Breaking Bad

You know there are some TV shows that are acclaimed, that people say you should watch but you just don’t get around to or don’t get into them? I tried with season 1 of The Wire and barely made it through one episode. One of these days I must try again… Friday Night Lights passed me by (American Football? No thanks!) I’ve only seen a few episodes of The Sopranos, I gave up after about 3 or 4 years of The West Wing. Never liked The Shield, Oz or Seinfeld. Watched about 6 episodes of Arrested Development and couldn’t see what the fuss was about.

After some hesitance, I did watch Deadwood, and enjoyed it but like Breaking Bad, the bleak situation and the repellant actions of the characters made it a show I admire more than love, and I have season 3 to watch still.

Well, this week I decided to have a go with Netflix and I think I definitely have had my £5.99 worth for this month already! In the last 3 days I’ve watched the first three seasons of Breaking Bad – plus episode one of season 4. That’s a lot of meth cooking and deaths!

As I said, tonally, it reminds me a lot of Deadwood. In Walter White, you have a character who begins as quite sympathetic, but has gradually got darker and darker – as has his situation. Initially, Walt was a man dying of lung cancer, forced to raise money for the treatments and provide for his family, hence using his chemistry skills to produce crystal meth. A rather convenient miracle cure later and Walt’s cancer is rarely mentioned these days as he becomes more and more embroiled in the drugs trade.

Created by former X Files writer Vince Gilligan, Breaking Bad has a blackly comic side to it that makes it bearable. Without it, the characters and situation would be so abhorrent, it would be too nasty to watch. Walt is a curious hero – if he can be called that at this stage. Perhaps like Tony Soprano or Al Swearegan before him, he is another in the line of thoroughly despicable men we are supposed to root for – something that I often find hard. However, Walt is such a likable, good hearted man at the start, his descent into crime and the fact we rarely see the true consequences of his actions means despite the murders, he is someone to root for. Indeed, the fact that drugs like crystal meth screw up lives in a huge way is kind of ignored totally. Morals have to be left at the door to enjoy Breaking Bad! However, the bond between Walt and his young partner Jesse is shown to be one of the strongest on the show – stronger than his ties to his supposedly beloved family at times. Walt misses the birth of his daughter to deliver meth to a big time dealer, and we often see his leave or let down his family to deal with Jesse and their business.

The performances are especially strong on this show. Bryan Cranston has been scooping awards for years, and I can see why. He is able to show Walt as vulnerable at times, but at others, he is deathly menacing and scary. Aaron Paul as Jesse and Anna Gunn as Walt’s wife Skylar provide good support, but I especially like Giancarlo Esposito as the smooth but scary Gus.

The writing is also extremely good, with some brilliant dialogue and speeches from a range of characters – including memorable guest stars like John DeLancie. The situations, the characters, the chemistry… it’s got it all!

Season 3 began with a touch too much marriage drama between Walt and Skylar for me. We wanted to get back to the meth cooking, and the arrival of two menacing cousins on Walt’s trail was chilling. The episode ‘One Minute’ included an amazing action sequence as the cousins track down Walter’s brother-in-law and DEA agent Hank in a car park. Brilliant stuff.

I’m finding Breaking Bad incredibly compelling viewing, but Netflix is the perfect viewing medium for me as I don’t think I’ll want to re-watch these characters over and over on DVD. The darkness of the show and its characters means it is a show I am enjoying and admiring, but I’m not sure if I love it. However, I’ll be back online tomorrow and I’m sure I’ll be desperate to see the last half of season 5 when the show returns to US tv screens in the autumn (I think)