"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Breaking Bad: Pilot

My idea of a dashing leading man doesn't include a guy in his fifties wearing his Fruit of the Loom briefs and a lab smock. So I must not be watching the right show. Bryan Cranston is one of television's most under-appreciated actors. He might have another chance at Emmy gold as his performance in Breaking Bad is amazing.

Breaking Bad explores the ultimate mid-life crisis. Not only is high school chemistry teacher Walter White reaching his fiftieth birthday, he also finds out he has terminal lung cancer. Now the show doesn't come right out and tell us the motivations for his subsequent actions, but I can speculate. His son has cerebral palsy, or some other muscular dystrophy disease and I can only imagine his ongoing health care costs will be substantial. His brother-in-law works for the DEA and through this connection, White learns that a crystal meth bust can net hundreds of thousands of dollars. That's all the motivation he needs and when he sees that a former student of his is in the meth business while on a ride-along with his brother-in-law, he has his way in.

Having White be a chemistry teacher makes him ideally suited for creating meth, which is a complicated recipe of chemicals. Cranston's performance in this role as a buttoned-down middle aged man who literally loses all his inhibitions and fears in light of his impending death is inspired. Much like Mad Men, Bad doesn't follow the typical dramatic formula, and the pacing is impacted by setting up characters, motivations and situations as well here in the pilot.

I mentioned before that the show doesn't tell us exactly why White is willing to take such tremendous risks for money, but I'm glad that it doesn't. He doesn't tell his family that he's dying, and again I'm not given any reason for this choice. There's a lot left for me to learn as it goes. I don't imagine that White's new drug venture is going to go smoothly for him and his new partner Jesse Pinkman, so I look forward to seeing how his regular life is impacted, and likely nearly destroyed, by his new vocation.

In the first episode alone, they set up their roving meth lab in an RV, and almost immediately get in trouble with Pinkman's former associates. I don't want to ruin how things turn out there, though you get a pretty damned good idea as the episode starts in the middle of this chaos before flashing back three weeks to show how they got here.

At first, when the episode started with a dramatic moment of crisis before flashing back, I thought I might be in for another season long "How did we get here?' like FX's Damages, but I caught up to that moment here in the first episode and now the possibilities are endless. It means I have no idea where the show is going to go from here, but I find myself really liking Walter White, and feeling for the struggles that his son faces in every day life. I will go on the record right now as saying the clothing shop scene was one of my favorites. Such a short moment, it told me volumes about the family, the son's struggles with his disease, and the newly liberated attitude that White has taken on, to his family's surprise.

Breaking Bad was picked up for a nine episode first season, though only seven episodes were finished before the writers strike halted production. I have no idea if the creators managed to get a satisfying "season finale" at the end of the seventh episode, but I'll be along for the ride regardless.

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