: appropriately, the final episode, airing in the US on 29 September, will be marked by a screening at Hollywood Forever cemetery in Los Angeles. And for junkies struggling to go cold turkey, there's the Breaking Bad bus tour in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the show is set and filmed.

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