Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Breaking Bad

When we first meet Walter White he’s driving a Winnebago through the desert like a bat out of hell. He’s wearing a gas mask. He’s not wearing pants. In the seat next to him is an unconscious man who is also wearing a gas mask. Behind him two other men flop around lifelessly. And in the distance, there are sirens. In his panic, Walter gets the mobile home stuck in a ravine and he hops out, throws off the mask, and uses a camcorder to send a message to his family. Leaving his ID by the camera Walter, in an apron and jockey shorts, stands in the road pointing a big gun in the direction of the approaching sirens.

And then we flash back three weeks to find out how he got to that fateful juncture in his life.

This then is the way that Breaking Bad, an intriguing new series from American Movie Classics (AMC), begins.

Bryan Cranston (perhaps best known as Hal, the amorous, hapless Dad on Malcolm in the Middle) stars as Walter, a sad sack High School Chemistry teacher who has to work a second job in a car wash to try to make ends meet for his family. Walter’s wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn) is loving (she celebrates his 50th birthday morning by writing out the number 50 is veggie bacon on top of his scrambled eggs) but disappointed with where they are financially and his son Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte) has cerebral palsy and a sarcastic tongue.

A dire medical diagnosis causes Walter to “wake up” (his words) and take his life into darker realms in order to try to make a more stable financial future for his wife and son in the shadow of his impending demise. The path Walter chooses is to apply his knowledge of chemistry to cook up high grade crystal meth in partnership with a former student of his, drug dealer Jesse (Aaron Paul). They use the aforementioned Winnebago as a rolling drug lab.

Breaking Bad blends drama and comedy to nice effect and it leaves you in the strange position of kinda rooting for a guy looking to make a fortune by making and selling illegal drugs. Cranston’s bravura performance…a potent combination of resignation, disappointment, and, after his life is given an impending end date, cunning, new purpose, and a new sense of fatalistic fearlessness…he’s wonderfully appealing in the role. The other actors have their moments (especially Paul, whose Jesse finds himself in the perplexing situation of being in partnership with a teacher who failed him) but the pilot is carried by Cranston.

Like Mad Men before it, Breaking Bad is another well-written, well-acted gem for AMC (which seems determined to break out of the box of just showing old movies) and I am really looking forward to seeing where this one will take us.


Very Anonymous Mike said...

The most recent talk show about films on the same channel, "Shootout" has the writer, director and Cranston on it.

Jud said...

I caught the first episode last night and liked it. It seems like it might have some legs, so I'll watch a few more and see where it goes.

Heartlandish said...

I love it so far. I can't believe it's not on one of the pay channels.

Bob Andelman said...

You might enjoy this audio interview (and transcription) with "Breaking Bad" actress Anna Gunn.