Friday, March 27, 2009

TV Review: Breaking Bad

I started watching Breaking Bad because Stephen King told me to. An occasional contributor to my bible, Entertainment Weekly magazine, King has written several columns about how Breaking Bad is the best show currently on TV. So I decided it might be time to forgive King for traumatizing me with his novel It, and recorded the first season marathon that AMC played before the second season premiered, and while I’m not sure it’s the best thing on TV, it’s pretty damn close. If someone had told me two years ago that with both Mad Men and Breaking Bad, AMC would be airing some of the best television created in years, I would have said, “Seriously? The channel that plays Revenge of the Nerds on a regular rotation is going to have good TV? Seriously?”

But good TV it does indeed have, Revenge of the Nerds airings aside. Breaking Bad is the ultimate antihero story, where you actually find yourself rooting for a guy cooking crystal meth and his loser partner in crime. Bryan Cranston, who was previously best known as the manic father on Malcolm in the Middle, is perfection as Walter White, a man who is as average as average can be, besides that whole cooking meth thing. He’s an incredibly overqualified and underpaid high school chemistry teacher, who in episode one learns he has terminal lung cancer (a major slap in the face for someone who doesn’t even smoke). With a wife who is pregnant with a late in life “oops” baby and a teenage son with cerebral palsy, Walt refuses to shuffle off this mortal coil without leaving them with enough money to live comfortably on. So through a series of interesting events, he hooks up with a former student cum drug dealer, who is in charge of distributing the kick-ass meth Walt creates.

Aaron Paul, who I hate as the weasely guy macking on a girl 10 years younger than him on Big Love, is perfect as Jesse, Walt’s weasely business partner. He never listened to Walt when he was a student in his chemistry class years ago, and not a lot has changed in that respect, as he continues to question and bungle Walt’s instructions. But as the show progresses, Jesse actually evolves and realizes that while Walt may be a total square, he knows what he’s doing and may be worth listening to after all.

The show markets itself as a dark comedy-drama, which is a big relief, since I don’t have to feel like a sociopath for laughing at some of the stuff that happens. It’s hard to imagine how any sort of comedy could be drawn from situations involving murderous rival dealers, hiding a crystal meth business from you family that includes a DEA agent brother-in-law, and liquefying a body in acid, but Breaking Bad somehow manages to cull humor from the darkest and most dire moments. Or perhaps I really am a sociopath and everyone has been too polite to mention it so far. But that would mean Stephen King is also a sociopath, and if it’s good enough for Stephen King, then it’s good enough for me.

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