TV: Breaking Bad Seasons 1-4 (2008-2011)

Created by: Vince Gilligan
Language: English, Spanish, and a tiny bit of Chinese
Length: 46 (7, 13, 13, 13 resp.) episodes of 47 mins each
Finished watching on: 23 Apr, 11 May, 28 May, 8 Jul resp.

I first heard about this series a while ago, but I got the chance recently when a friend offered me the series from his hard drive. The first thing anyone should know is that it contains the dad from Malcolm in the Middle in a decidedly more dramatic role. For a few episodes this is amusing, as I could only see Hal, but Bryan Cranston is in fact a really good actor (not that we couldn’t tell this from his performance in Malcolm anyway), and in his role as the protagonist of this series, Walter White, he is quite formidable. Plus, his appearance changes quite dramatically during the first season, so it gives a good visual hint that Walter and Hal are two very different people.

The basic premise is fairly easy to sum up: an overqualified chemistry teacher gets cancer, and then decides that since he’s about to shuffle off the mortal coil, he’d better leave something behind for his family, but since he isn’t making anything in either of his two jobs, he promptly starts cooking the finest batch of crystal meth known to man (he’s a really good chemist). He takes a partner in a former flunk-out student of his named Jesse, who likes saying “Bitch” and “Yo” a lot and presumably knows the business… but is also a meth addict. You win some, you lose some, perhaps.

It’s mostly a drama, I’d say, although there are certainly elements of black comedy in there, and the show doesn’t waste any time starting its body count; I think at least one or two characters are dead by the end of the pilot. This will continue to mount for the rest of the show, essentially.

Generally, I really liked it. It has a good sense of realism about it, which I like. When I directly compare it to the last American drama I watched, which was United States of Tara, I see a rather upper-middle class family who don’t really have any major life problems except for those directly posed to them by the drama itself, while here the family aren’t particularly well-off at all and have all sorts of problems that don’t relate directly to the main narrative. Apart from the dad with cancer, there’s a pregnant mum and a son with a minor-but-noteworthy disability (rarely referred to directly, incidentally; the fact that it doesn’t even come close to defining the boy’s character feels quite refreshing), and a house that is massive by UK or Japanese standards, but probably fairly average in suburban America.

To round off the cast of main characters, there is also the mother’s sister and brother-in-law, who works for the Drug Enforcement Agency, and is constantly on Walter’s tail without ever actually sussing him. There’s also a hilariously corrupt lawyer and various drug barons that the pair work for; first the violent Tuco, and later Gus, who looks a bit like a lifelessly scary Obama and is usually acted in an ominously emotionless way.

I don’t want to give too much away, though. The story is excellent, and it twists and turns all over the place throughout the series’ run. In general I can’t find fault with the characters or the acting. As they develop, the story gets darker, which I sort of expect from many dramas – it feels more like a romp in the first series or two, and starts becoming thicker and more eerie during the third, where people really start mistrusting each other. By this point there is also a main antagonist, too; for the first and second season this was often just Walter’s wife Skyler, who didn’t think too much of him disappearing all the time with flimsy excuses.

I guess the main criticism is that it’s fairly dry. I could never watch more than one episode in a day, because even though the drama and the storyline are generally great, sometimes you have episodes where not much happens, or stuff only happens in one part of the episode, with the other half focussing on something that is perhaps important to the storyline, and may even be funny, but is basically mundane. Again, this stands in contrast to the last American drama I watched, which was more like an addictive pageturner. This means that it took me several months to finish, rather than a couple of weeks, although it took longer because I got distracted by various other series too. I don’t know whether this is a good or a bad thing; I guess it’s probably good, because it’s the perfect amount of drama and tedium that makes you want to watch more, but not immediately, and therefore watching it once a week and keeping up with the TV schedule wouldn’t be too much of a problem for me. Less tedium would still be nice, hoewever. Speaking of which, the new series is starting in America on Sunday. I guess I’ll have to find a way to -ahem- acquire it then.

All in all, comes with a full recommendation…

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