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Breaking Bad: The Best Show You Might Not Be Watching

April 22, 2009

I have been captivated by Breaking Bad since its premiere episode.  It debuted in 2008 prior to the writer’s strike and had a very short 7 episode season. Miraculously, it survived the writer’s strike, and season two is better than ever.  I ‘d go out on a limb and say it is consistently the best show I’ve ever seen on television.  I will almost go so far as to guarantee that if you have not watched it and you rent season one, you will be completely, utterly addicted.  When you are looking for shows to watch during the dry dog days of summer, take the plunge into this cool series.

The show centers around Walter White (played by Brian Cranston).  There are not enough words to describe what a fantastic job he does on this show. More on that later. Walter  is a high school chemistry teacher who finds out he has terminal cancer and very little time left to live.  His meager teaching salary does not provide enough money to cover costly treatments, let alone leave any money for his family after he is gone.

His wife is pregnant with a surprise baby.  His teenaged son has cerebral palsy. Out of desperation, he decides to put his chemistry skills to dubious use, cooking meth to sell for quick, hard cash. He teams up with a former student he suspects knows how to deal drugs, and they form a symbiotic, unlikely partnership.

Cranston is truly mesmerizing as Walter.  He deservedly won an Emmy for this role last year. He  is absolutely believable as a man who thought this would be an easy way to earn quick money, but finds out immediately that he was very, very wrong and in way over his head.

The show does not flinch from the realities of drug trafficking and the underworld of dealing drugs.  It portrays meth-heads living in squalor, exposing their children to danger, filth and neglect.  It’s ugly, gritty  and unpredictable, yet wholly realistic. Even at its most ludicrous (tortoise carrying a special passenger, anyone) it is more believable than anything out there.  It is notable that Breaking Bad is produced by Vince Gilligan, previously from  The X-Files.

Part of what makes Cranston’s performance so remarkable is that he absolutely garners our sympathy no matter how low his character stoops.  I have seen him do some awful things, including using an uber-disgusting body disposal method only a chemistry teacher could dream up, and I still feel sorry for him. His marriage is crumbling, he is putting his loved ones in danger, and he is  squandering what little time he has left hanging out with low life scum, yet you still ache for this man who is doing all the wrong things for all the right reasons.  You really just want him  to tell his wife  about the sacrifices he is making for the future of his family, so she won’t think he is sneaking around cheating on her.  Yes, he’s nefarious, but he would never have an affair, because that would be wrong.

I used to think this was 100% the Brian Cranston show, but lately some of the other characters have really taken over the reins, in particular the character of Jesse (played by Aaron Paul).  Jesse is a one of those white suburban boys who thinks he is super bad-ass because he wears his pants around his knees and wears skull t shirts ( how edgy).  After being successful in the first few weeks of their dealing, he develops an inflated ego and abruptly gets a wake up call when everything does not go as planned.  He is also starting to show chips in his facade of armor, and a recent episode arc that involved a child of some meth heads was particularly telling of his vulnerabilities.

The supporting cast is fantastic.  A few standouts include Anna Gunn, who plays his very pregnant and confused wife, and Hank Schrader who plays Walt’s cocky DEA agent brother in-law.

The pace is more of a potboiler, lots of suspense, but no car chases or high voltage jolts.  This is the only show that I have ever seen that after every single episode I think “Wow”.  I have never seen a bad episode.

If you have not seen this show yet, rent it immediately.  Breaking Bad airs on sundays evenings on AMC ( the network who picked up the baton that HBO dropped a few years ago when it comes to original programming).

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