Thursday, October 06, 2011

Breaking Bad

Television dramas are pretty formulaic. Most scripted dramas involve one of the following:
1) A crime was, or will be, committed. Who is guilty, and can they be brought to justice?
2) Mr. Ill has a serious medical situation. Better call Dr. Fix-em-up!
3) Mr. Lawyer is, like, super awesome. Watch him work this court case!

CBS currently has 13 hour-long dramas in its primetime schedule, and by my count, only one of them falls outside the above categories. There is obviously a big market for the above three genres - why else would there be so many of them? - but I typically stay away from those types of shows, because going through the same basic routine every single week just isn't that interesting to me.

Thank goodness for cable! Cable networks can afford to cater towards a niche audience rather than the broad appeal that the above genres offer. This brings me to the AMC drama "Breaking Bad".

Note: if you've never seen the show, don't worry. I know some people are catching up with older seasons on Netflix, but other than my Dad, I don't know who else is actively watching the current season as the episodes come or will watch this Sunday's season finale. So, there will be NO SPOILERS in this post. Except that the main character, Walt, and his sidekick, Jesse, are not dead yet, which should be obvious anyway.

"Breaking Bad" has a fairly unique, although contrived (only because it has to be for the show to work), premise. High school chemistry teacher is told he has terminal cancer, can't afford to pay for his treatment, wants to support his family, and is generally frustrated with never being able to "cash in" on his genius. His solution? Cook methamphetamine! (Duh.) But while the business of large scale methamphetamine production is extremely profitable, it's also dangerous, not to mention illegal...and that's what makes this a viable television show.

The show is incredibly well done. Few television shows are as acted, directed, produced, and scripted as well as "Breaking Bad". They have earned every award they have won. And best of all, they have never resorted to supernatural or otherwise ridiculous storylines.(Contrived, sure, but not ridiculous. The Mexican drug war, which is a central storyline in the series, is real. In general, I think the show is very realistic, given the premise.) I think it is the best drama on television right now. In fact, I think the show might be a little too good.

How can a show be too good? While Amber acknowledges the high production value of the show, she doesn't watch it with me anymore. She says it's "too tense". Amber also tends to not like shows as much where the main characters aren't particularly likeable. Every character on the show has some serious flaws. But that's something I really like about the show: it's "human". The character development, all the way down to the supporting characters, is terrific. Walt, the teacher-turned-meth-cook, started out the series as an obvious protagonist, but now, I'm not so sure. Unlike, say, Jack Bauer, Walt does not always do the "right thing" or make the correct logical decision. "Cool under pressure" does not describe Walt in the least. On the other hand, Walt's actions make perfect sense in his head, and many of us would probably make the same choices under the same circumstances...but I'd like to think that many of us wouldn't have put ourselves in his situation to begin with, either. Should we be rooting for him at this point or not?

The last couple of seasons have been a little less light-hearted and a little more edge-of-your-seat, which has turned Amber away for the most part. Lately, "Breaking Bad" has been edge-of-your-seat ALL THE TIME. But given the premise, I think it has to be at this point. That's how it's supposed to work, right? The longer you stay in the methamphetamine business, and the higher up the food chain you go, the more complicated things get. Nothing is easy anymore. When I first started watching, I wondered, "How long can they keep this up? Walt's lifestyle is not sustainable." Well, they recently announced that next season will be the last of the series, and that will give us a total of 62 episodes, start to finish. I think that's a good number. I can't wait to see how it ends.


bubba0077 said...

Isn't (3) a subset of (1)? I don't know any (dramatic) lawyer shows that concentrate on civil cases.

Chris Allen said...

I've always thought of shows that concentrate on police / detectives, and shows that concentrate on the lawyers, as separate. In #1, the episode often starts with a crime, and police / detectives spend the rest of the episode trying to figure out who did it, and the episode ends with an arrest; the subsequent trial is never shown. In #3, said suspect is either arrested early in the episode or before the episode, and the episode concentrates on the criminal trial. I think there are enough shows of both types that they can be considered separate categories.