Thursday, February 07, 2008

One to Watch

A year ago, I don't know that I would have pegged AMC, that purveyor of dubious cinematic "classics," to be the new golden boy network of great TV drama, but here we are. Mad Men was easily the summer's best new series, and now AMC has Breaking Bad, which is likely the winter's best new series. We are only two episodes in, so there is still ample time to catch up to the storyline, which concerns a middle-aged high school science teacher whose fatal diagnosis of cancer triggers a particularly intense mid-life crisis. Walter, the teacher (who is married, and expecting, and the father of a teen with MDS) decides to use his chemistry skills for profitable evil by hooking up with a local meth dealer and former student and going into business with him (Walter has the know-how to make really good product, and the kid has the connections).

What is intriguing so far is how deliberately the story is moving - after two episodes Walter and the kid have yet to sell any meth, but are having to deal with the violent fall-out from their first attempts. This is a violent show, and a dark one, and a comic one, which makes it sound like a Sopranos rip-off, but the tones here are worlds apart. Whereas The Sopranos was gritty and suburban and expansive, this is a much more cloistered story (so far at least), in a much dryer, quiter setting. But where they have commonality again is in how much they are driven by idiosyncratic, career-revitalizing performances by middle-aged men. And while Gandolfini's Tony was all fat, comfortable complacence imperiled by an immoral career, Cranston's Walter is thin, depressed needy desperation ready for an outlet. It's an inspired performance.

Breaking Bad, per Sepinwall, has only seven episodes to air due to the strike, leaving only five left. Catch them.

Until Whenever

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