Sunday, April 11, 2010

Breaking Bad is the Bad-Ass-est Show on Television

Now in its third season, Breaking Bad, presented by The AMC channel, is finally getting the widespread acclaim it deserves. This show about a cancer-stricken high school chemistry teacher who turns to manufacturing methamphetamine to help pay his family’s bills continues basic cable’s tradition of kicking broadcast TV’s butt when it comes to scripted dramas.

The show’s directing, editing and photography are all top-notch. As with any drama that lasts more than a season, though, it’s the cast that makes the show into more than a clever idea. Bryan Cranston, who has already won a bunch of awards for his portrayal of Walter White (or “Heisenberg” as he’s known on the street), is now moving into Tony Soprano territory in terms of the depth and complexity of his character. Aaron Paul skillfully plays White’s partner Jesse Pinkman, who used to be a smart-mouth punk-ass kid when the series started but now, after the deaths of one of his friends and his girlfriend as well as his parents’ disowning him, is starting to embrace his role as one of the more successful drug dealers in the Southwest.

The supporting cast choices, including Giancarlo Esposito as the meticulous distributor who has become White and Pinkman’s patron in the meth game and Bob Odenkirk as Walter and Jesse’s scheming but trustworthy lawyer, are inspired and spot-on. Even the not-quite-believable characters (such as the homicidal identical twin Mexican Mob enforcers, played by Daniel and Luis Moncada) bring aspects to the episodes that make them more enjoyable.

I love the focused, straight-ahead storytelling. Unlike dramas such as The Sopranos that often veered into narrative digressions and dead-ends, Breaking Bad’s creator Vince Gilligan and his writing staff keep the story squarely on the main characters’ central activity and how it’s affecting everyone around them.

I also enjoy how the writers aren’t afraid to let characters confront each other about their intentions and their actions. For example, last week’s episode “I.F.T.” ended with Walt’s wife throwing down a whopper of a revelation that I think is going to color everything that happens from now on. What exactly IS going to happen next, I’m happy to say, is anybody’s guess.

Unlike AMC’s other bona-fide hit Mad Men, this is a hard-edged show that won’t be embraced by those who are turned off by programs with violence and drugs. That being said, if you’re not watching Breaking Bad now, you should be. Get the first two seasons on DVD to catch up, and set your DVR to AMC on Sundays at 9:00 PM Central Time.

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