“I get it, Chris. Breaking Bad is awesome, but it’s old news,” you say. Well, this is the last time I will talk about the show, then we can move on with our lives. If you aren’t familiar at all with AMC’s top-rated drama, and possibly one of the greatest television shows of our time, then this review is for you.
By the end of this blog post, my goal is for you to start planning time into your life schedule to watch this phenomenal TV series. It is endlessly quotable and is packed with countless memorable moments.
“Breaking Bad” is a crime drama that follows the story of a highly overqualified high school chemistry teacher who gets cancer and starts cooking crystal meth to support his family and pay for his treatment.
The setup is brilliant. Show runner and writer Vince Gilligan stated from the very beginning that the premise of the show was to turn Mr. Chips into Scarface. Never before has this been done on television, this total life change of a character. We see this in movies all the time, but when you watch shows like “CSI” or “How I Met Your Mother”, you tune in every week to see your favorite characters be who they are. If you watch “The Big Bang Theory”, you expect Sheldon to be the same every time you watch. He’s always going to be that geeky guy who pulls out obscure “Star Trek” references that turn off every girl in sight.
From the beginning, Walter White — played by the fantastic Bryan Cranston (“Malcolm in the Middle”, “Drive”) — is a family loving man who has been dealt a difficult card in life. He could have made gobs of cash working with his friends from college, he works part-time at a car wash for a terrible boss, his son is a paraplegic, and the list goes on and on. As I mentioned in my last blog on the topic, Walt is a man who we can all relate to in some way.
When faced with cancer, Walt recognizes his life circumstances. In a brilliant sequence, Walt sits by his backyard pool in the dark, lighting matches, watching them burn, and then tosses them into the water. Not only does this set up his recognition of the choices he needs to make, but it also sets up the entire premise of the series. Is this symbolic of his fascination with the simple chemistry of a match being struck and lit? The show is littered with great stuff like this.
Walt is soon accompanied by Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), who is one of Walt’s old students. The two embark on a journey together, where Walt soon gains the respect and control of Jesse. They both have a strange father/son connection going on throughout the series, which is somewhat spurred on by Jesse’s bad relationship with his family.
The show is just packed full of great acting performances; probably the best ensemble cast in the last decade actually. Walt’s wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), is a fan favorite to hate on, yet I’m still not sure why. Walt’s son, Walt Jr. (RJ Mitte), is known for always eating breakfast. Walt’s brother in law, Hank (Dean Norris), is a loud mouthed DEA agent whom Gilligan describes as a butthole jock. His wife, Marie (Betsy Brandt), is a devoted wife who is more nosey than we want her to be.
A big problem with TV series is that as a show progresses, new characters are introduced that fans maybe don’t like so much, solely for the fact that they haven’t been around for too long. Their character development is thin, and we care little for them. Not the case here. In fact, as Walt gets further into the drug trade, we meet characters like drug kingpin Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), hit man Mike Erhmantraut (Jonathan Banks), and cheap lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk). Despite their smaller stints on the show, they draw us into the seedy fictional underbelly of Albequerque, New Mexico even closer than we were before.
Like any great film or TV series, great music is called upon. Composer Dave Porter has done a fantastic job on the soundtrack for the show. If you have watched the show, once you listen to any track on Spotify or whatever, you should be able to hear the music and pick out at which point in the series that specific track is played! Isn’t that wonderful? From the eerie bass thumps of Walt’s discovery underneath his home in “Crawl Space”, to pop hit “Baby Blue” during the final jib shot of the show in “Felina”, the background music works wonders here.
Series cinematographer Michael Slovis is really great as well. He gives the show it’s very unique feel with very odd camera angles and plenty of time lapses. How can you make the crystal meth cooking process look completely different and new every time you watch it? Somehow, Slovis is able to accomplish this task. Honestly, the show is full of incredible cinematography and composition. It’s rarely a chore. I would argue that practically every shot is meaningful. Every opening to the show is new and intriguing and draws you in, almost instantly.
“Alright, Chris. I don’t really watch TV, and all these cool terms like cinemaphotography and Spotify are cool and stuff, but I don’t give a rip about this show.”
Even if you don’t care about that stuff, let me sum it all up to you in one sentence… I stand by this statement: “while “Breaking Bad” is extremely entertaining, it will reveal more about the kind of person you really are, and allow yourself to become vastly more transparent than you were before.”
“You don’t know me, Chris! Up yours, man! This is a freaking TV show!”
Alright, let me explain. If you watch movies and stuff just to be entertained, that’s cool, but I honestly believe you are wasting your time. If you open your mind and allow yourself the empathy to feel what these characters are feeling, you will find the experience of watching great movies and TV to be very rewarding.
If I’m being honest, and gosh darn it I really try to be, I truly believe God can use any and everything for His glory and to further his purposes on earth. If God wants to use the life of Walter White to show someone how selfish and manipulative they are, so be it. If God wants to use Jesse Pinkman’s life to demonstrate that no matter how broken they are, they can be redeemed, then let it be.
“Breaking Bad”, and really any great media, can be used to reveal the messed up stuff in your life. You wonder why this show is so successful. It’s so hard to relate to someone from a different walk of life, but once you recognize their character and walk alongside them, trying to feel the challenges they have gone through, and the choices they have made, you start to feel their pain, and you start to feel their pride, and you start realize they aren’t so different from you. Sure he’s a fictional character who turns into a drug lord, but he’s faced with a ton of decisions along the way. He makes a number of bad choices, but oh gosh, I’ve made a number of bad choices as well. I’m not that different from him.
This is why I’m so passionate for great film and great TV. It challenges you to think, and it forces you to feel empathy for the lives of others.
So, I really encourage you to check this show out if you haven’t already. It’s earth shattering television, and finally we have great character arcs to choose from like “Mad Men” and “True Detective”, instead of being plagued by boring, predictable, and unrealistic material like “CSI” or “Criminal Minds”. That’s just my opinion, and I’m sorry if you love those shows, but I would love to have a conversation about why you could be appreciating episodic dramas like “Dexter” or “Homeland” even more.
That’s my spiel. This is a great age for television. Not an episode is wasted in “Breaking Bad”. It’s just that freaking good. Seriously. I cannot stop talking about it. This show is unreal.