Last week I watched all of Breaking Bad's first 3 seasons on Netflix streaming. After watching so many episodes in a row, I couldn't help but notice that no one uses smartphones on the show. All the characters use flip phones.
I tried to figure out why this was the case. I supposed since most of Breaking Bad's characters are involved in the drug trade that they prefer disposable, untraceable prepaid phones (at least that's how they always explain the bad guys getting away on Law & Order). I also thought the directors might like flip phones better because they're more dramatic. You have to open and close them. In a few different spots in the series, characters end phone calls by snapping their phones in half and throwing them to the ground. It would seem difficult to achieve the same thing with an iphone. Not to mention that using flip phones instead of smartphones probably saves a little money. I remember noticing the first time I watched the show that Skyler was using the same phone I owned; a model I bought from Tracfone for $14.
Then I realized what I'm pretty sure is the reason.
Breaking Bad's first episode aired in January 2008. We are regularly reminded - including Sunday night's episode "Salud," via Walt Jr. - that only about a year has passed in the show. Right now, in the world of Walter White and his evil head, it's only 2009. Meanwhile, in the real world, 2011 is growing dark and almost 4 years have passed.
Breaking Bad doesn't have smartphones because it's a period piece.
The makers of Breaking Bad shooed all iphones, Droids, and Blackberrys from their edgy, groundbreaking series in order preserve the illusion they created. Sure, those phones were around in 2008, but they hadn't been absorbed yet so fully (somehow by an American populace that just kept getting less able to afford them). When we watch, they want us to really believe we're right there in that distant, memorialized time. They want us to forget our worries here in 2011 and let their tireless recreation of the ancient 2009 provide us with temporary escape.
They don't shove it in our faces. They're not constantly jumping up and down, yelling "Look! It's 2009! Really! People still like the president! Charlie Sheen still has a job! Michael Jackson and David Carradine are still alive! Possibly! Depending on the month!" The Breaking Bad creative team works tirelessly simply to create an historically accurate background we don't even notice, but that would jar us from our illusions if it weren't there.
Bravo, Breaking Bad. Bravo.