With the exception of "Lost", all the best tv shows are currently on some form of cable or another, and they have been for a while. "Battlestar Galactica", "The Shield", and now "Breaking Bad" on AMC. The show premiered last year, and, like most people, I did not see it. The word of mouth train has just recently reached my station, and so yesterday I went online and watched the first three episodes. Wow.
Brian Cranston is high school chemistry teacher Walter White. He's got a teenage son, a pregnant wife, and, as he learns in the pilot episode, inoperable lung cancer. He needs to work another job just to put food on the table, and so he begins to worry about how his family will get by once his eighteen month prognosis is up. An idea strikes him when riding along on a drug bust with his DEA brother-in-law: meth. He quickly teams up with a former student (Aaron Paul) who knows the business, and they get to cooking crystal meth, which, of course, Walt is brilliant at, given his vast academic knowledge of chemistry.
Cranston, many times lauded for his comedic work on "Malcolm in the Middle", recently won an Emmy for "Breaking Bad", and it is certainly deserved. He brings the same wildly entertaining, bumbling frustration to this show, but his Walt White is a truly complex creature. There is pathos aplenty, to be sure, but there is also something sinister in this seemingly mild-mannered chemistry teacher which Cranston gradually, deliciously pulls to the surface. Paired with Paul as paranoid burnout Jesse Pinkman, Walt comes to life as some kind of hybrid of your average middle-aged goober and an insane super-villain.
Many props to show creator Vince Gilligan, who got his start writing for "The X-Files". He writes most of the episodes and directed the pilot, and he makes evident a gift with dark comedy and realistic story-telling.
"Breaking Bad" is like a Coen Bros. film multiplied into a tv show. It is a fact that television these days is increasingly better than mainstream cinema, and this show is certainly no exception. The second season recently premiered on AMC; please watch it so that it does not join "Firefly" and "Freaks and Geeks" as an excellent show that was cancelled too soon.