Tuesday, May 25, 2010

9. Breaking Bad

At the moment, we're only watching one fictional TV series on a weekly basis: Breaking Bad. (We're also watching the reality show Top Chef Masters.)

How we discovered Breaking Bad:
Even though we've been watching Mad Men (also on AMC) for quite a while now, we only gave Breaking Bad a chance earlier this year. It might have been shortly after Onion A.V. Club began releasing its "Best of the decade" lists. (We're very fond of best-of lists.) Breaking Bad was #6 on the list of Best TV series of the '00s. (We were familiar with most of the titles, and we'd already watched the entire series for #1-5. A quick aside: Sure, the Wire should be #1. Absolutely. But the Sopranos and Arrested Development as #2 and #3? Doesn't anyone notice that AD took a severe quality dip in its last season and that the Sopranos had an overabundance of aimless dream sequences, not to mention plenty of so-so episodes? Anyhow, at least Freaks and Geeks [4] and Mad Men [5] rounded out the Top 5.)

The public library near our house had seasons 1 and 2 of Breaking Bad. We consumed both of them in quick succession.

Why it's worth watching:
Breaking Bad is very dark, and few of the characters are likeable. (Only one unambiguously likeable character comes to mind, Walter Jr., the main character's son.) But its writing is more consistent than most other series we've watched lately, including Dexter, Californication, and Big Love. It also boasts a richer collection of flawed characters than those three shows. (We're typing this one day after seeing an in-between episode ["Fly," directed by Rian Johnson, best known for high school-indie-noir flick Brick].)

The series:
Here's the set-up (revealed in the first episode): High school Chemistry teacher Walter White is diagnosed with terminal cancer. His wife, Skyler, is pregant, and his teenage son, Walter Jr. (aka "Flynn") has cerebral palsy. After learning that his former student Jesse Pinkman is involved in selling methamphetamine, Walter decides to start "cooking" (Walt's favourite term for producing meth), with Jesse as his business partner. That way, he'll be able to make enough money quickly to provide for his family after he's gone. (Yes, this is how the series gets its -- admittedly pretty lame -- title.)

Here is the first scene in season 1:

Walter's descent into criminality is compelling. Plus, we get to watch him slide between different worlds (home, school, underworld), wondering how long he'll be able to keep from getting caught by the law, by his wife, or by the drug dealers competing with him and his burnout partner-in-crime, Jesse.

We don't watch any TV shows just for the acting, but some of the performances here are amazing. There is a good reason Bryan Cranston (playing Walt) has won the Emmy the past two years as best actor in a dramatic series. His character is incredibly rich, and Cranston is great at conveying Walt's depth and darkness.

We will watch Bob Odenkirk in anything, but his portrayal of sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman takes the cake. (Check out the website Better Call Saul for a closer look at this ridiculously entertaining character.) Here is one of Saul Goodman's TV ads:

For additional dark comic relief, we're also partial to Jesse's slow-on-the-uptake homeboys, Badger, Combo, and Skinny Pete.

Season 3 started off with an ill-advised brothers-out-for-vengance plotline. Thankfully, the season has also had some great moments, including nearly every scene with the calm, buttoned-down drug kingpin/restaurant owner Gus.

Other reading/viewing:
There are a number of webisodes that you can watch on the AMC website, though we've only seen a few of them.

We're hoping to post more frequently. That way, we won't need to change the title of this blog to 'Enthusiasm of the Month' or 'Infrequent Enthusiasms.' We will try, at least.