Friday, March 07, 2008

The best TV show you're not watching

Were it not for the amazing premiere of Pushing Daisies in the fall, I'd assert that Breaking Bad is without a doubt the best new television series of the 2007/2008 season.

Don't worry. You're not the only one who hasn't heard of the show, or brushed it off because it was some un-hyped new series with an ambiguous name running at an odd hour on AMC of all places.

But you've definitely missed out. If you don't know anything about Breaking Bad, I'll break it down for you, here's a quick overview of the premise: The main character is Walter White, a brilliant chemist who, due to a nearly paralyzing fear of failure (and a few other reasons that we find out later in the series), throws away a rewarding career as a research scientist to teach high school Chemistry. Between his wife's unsuccessful attempts to publish a novel, a teenage son with a physical disability, and another baby on the way, he is barely able to make ends meet on his teacher's salary. When Walter is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he struggles to find a way to ensure his family's stability after he's gone.

After going on a drug bust "ride-along" with his DEA officer brother-in-law, Walter realizes that he can potentially use his knowledge of chemistry to create his own crystal meth lab and bring in enough money to leave behind for his family. Unfortunately, he has absolutely no knowledge of the drug game at all -- or, really, anything even remotely resembling "street smarts". Through a series of coincidences, Walter teams up with a former student (who narrowly avoided the aforementioned drug bust by being next door having sex with the neighbor's daughter at the time) and goes into business as a narcotics producer and distributor.

When I mention that Bryan Cranston -- the father from Malcolm in the Middle -- is playing Walter White, you might get the wrong idea. There aren't any sight gags or slapstick moments in Breaking Bad; the underlying sense of humor is morbidly dark, and would be right at home in a Coen Brothers movie. The fact is, in the six short episodes that have aired so far, Cranston has established himself as a truly amazing actor. Walter White is an eminently believeable character, and you find yourself empathizing with his plight and wishing he'd make some better decisions for himself. The acting throughout the cast is nearly on par with the lead character's, avoiding the whole "wow, I wish they'd stop showing this character's subplot" scenario (see also: Lost).

The writing is also incredible throughout the series. The dialogue is almost perfect, and the producers made a conscious choice not to censor anything out just to shoehorn the show onto basic cable. AMC dumps out of curse words occasionally, but they leave as many in as they cut out. During a recent interview on the Ron & Fez show, Bryan Cranston joked that they only get two "shits" and five "goddammits" per episode. After watching the series, I've found that he wasn't too off the mark. There are also several dark moments in the show's plotline that range from uncomfortable (feeding the habit of a bunch of deteriorating, self-destructive meth-heads) to downright disturbing (disposing of a dead body in a way that the authorities will never discover it). The fact that AMC has the balls to show all of this, more or less uncut, gives me a lot of respect for a network that I'd long ago written off as only good for watching old Steve McQueen movies.

Sadly, the first season of Breaking Bad was cut short by the writer's strike. If they don't get a second season, it will be a travesty on the level of Fox's cancellation of Wonderfalls. And Firefly. And Futurama. And Family Guy. Hey, fuck you, Fox!

Wait, where was I?

Oh, yes. By posting this blog entry, I'm hopefully doing my part to ensure another season of this amazing series. If you can catch it in reruns, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Otherwise, be sure to grab the inevitable DVD release. Breaking Bad is an absolutely stellar program, and I can't think of anyone who would be reading this blog who wouldn't enjoy every second of it.


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