Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"Breaking Bad" -- F***ing Great...

I loved Breaking Bad, AMC's new hour-long drama which premiered on Sunday night. It was touching, exciting, heroic, depressing, melancholy, hilarious, maddening and a whole slew of other adjectives you'd care to throw at it. The preem flung you headlong into the action from the very first moment -- a pair of pants floats dreamily down to earth, then a frantic escape sequence begins, with a huge RV careening through the desert. At the wheel, an underwear-clad man in a gas mask. You've just met Walter White, normally mind-mannered high school chemistry teacher, a totally decent guy who's just taken his life in a daringly different direction--he's making crystal meth these days. And he's really good at it.

You'll be hooked on Breaking Bad from those first moments, thanks to the wonderfully nuanced performance of Bryan Cranston as Walter. He's amazing, playing the decent everyman with a dignity that's heartbreaking at times, as the world seems to almost mock him for his brainpower and his dedication to his profession. His gung-ho DEA agent brother-in-law (Dean Norris) tells him "You've got a brain the size of Wisconsin, but we'll forgive you for that," partly a joke but also there's a bit of the bully in there, especially as he later kids Walter for being uncomfortable around firearms. The kids in his class sit dumbly as he tries to express the magic of science and chemistry to them (a great scene you can check out on the BB flash site), and there's a cabal of snotty rich kids who are 1.) insolent in class and 2.) amused to discover that Walter has a second job at the local car wash to make ends meet. It's pretty brutal to watch, and oh, I hope they get their comeuppance sometime (but probably not, just like in real life.) The daily assaults on smart people who care passionately about something are a particular bug of mine, and I've seldom seen the frustration and unfairness resulting from that peculiar but common human sport better portrayed than here. It's pretty devasting to watch. Simply excellent.

Walter has a smart, practical and pregnant wife, played by Anna Gunn (Deadwood), and a teenage son with cerebral palsy, played by actor RJ Mitte who really has CP. Walter has also just found that he has inoperable lung cancer, and keeps his diagnosis a secret from his family. It's also the reason he ventures into the illegal drug manufacturing business, titilatted by his brother-in-law's admission that a recent 700K dollar bust was common in the meth-making world. For a high school teacher with a pregnant wife, a son with special challenges, a zero-hope health future, and a detailed knowledge of chemistry, the previously unthinkable becomes a perfectly logical solution to the problem of providing for his family after he's gone.

He partners with former loser student Jesse, winningly played by Aaron Paul, whom Walter sees escaping from a window when he goes on a DEA ride-along. Walter tracks him down, steadfastly threatens to turn him in unless Jesse lets him in on his operation, and thus their business is born. It's going to be a fascinating relationship to see develop throughout the series, and this unlikely pair have much to give each other. Walter's crystal meth is superior, of course, the best quality Jesse's ever seen, but when they go to sell it to Jesse's former associates, the trouble begins. By the end of the first episode there's a body in the RV and Walter has discovered heretofore hidden depths of courage, hostility and bravado in himself, and you'll love him for it. (Great, great scene in a clothing store where teen morons make fun of Walter's son as he tries on some jeans.)

Breaking Bad looks like it's going to be one of the great series of this year, and congratulations to AMC for bringing it to us. Creator Vince Gilligan (The X Files) has fashioned an entertaining and very human adventure with a terribly likeable protagonist in Walter White, and found a cast perfectly suited to bring his characters alive. Gosh, I think I really love this show!

Be sure to explore AMC's excellent website for Breaking Bad, filled with oodles of video, a fascinating zen-like flash site that will draw you in, and lots of background info including an excellent and detailed episode recap. The premiere episode airs again on this Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, with a new episode on Sunday at 10pm. My only beef with the show is the fact that the truly germane and expertly peppered profanity is bleeped out, even in the closed captions. We need to hear Walter say fuck, we really do. Perhaps AMC could run one play, extra-late-night, of the unexpurgated version? I think America could handle it. Also, replays, at least on Sunday night, had commercials, though the initial play did not. Hope this keeps up and so be sure to catch the first play if you can.


Jeri said...

Well said Lisa. I too watched Breaking Bad. While I normally don't like movies or TV shows that show the end first and then plod back in time to 3 weeks prior such as this show did and show you everything that led up to the end that you have just seen--this was well worth the wait.
By the time I got to the end that I had already seen I had almost forgotten that I had seen it already as I was intrigued by the characters and the story development which you have so well describe in your comments.
I loved the opening with the pants flying through the air and the RV going down some desert dirt road. A man standing on a road in his underwear, a loosely buttoned shirt pointing a gun always leaves me wondering what might come next.

Very, very good show. However I'm wondering why suddenly doing bad things--such as making meth and selling it to people which is not such a good thing--seems alright.

It's like Dexter -- he's a detective doing good things -- but also a serial killer. But because he kills bad people he is more of a good guy and it's okay. Dexter has his problems which he is trying to resolve.

Now we have our high school science teacher who has to earn extra money as a car wash attendant and deal with arrogant students. Suddenly, like Dexter, it seems okay to for him to have a meth lab with a former student.

I like this show. It's appealing. I think in some ways we would all like to make a little more money and if it is bad how we resort to making the money but somehow the end results in good or helping someone, such as his family, then where exactly do you draw the line. Good show. Very good show.

Jane said...

This has got to be repeated about a million times on AMC, right? I missed the premier. Gotta catch up, your post has me crazed. I will have to hunker down in the TV bunker this weekend.

Jane said...

I finally had the pleasure of watching Breaking Bad over the weekend. It was splendid and Lisa's post covers it as completely as white on rice. This is brilliant television and just in the nick of time, as we are drowning in pin-headed reality shows and started to death for smart dramas. Bravo to Breaking Bad and Lisa's sharp review!

Bob Andelman said...

You might enjoy this audio interview (and transcription) with "Breaking Bad" actress Anna Gunn.