Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Breaking Bad: What a Meth!!

About a year and a half ago, my husband and I picked up the first season of Breaking Bad on DVD. It's one of those shows that I'd wanted to see from the beginning, but our cable provider didn't offer AMC as a channel and it wasn't picked up by any other broadcaster in Canada, so we were stuck. We watched the first two episodes, adored it... and then I had to write the season 5 Lost book, followed by the Lost rewatch, and then cover season 6, followed by the season 6 book. (Breaking Bad one of many shows I have on DVD where I've watched the first couple of episodes, loved it, and then Lost got in the way: see also: "Supernatural" and "Anarchy, Sons of").

So about two weeks ago, we decided to pick it up again, and since then it's been a marathon in our house (where all our other TV viewing has sadly fallen by the wayside, but I'm hoping to pick that up again soon). We're now a couple of episodes shy of the end of season 2 and I am completely hooked. Since several trusted friends and colleagues of mine have told me that season 3 is among the best seasons of television, period, I'm dying to get to that one.

The premise is lighthearted and fun: a high school chemistry teacher, Walter, is happily married with a 15-year-old son who has cerebral palsy, and his wife, who is about a decade younger than he is, is unexpectedly pregnant with their second child. And then Walt discovers he has inoperable lung cancer. Desperate not to leave his family penniless, Walter crosses paths with Jesse, a former student of his who is now a meth cook and drug dealer, and Walter becomes his cook, creating the purest form of meth the streets of Albuquerque have ever seen. Hijinks ensue.

The show would be depressing as hell if it weren't so damn funny. In the first season, Walter keeps the cancer news from his family in the beginning, sneaking around behind their backs and making up excuses for why he's not around, and why he has such a persistent cough. But when he finally has to fess up that he's dying, we are treated to one of the most incredible scenes I've seen on TV: Walt's wife, Skyler, her loopy sister and brother-in-law Hank, and Walter's son Walt Junior all confront Walter in the living room, using a "talking pillow" the same way Piggy used a conch shell in "Lord of the Flies" to stage an intervention to force him to go on chemo and radiation in an attempt to beat the cancer. (Walter has made it clear he's going to forego all treatment.) What follows is devastating yet hilarious, as they vie for the talking pillow and present arguments for and against treatment. This isn't just a one-off moment created to stage a scene involving some rare disease, it's a conversation people have every day. As we watched that scene I was thinking there was probably someone in our neighbourhood at that very moment having the same dilemma. We all know someone who's had cancer, we've probably all lost someone who's had cancer. It's what makes this show so gritty and real.

But by season 2 things begin to get out of hand, and Walter's need to give his family a nest egg gives way to his excessive greed. Jesse, his failed chemistry student, brilliantly played by Aaron Paul (whose overuse of the word "BITCH" is one of my favourite things about him), begins to put together a street team of thugs who will sling the meth for them on the corners, and among those is Badger, probably the most entertaining dumbass on television right now. And the more people you involve, the greater your chances for failure.

Bryan Cranston has won the Emmy for his performance as Walter for every year the show has been running, which is unheard of (if you don't watch Breaking Bad, you may remember him as the befuddled dad on Malcolm in the Middle). His acting is superb -- you watch this actor acting the part of the tough guy on the streets (who goes by the mysterious name "Heisenberg"), the teacher in the classroom who wishes he'd amounted to something else, and the innocent daddy at home. In every scene it's like he's playing a different person, and when he walks up to one of the street toughs and stares him down, you get chills down your spine. Yet that same man walks into his house and turns into a stuttering idiot in front of his wife as he tries to come up with a reason for why he didn't come home on time.

Meanwhile in the background are several other storylines, and we know there was a mysterious past that Walter had with two other people who run a multimillion dollar company, and that Skyler had her own secrets, which become a little clearer in season 2.

This show is stunning, and there are nights where it's painful to turn off the DVD player (and then we reminisce about those pre-children days where it would be 3 a.m. and we'd say, "Just one more episode of The Sopranos! We'll catch up on sleep on the weekend...")

If you haven't checked out this show, please do. And if you have, please leave a comment telling people why they need to see this (and try to keep it as spoiler-free as possible!)


Lisa11171 said...

Nikki, I'm so glad you love this show!! Wait until you see Season 3...unbelievable! You are totally right, it would be depressing if they didn't break it up with humor. Like "The Wire", the characters in "Breaking Bad" are not black or white, good or bad, criminal or non-criminal. There are so many shades of gray and as Walt and Jesse get caught up in a world that they begin to understand they cannot get out of so easily, what seems to be an easy way to make money turns into something much more dangerous. I LOVE THIS SHOW!!!

scrvet said...

Bryan Cranston also played Dr. Tim Whatley on Seinfeld.

Hunter said...

I don't how you managed to go over a year without catching up on this show! I didn't start watching until this past summer, but once I started I was hooked. I think I watched all 3 seasons in about 2 weeks while working 10 hour days, haha.

I now understand why you haven't made a post on Sunday's AWESOME episode of Dexter. You probably haven't seen it yet. When you get a chance, you have to watch it.

Ensley F. Guffey said...

(AKA Ensley G.) I sprinted through all three seasons (thanks to a generous friend who burned me his iTunes season 3 eps & gave me access) over the course of the last two months, and I know exactly how you guys feel when you just have to turn off the dvd player. I was hooked from the opening shot of the first episode. I honestly can't remember a better show, or one I've enjoyed more. Black humor that has me laughing out loud, characters that are often hilariously and painfully human at the same time. This provokes real emotion and real moral ambiguity in me. Now that's quality TV!

IScreen said...

This is probably my favorite current show. The third season is, indeed, among the best seasons of television ever to see air and the acting on every single season (in pretty much every role) is impeccable.
BTW, has anyone ever done a video mashing together all of Jesse's uses of "Bitch" and "Yo?"
If so, point me that way, please. Because, yo, that'd be awesome, bitch.

Nikki Stafford said...

IScreen: Oh, you are so in luck:


Lisa11171 said...

My favorite Jesse line: "Yeah Mr. White! Yay science!"

Kristin Rae said...

Sounds like I'm adding another show to my Netflix queue :)