Why You Should Watch... Breaking Bad

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break·ing - To divide into pieces, as by bending or cutting. To snap off or detach. To force or make a way through; puncture or penetrate. To become cracked or split.

bad - Evil; sinful. Not fresh; rotten or spoiled. Disagreeable, unpleasant, or disturbing. Being in poor health or in pain. Being in poor condition; diseased.

break·ing bad - The act of challenging conventions, defying authority and skirting the edges of the law.

Breaking Bad is a relatively young show, with just two seasons behind it (and a third coming soon) - it stars Bryan Cranston (Tim; King of Queens, Dr Tim Whatley; Seinfeld and most famously Hal; Malcolm in the Middle) as Walter H. White - an ex-researcher turned chemistry teacher. He has a relatively normal life, and by that I mean the whole mundane domestic thing, complete with his beautiful wife Skyler (Anna Gunn - Deadwood) and son Walter Jr (RJ Mitte). He's a pretty average teacher, average husband and well an average guy all round - but his world is rocked to it's foundations when he finds out that he has lung cancer.

Walter soon runs into an ex-student of his, one Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul - Big Love) who now makes his living dealing meth. And from here the show charts Walter's path as he begins to 'break bad' and the pilot episode pans out in a pretty spectacular fashion with some vivid and iconic moments for the viewer. I'm not going to go into major specifics any further here, instead I'm going to write about what it is that makes the show so good.

The centrepiece of the entire show is of course Walter himself - he's a character who's been driven off the road by a mixture of the unfairness in life/society, his own impending demise, his desire to see his family provided for once he's gone and what can only be described as "the straw that broke the camel's back". Now as Bryan himself has a background mainly in sitcoms you could be forgiven for assuming that he might struggle a little with such a turnabout character. Instead of playing a supporting, lighthearted fun character he has instead taken on a heavyweight role with depth and darkness to it.

It sounds like quite a challenge, but it's one which has been achieved before by none other than Michael Chiklis who transformed himself from the happy go-lucky Commissioner Tom Scali in The Commish and Chris Woods in Daddio (both shows light sitcoms) into one of the darkest and most complex individuals to grace our screens Vic Mackey. Now I draw this comparison for a good reason, Breaking Bad has many parallels with The Shield and the two characters - Walter and Vic - have similarities in their characters as well. I also draw this comparison to express the respect I have for Breaking Bad, being compared to The Shield in a favourable fashion is a high compliment from myself as that show is pure gold.

So, as I think you've guessed, Bryan Cranston is more than up to the task - giving us a character who has depth and strength to him as he travels further off the road of society and into territory which is quite frankly criminal - overtly so at times. It's one of the biggest draws of the show and Bryan nails it. Giving us a compelling portrait of a man who's got nothing left to lose and is willing to embrace and follow his desperation. He's also a character with duality to him, on one side you have this loving family man who is struggling with his illness and trying to do what's right for his wife, son and upcoming baby. But sat on the other side you have a man who doesn't seem to have any boundaries left, you push him and he shoves back all the way - he'll just keep going in his desperate search to provide for his family. He is a bit like Paul Kersey in that respect (Charles Bronson in Death Wish for those of you who don't recognise the name) there's no telling what he'll do to achieve his goal.

So the core of the show is a solid lock, Bryan delivers the performance he needs to (and then some), which is absolutely vital because if he wasn't good the rest of the show would crumble. Still, no show is a one man band (except for this film) and the supporting cast are just as important. Fortunately they deliver and in spades. RJ Mitte is great as Walter Jr and I hadn't even suspected his lack of acting experience until I checked his entry on the imdb and Anna Gunn is so fantastic as Skyler that I fell in love with her a little. But the two people who really nail things down for me are the aforementioned Aaron Paul as Jesse - Walter's semi-streetwise (in his own mind) "partner in crime" and Dean Norris as Hank the DEA Agent. They're both fantastic characters, Jesse for bringing a little lightness and fun into the deeds he and Walter perform and Hank for giving us a solid extra piece of the world to follow - he's loosely connected to Walter both as law enforcement and as his brother-in-law. Something which just has to lead to a confrontation at some point, and who knows what will happen then.

Tonally Breaking Bad is a dark show, it's filled with quite visceral moments and some memorable scenes which push the boundaries at times. Things like bathtubs, RVs, removing your pants and even good old boring high school chemistry just won't seem the same after you watch this show. I know a few of the moments from the first season (I've not seen the second at this point) have stuck with me and will do for quite a while. It's a show which isn't afraid to go to unpleasant places and bring you along with it, it's a show which greatly reminds me of my perennial favourite - The Shield.

And that is close to the highest level of praise I can give it.

Breaking Bad, if you haven't seen it - you should.


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