I mentioned last week how I rarely talk about television around here, then I went into a whole blabber-fest about TV. I just kind of talked about a couple of shows that were in-season that I thought were definitely worth the viewers’ time. It’s tough to find a show like that, because, well…fucking MTV. MTV has pretty much ruined all of TV for the past…going on 10 years now. Every channel has that MTV-style show, hell, some channels have entire lineups of that MTV-style show. It’s that teen mom type show, that Jersey Shore formula, the formula that originated with the Real World: throw some attractive people into a semi-scripted environment, feed them booze, sex, booze and booze, and urge them to fight, fuck, and flail their arms as America soaks it all up.
I must admit, I was certainly one of those soaking sponges. But that was when those shows were almost like a breath of fresh air they were so rare. Now, you can’t go an hour without seeing a scripted “reality” show. It’s disturbing and disgusting at the same time. It’s like Amy Winehouse’s death- it’s disturbing how amazing she could have been had she stayed clean and disgusting that I would rather put my dick in her corpse than her actual breathing, coke-snorting body.
Fortunately, there are shows out there like the three I dropped last week. Then there’s the show that ran its season premiere last week for its Fourth year on the airwaves. The show that Chuck Klosterman had the NERVE to say was better than Mad Men, The Sopranos and THE WIRE?! (I will agree 100% on those first two, but The Wire? Best TV drama ever made, hands down). It’s the show about meth, and meth, and murder and cartels. It’s the show that stars Hal from Malcolm in the Middle as a bad-ass, cancer-ridden meth-cook. It’s AMC’s Breaking Bad which runs every Sunday at 10 pm.
As I said, this is the fourth season of the show and I’ve been a regular watcher since the series premiere when Walter White (Malcom’s Hal; AKA Bryan Cranston) was just the average High-School Chemistry teacher with a sub-par paycheck, sub-par family life, and sub-par desire to wake up every morning. He struggled to connect with anybody, especially his students, his wife and cerebral-palsy (or something like that) stricken son. He took shit at home, then went to work and took shit from students like co-star Jesse Pinkman (played by Aaron Paul, probably best known for his role as the leader of a psycho pack of misfits in the movie The Last House on the Left) who is the counter-point to Walt’s point. But…then Walt got cancer, and he got laid-off, and he had no money to pay for the cancer treatment so he started to die…slowly.
Facing pressure from all over, Walt had some chance run-ins with Jesse, one thing led to another and the two began cooking meth together. Using Walt’s chemistry knowledge the pair have essentially made the most pure meth in the entire Western United States. So, when you go and do something like that in the drug game, or any market for that matter (make an exceptional product), you become popular. And you make money. And you take money from your competitors. Key difference between McDonald’s taking money from Wendy’s because they have superior fries is…the Soul of Dave Thomas isn’t gonna come firebombing Ronald and Grimace’s crib. Which is kinda exactly what happened to Walt.
So from what started as a hobby almost, small-profit business that Walt used to ensure he would not be dying of natural causes any time soon, has slowly but surely evolved into a massive-cash business that has Walt fearing his death by unnatural causes at the hands of many other men. On the way from season one into season four, Walt and Jesse have essentially ran the gauntlet of bad shit that you would figure would happen to a pair mixed up in something like this. Jesse continually finds himself jumping in and out of sobriety (a trait that causes non-stop friction between himself and Walt) while struggling to get a hold of his explosive nature for the benefit of the business. Walt’s home life all but crumbled to nothing as his wife left him, learned about the meth, then turned into a HUGE bitch, then began to come around to it, then….well, I don’t know what comes next.
Oh, the competition, yes…apparently several groups kind of, sort of, already had control of the meth game in the Southwest US. They were able to achieve this control not through low prices, excellent location and savvy advertisement, no they did it through good old fashioned violence and bloodshed. So when they hear about this new, superior product, they come looking for Walt and Jesse. To make a long story short, Walt adapts an alter ego, Heisenberg, who blows some Bikers to hell, almost gets killed by the Mexican Cartels about 5 times, then enters into a million-dollar deal with said Cartels to become a permanent cook. And, that’s kind of where Season 4 picks up.
This season starts up from the end of an amazing season 3: Jesse and Walt dont trust their Cartel employers, the Cartel employers don’t trust Jesse because of his habits, Walt’s brother-in-law (a former DEA agent) is paralyzed from the waist down due to a Cartel hit intended for Walt, Jesse is in and out of rehab, and now Walt’s wife, Skyler, has entered the criminal picture as an unwillingly-willing money laundering accountant for Walt’s drug-tainted salary.
Yes, there has been some HUGE events along the way. There have been serious twists and turns as well. But, that’s not why this show is so great. This show is not in a conversation with The Sopranos and The Wire because it has a cool plot and shit blows up. Bryan Cranston has not won three straight “Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series” Emmy’s because it’s a good show with an original idea. The Klost did not waste 3,000 words on this show just because he likes Aaron Paul’s constant snarled lip. This show is a great, let me say it again, great, like… actual great…The Wire great…Dexter great…Michael Jordan great…Willie Mays great…Wayne “The Great One” Gretzky great…Serena Williams at the ESPY’s great. The creator Vince Gilligan has engineered and amazing portrayal of Middle-Class America, and he presents it in a manner that is not typical for televison.
I don’t know if anybody has ever seen any series on TNT, shows like Memphis Beat or Rizzoli & Isles, but this is okay television. These shows are smart, and well-designed, and very effective. They’re the Trevor Ariza of television. They have average actors, with average production, and they, well to put it simply, entertain for 30 or 60 minutes. You watch the episode, and afterwards you walk away with no real thoughts about the past time you just invested watching, what was it called again? Oh, well.
Breaking Bad is not like that, at all. Each episode is a slow, agonizing build-up of tension and development that does not end once the credits appear. It stays with you for the entire week, until the next Sunday comes and you’re itching for more story. The characters are developed. They are what us English majors refer to as “dynamic characters” as opposed to the “static characters” that lace most television shows.
Let’s take a look at Dwight, from the previously mentioned Memphis Beat, for instance (Dwight is played by Jason Lee, who portrayed one of the most static characters of all TIME in My Name Is Earl). Yeah, he reacts to his surroundings, yeah he may become a tad smarter or sharper from episode to episode, but for the most part, every time you turn on that television, no matter the episode, you’re going to get the same old witty, observant and stale Dwight. You’re not going to all of a sudden turn on this show and see Dwight with a gun down some strippers throat in the back alley of a strip club after she didn’t swallow his load, because well, that’s NOT DWIGHT.
Dynamic characters, well, they’re also NOT DWIGHT. Dynamic characters ARE Walter White from Breaking Bad. They change, and they progress, or they digress, or they turn a complete 180. We don’t know. We just know that they are as close to a bare canvas as humans get. Artistry defines them. Dynamic characters are the American Literary Critic’s wet dream: a direct tap into the author’s talent. The way they are developed: subtly, overtly, harshly and patiently. What develops them: their surroundings, their situations, their values and morals. These things all play a part into the overall credibility of a work of fiction.
If Dwight did take the stripper out back and NOT give her a lecture about being careful and wrapping it up, I wouldn’t believe it. I’d be like, what the fuck? Who replaced Dwight with an interesting person?! And the reason I wouldn’t believe it is because he has never been developed by the show, be it the writers or the directors, Dwight has no presence. I don’t know why Dwight does anything, I just know exactly what he’s going to do. In the case of Walt, I don’t know WHAT he’s going to do, but I know WHY he’s going to do it. I know how he thinks, and the factors that influence him, and I know that he takes these things into account, still I never know what actions he’s going to process them into. But, when he does do something, I believe it, because I understand how he came to that conclusion. I believed that he could blow up a biker gang’s club house despite not harming a fly his entire life because he’d been shit on his whole adult life until that point. He’d finally had enough. Desperation prevailed.
Despite getting off on a rant here, I just suggest everybody tune in to this show. The beginning episodes of all the seasons are certainly methodical and somewhat slow. But they’re not un-watchable, they’re actually enthralling eventually. They develop, much like a Coen Brothers film(though I was deeply disappointed with True Grit): first we’re presented with the man, then the situation, and THEN the result, but that presentation of the man is about 50% of the whole show because though not all people can relate to being a high school teacher, or a cancer ridden father, or a drug attic, or taking part in a drug war or dating a drug user…every human being can always, ALWAYS relate to feelings of despair, heartbreak, fear, desperation, desire, hopefulness, and pain. Then from there, once we relate to the man, then we can relate to everything else that comes their way.
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