Sunday, January 20, 2008

Breaking Bad: The Dragon's New Favorite Show

So, we have cable now, in our new house, and even before the writer's strike hit, I was underwhelmed with plethora options it offered me. Aside from Food Network offerings, there wasn't much that I felt I couldn't get on the internet or DVD.
But the ads for Breaking Bad on AMC definitely intrigued me. The idea of a drama based around a High School Chemistry teacher going to the dark side and cooking meth was just twisted enough to grab me. So I'd been anxiously awaiting the premiere.
Now that I've seen it, I've got to say that it exceeded my expectations, unlike the nearest thing to it, HBO's Weeds, which while it might be challenging and edgy to your average suburban viewer, was just kinda lame to this road-house dwelling reptilian. But Breaking Bad, at least the first episode, is smart and understated, adult drama, in the best definition of the term. There is adult language, but it is realistic, not incorporated for shock value; sexual content, but it moves the plot and character development, and is anything but sensationalistic or lurid; and adult situations, which are just that, adult, meaning complex and lost in shades of gray.
I'd be surprised by how much I like this series, if I hadn't watched the credits closely. Vince Gilligan who was behind some of my favorite X-Files episodes, as well as being the executive producer on The Lone Gunmen, is the executive producer, writer, and director of the series. Add to that the presence of Bryan Cranston, who I first remember putting in a craftsman like performance in an episode of the X-Files, and who later did a bang up job as the dad on Malcolm in the Middle, and you have the recipe for something special.
And it is special. Even before Walt White (what a great name, bringing up images of Disneyesque WASPness) "breaks bad", he portrays a realistic image of the besieged modern father figure. Neither the typical TV bumbling father, nor a stoic patriarch of either the malevolent or benevolent variety, he is simply an average joe family man, trying to make it in an indifferent world. Early in the premiere episode he is described by his DEA agent brother-in-law as looking like "Keith Richards with a glass of warm milk," when he is holding the former's service weapon.
I don't want to give too much of the story line away, because thankfully the plot is very driven by character development. But I do feel safe in giving you some details about Walt White, before he breaks bad.
There is a scene, early on, where Mr. White is addressing a High School Chemistry class, and he says, "Chemistry is the study of change... that's all of life," and as he speaks of chemistry, life, growth, decay, and transformation, he sounds like more of an alchemist than a scientist. And the Dragon, who has a soft spot for alchemists, was halfway sold on the character.
Later, when his teen-aged handicapped son is being mocked from sidelines while trying on jeans, and he... um... stands up for him... Well let's just say that was the point at which I was hooked.

Really, I don't wanna say too much more, other than you should check out Breaking Bad. It's on AMC Sundays @ 10pm EST. It's also available on iTunes, and (at least my cable company says) as a free on-demand selection, so you should still be able to catch the premiere. In the wasteland that is TV during the writer's strike, Breaking Bad, is a genuine draft clean pure water.

As Pinkman says to White, I'd say to Gilligan and Cranston:
"This is glass-grade... you're a damn artist!"

(Just as an aside, methamphetamines are potentially very dangerous, much study needs to be done on their effects, before I'd recommend their usage by anyone, particularly children.)


Bob Andelman said...

You might enjoy this audio interview (and transcription) with Anna Gunn, co-star of “Breaking Bad” and “Deadwood.”

Anonymous said...

This show has exceeded my expectations in every way. Cranston is great. That final scene with Tuco, and the explosion, was effing fantastic - it gave me the same feeling that I got in my gut, as a little kid, watching Rocky's fist make contact with Apollo Creed's face for the very first time. What a great show - the only weak episode, was the one prior to this. And, the episode was only "weak", realtive to the other 5 or 6 episodes. So far, there really hasnt been a "weak" episode. I can't wait for Sunday Night, regardless of what happens next, or whether or not the series has come to an end - it's a hit !