Breaking BadPosted: July 4, 2012
Breaking Bad might just be the best show on TV today. It’s garnered tons of awards and has proven that everyone’s favourite TV dad Bryan Cranston (Hal from Malcom in the Middle of course), is not just a capable actor, but is in fact an amazing one. I’ve only, for some reason, begun watching now, but when I first heard about the show I was pretty much sold: it’s about a brilliant chemistry teacher named Walter White who decides to go bad and make crystal meth. His son is disabled, he’s been diagnosed with lung cancer, and his wife is pregnant; it’s the ultimate mid-life crisis, and in order to pay for his treatment and provide for his family after he dies, he needs tons of money, fast. So he enlists the coolest, gangsteriest kid he knows, a small-time wannabe named Jesse Pinkman (played by the excellent Aaron Paul) who makes and sells low-grade crystal meth. White also has a brother in the DEA named Hank Schrader (again, another character played amazingly, this time by Dean Norris), which puts Walter and Schrader at odds. Anna Gunn does a pretty good job as Walt’s wife, Skyler; RJ Mitte, who himself has cerebral palsy, plays Walt’s disabled son, Walter Jr.; and Betsy Brandt plays Marie Schrader, Hank’s wife and Skyler’s sister. Bob Odenkirk plays Walt’s eventual lawyer, a complete shyster named “Better Call” Saul Goodman, who sells the role flawlessly.
As I’ve mentioned, the show is incredible in every department. The acting is downright brilliant, especially from Cranston, who has picked up three consecutive Emmy wins for Lead Actor in a Drama Series, each of which he clearly deserved. Paul, who’s picked up one for Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, is horribly underrated and is probably second only to Cranston himself.
What particularly sells the show is, I think, the silences between lines and the ability for actors to convey the thinking process through their faces and through their gestures. The show, while it is about meth, is also about choices. Every character in every episode gets to make a choice. Occasionally this choice is forced on them, but the choice is almost consistently their own: characters are very rarely robbed of their agency, which is what makes their choices so very compelling. There is always a moment that you can tell that a character is actively making a choice. Oftentimes it’s a horrible choice, and sometimes it’s a very good choice. There is one moment in particular when a horrific accident over the city (Albuquerque, New Mexico) due to one person’s error: another character blames himself, because if he didn’t do X, Y wouldn’t have happened. The brilliance of this revelation by the character is that it allowsus to draw such a chain, because we can see that there were choices before X that, if they were avoided, wouldn’t have resulted in X which resulted in Y. What we’re left to know is that either our choices matter or that they don’t, but more importantly, that our choices do and can have huge repercussions beyond what we either expect or imagine. While characters always make choices in other TV shows, rarely does it feel as natural as it does in Breaking Bad, and that’s clearly in part because of how incredible the actors on the show are. Dialogue very rarely feels out of place and you never get a sense that things “don’t belong”.
That said, the cinematography of Breaking Bad is brilliant (though there are some close-ups that feel unnecessary and like the director is trying too hard) and absolutely stunning and manage to convey both the vastness and desolateness of New Mexico itself. Shots indoors are usually tight and focused, but shots outside are typically wide and allow us to focus our attention in more than one place. While it is a show about Walter and those in his life, it’s also a show about New Mexico itself. The soundtrack is very good, though at times the pieces that are chosen match what is happening far too literally; when it’s done ironically it’s brilliant, but when it’s done because the piece fits what’s happening, it’s kind of redundant and a little too cheap.
Breaking Bad is without a doubt one of the best shows on television, and very likely it’s the best show on television: better than Game of Thrones or Mad Men, both of which are two of my favourites. It’s well made, well acted, well directed, well shot, and well scored; if there’s a flaw with Breaking Bad, I don’t know what it is. Season 5 airs on July 15th, so if you haven’t started (or, if like me, you’re catching up: currently on Season 4), make sure to check it out ASAP.
This song begins Season 2 and gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect.