The synopsis (with NO SPOILERS):
A US chemistry teacher (Bryan Cranston, fom 'Malcolm in the Middle') discovers he has cancer, and has no way of paying the medical bills. One day it occurs to him that he could cover the needed expenses by making Crystal Meth - a drug which is in high demand on the streets. The series follows his adventures, and the ever-increasingly tangled web of lies that he weaves.
I've got to say how much I LOVED this series - season 1 is relatively short (7 episodes), but is filled with the kind of high-tension drama that made 'The Wire' so compelling. It's created by Vince Gilligan (the man behind 'The X-Files'* [*see comment]), and has the same quirky humour threaded all the way through - aided immensely by Cranston's witheringly caustic portrayal of a man who does not suffer fools gladly AT ALL, but ends up having to work with one.
As events unfurl, he is forced to keep bigger and bigger secrets from his wife and son...
I don't want to give the impression that this is primarily a comedy, because it isn't - it's a dark psychological drama with some great moments of equally dark humour - the cast are all exceptional, and the casting is spot-on. For example, Cranston's character has a son who has CP, so they cast RJ Mitte, an actor who actually has it in real life. This might seem a little worthy but when watching the series it works perfectly.
If you liked the grittiness of 'The Wire', the dark humour of 'The Sopranos' or the strange other-ness of 'The X-Files', I can recommend this to you WHOLEHEARTEDLY. Seriously - this is the best thing I've seen on TV for a long long time... and the good news is that series 2 is just as good, but 12 episodes long!
Take a chance - buy it - I promise you won't regret it.
on 16 January 2010
Now let's get one thing straight; this is a television program NOT for the faint at heart. If you like your viewing saccherine, with easy answers and everything wrapped up and snapped back to the beginning by the end of the episode, Breaking Bad is not for you. The premise alone should be enough to tell you that; a cancer-striken father who is a chemistry teacher turns to illegal drug manufacture with a not-too-bright ex-student and struggles with his own mortality and morality along the way, doing his best to hide the new career choice from his pregnant wife, son with cerebal palsy, medic sister-in-law and law enforcer brother. Yes, this isn't light-weight material by any means.
I'm not a fan of these shows that rely on "inflated sense of tension" to pump up the viewer's adrenaline levels while covering for poor scripting; stuff like 24, Lost and Prison Break started out well-enough but quickly descended into this cheap shock tactic approach to keep the audience hooked. Once I saw through this I stopped watching them completely and have been seeking out quality American shows that are well-produced and equally well-written, and I am happy to say that Breaking Bad is one of these. Not since I saw Firefly (a very different kind of show) have I enjoyed a television program this much.
Bryan Cranston is perfectly cast as Walt, the man who has to make tough choices to provide for his family. He so perfectly becomes the character that it was not until later I realised he was previously cast as Hal in Malcolm In The Middle. His emotional range is staggering; with a few well-timed gestures or vocalisations he can convey several feelings at once, and when Walt is in pain it is completely believable. Walt is a man of few words, but chooses these words very carefully, so when he speaks everyone on-screen and in the audience are listening.
Cranston isn't just carrying passengers though; he's ably supported by Anna Gunn as his wife Skylar, who brings just the right amount of care and concern for her husband and baby as needed and RJ Mitte plays the son who has CP and gives a very accurate, non-condescending portrayal of the condition so different from the ham-handed "sympathy ploy" approach so overused by shows from the States. Dean Norris plays Walt's brother Hank, the all-American police officer who doesn't take any guff and flushes out drug dealers for a living and his quirky kleptomaniac wife Marie (the lightest character in this show, amusingly) is handled with panache by Betsy Brandt. Rounding out the main cast is Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman, every inch the nervy, paranoid and streetwise "cook" who becomes Walt's new partner and guide to the world of drug trafficing.
I could say so much about what makes this a compelling piece of film-making - it really does play like an extended movie at many points - but I'd be here for a long time. Tight, well-plotted scripts that make the unbelievable tangeable and don't waste a line while doing so. Superb, inventive direction and settings that perfectly fit the mood of the show, an interesting mixture of steadicam, handicam, point-of-view and via camcorders that appear to be captured by the cast themselves. Excellent choice of soundtrack; almost every episode ends with a classic song and the musical cues throughout really add to the atmosphere without becoming overpowering; witness the searing, high-pitched noises when we see through Walt's eyes as he is in pain or being given bad news for an example.
What is most remarkable is that the show never gives easy answers, never biases us towards the characters (we are given both sides of the debate and left to make our own choices, which respects the viewers intelligence) and always does things that you will not expect. There is not a single cliche to be found here, no way of knowing exactly how each person will react to the situations they are thrust into. These are complex, multi-faceted individuals with free will and their own motivations, who exist not as mere tools to advance the plot. The plot itself is always coherent and leaves very few loose ends. If you see an event or object framed, however subtley, you can bet it will come back later on. Maybe not in the same episode, but as part of the story arc. And last but not least is the incredibly pitch black humour that crops up every now and then, so dark it almost feels uncomfortable to laugh.
Overall this is an assured, professional piece of work that ranges from very good to downright stunning, with "Crazy Handful Of Nothin'" being the standout episode of the first season. If they can carry this program on for two or three more seasons and then end it without dragging past the logical closure point (and with Walt the way he is, this is crucial), it will be one of the greatest drama series of all time.
on 11 July 2011
First off i've never written a customer review on amazon or any other site ever, normally the good stuff has largely positive reviews and the bad stuff largely negative, i.e its easy to make an informed decision. But with this series (and i mean in the uk) its been completely overlooked for some reason.
Ive seen all three seasons and without giving any spoliers suffice to say it just gets better amd better, everything is like one long huge film rather than having any 'filler' episodes but each one still remains unique, great writing and acting all around.
Comparing this to any other tv is a bit redundant its so original, the way its shot as well (in parts) is beautiful the dialouge is snappy and theres black humour (the best) throughout with a healthy dose of 'serious' moments too and it definitely makes you think.
More than anything though its just fun,classy tv and i think will appeal to allsorts. So buy it, watch it, love it (inevitably) and spread the word.
Hopefully they release the third season in the uk soon and this doesnt become something us brits overlook completely. Its better than most other programmes out there its just hard to find it on.
2009? I watched one episode of this. Then got my kids (all of them old enough, don't worry) to watch it. And I tell you folks, nothing that year came close to this series, and we are all unreconstructed Doctor Who fans from the old school (whatever that means) and we were all totally in thrall to this amazing series.
Who is Brian Cranston? Don't know, but he deserves each and every award that he has received, been nominated for, and if there aren't any he hasn't got and you think he should have, for goodness sake get creative and INVENT one. Same goes for whathisface Gilligan and everyone else.
Where one earth do I start?
Maybe it's the deconstruction and disassembly of the American Dream.
Walter, a gifted chemistry teacher, one day wakes up and finds out that his persistent cough is lung cancer. That would be bad enough, but his circumstances are such that he is far more terrified about the future than any normal person would be given his diagnosis. The story is basically what he is prepared to do to try to make a future for his wife, his teenage son and his baby (who is about to arrive).
So far so good. But what a merry dance we are led into. We are tempted to believe that Walt really is very unfortunate, but as the series progresses, and believe me, it does so in fine style, we start to see faint but unmistakable inconsistencies in this apparent series of facts; we see (for instance) that his son is actually very intelligent, far from being helpless, he's a one of the series' strongest characters, and so it goes on - what really IS driving Walt?
What is REALLY going on?
I'll let you find out.
I don't know where to begin with the enormous questions that the series raises. I remember my old drama teacher telling us that the purpose of drama was to knock you on the head and make you think, make you laugh, to assault you and not let you get up for at least a while. What is the source of Walt's dissolution? Is it the nature of what America has turned into? Who are his real friends? Why does he feel poor? What is the American Dream? Who pays for it? And what is it's eventual disposition?
Whatever the answers, you will not be disappointed with this sucker, that, I promise. I want to meet this guy Walt some day, even if it is the last thing I ever do.
Very, very powerful and often very funny too.
on 23 February 2012
I rarely get hooked into US TV dramas, early Sopranos was probably my last major interest. Likewise, the majority of Hollywood films do little for me, because they tend to be predictable and/or rely on a formula, whilst strenuously avoiding any serious moral ambiguity. But "Breaking Bad" is so easy to enjoy precisely because it's unpredictable, darkly comic and frequently quite twisted. Full marks to the cable channel AMC for having the cojones to commission something like this. And zero marks to the main UK channels (other than Channel 5?) for failing to bring this to a wider audience over here.
As the creator of the show (Vince Gilligan) has observed, there are no purely good or bad characters, and it's this continuous interplay of conflicting agendas which keeps you on the edge of your seat; at times it's excruciating to watch, in a very good and unusual way.
The cinematography (shot on 35mm film) and searing desert locations are stunning. Because of the visual impact, lengthy edits and razor-sharp dialogue, it often feels like something by David Lynch, or Tarantino (on a good day). I'd even buy a Blu-Ray player just to get the very best version of this, if it wasn't for the fact that it's unavailable on Region B discs, and therefore requires an American machine! **Insert your own argument about the restrictive, artificial practices of the content industry here**
I really hope this show has a long way to go (apparently Series 5 has just started shooting) but I somehow suspect that won't be the case...
Also just found the ebook "companion" called "Buy the RV: We Start Tomorrow" on the Kindle store, a steal at £1.92!
"Buy The RV, We Start Tomorrow.": The A.V. Club's Guide To Breaking Bad
There are only seven episodes in this first series of Breaking Bad but I was so hooked I watched them back to back - it has been a very long time since I have felt that enthralled by any series.
The synopsis below does not give anything away beyond the first episode.
The first episode opens with Walt (played by Bryan Cranston) walking away from a burning RV, gun in hand minus his trousers and with police sirens blaring in the distance. The scene looks bizarre and surreal as Walt couldn't look anything less like a criminal if he tried. The story then switches back to the present day and begins to fill in the gaps as to how he came to be in that position. This is a technique used frequently in both series one and two.
Walt, a middle class, law abiding chemistry teacher discovers that at the age of 50 he has terminal lung cancer. He is working two jobs to keep the family finances afloat. His oldest son, Walt Junior has cerebral palsy and his wife, Skylar finds herself unexpectedly pregnant at the age of 40. Walt is at a loss as to how he is going to provide financial security for his family after his demise and in the short term how he is going to fund his medical care. He needs to get his hands on a vast sum of money - and he needs it quickly.
Walt seeks out one of his former students, Jesse (Dean Norris) - a time wasting, good-for-nothing layabout and small time drug dealer. Much as it pains Walt to have anything to do with Jesse, he needs him for the one skill set he does have - cooking and selling methamphetamine. Together, the pair come up with a scheme to make the best meth on the market and to get rich very quickly. Suffice to say, things don't always go smoothly for them in their new business venture.
The series is full of black humour - some of the things that happen are so awful that they are absolutely hilarious. The subject matter won't suit everyone's taste, some might even find it offensive, but I have to admit that I laughed until I cried on many occasions.
Bryan Cranston plays Walt perfectly. He is completely believable in his role and it is impossible not to side with him and want him to be successful even though at the back of your mind you have that nagging reminder that he is now producing Class A drugs.
The series doesn't make use of cliff-hangers or other tension inducing stunts commonly used in series such as 24, Prison Break, Oz etc - it simply doesn't need to bother with that type of ploy. Instead it relies on an imaginative plot, well written script and well rounded characters. When one episode ends all you will want to do is watch the next one; I would be surprised if anyone could stretch this series out over a long time period.
The only negative is that there were just seven episodes - I wanted more as will anyone else who watches this series. Suffice to say I immediately bought series two and am currently watching those pretty much back-to-back.
Overall, a brilliant drama series. If you missed it first time around on TV then grab a copy now, you won't regret it.
on 20 February 2014
I've just watched the 62nd and final episode of Breaking Bad and here, without any major spoilers, is why you should begin the same breathtaking journey.
The series is an action-drama that centres on Walter White. He's a 50-year-old respected chemistry teacher, just about keeping his family afloat with the aid of a second job at a car wash, who one day is given a diagnosis of terminal cancer. With a wife, son (who has cerebral palsy) and soon-to-be-born baby to care for, not to mention his considerable medical expenses, he needs money - and fast.
Walt takes the fateful step of combining his perfectionist chemical know-how with one of his more street-savvy former students, Jesse Pinkman, to 'cook' and supply the highest quality crystal meth that their area has seen. He discovers that once on this path, although there are many detours, it's very difficult to go back. Walt's relationships with his family and friends (including his DEA agent brother-in-law) are suddenly beset with problems, and he frequently relies on resourcefulness, ingenuity and serendipity to both keep his illicit activities from them and play the criminal fraternity at its own game.
So why does the series enjoy so much acclaim? It comes down to a brilliant original idea from Vince Gilligan, working closely with a talented writing team who, over the course of five seasons, hammer out every single plot point and use all the narrative devices in the book to tell an utterly compelling story of one man's embarkation on a hazardous voyage. Not just that, it has the magical combination of a first-rate ensemble cast (Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul play Walt and Jesse respectively), innovative hand-held camerawork (beautiful timelapse establishing shots; out of kilter POV moments) and excellent characterisation.
Because Sony was taking a tentative punt on the series and it coincided with a writers' strike, the episodes in the first batch are few in number (just seven). However, each of the next three seasons comprises thirteen instalments and season five is split into two runs of eight apiece. The low episode count for season one works to its advantage as it allows plenty of time to set the scene and introduce characters while still telling a blackly comedic tale, which leads directly into the series proper, if you like.
This is a programme you'll want to stick with. It continually raises the stakes as it goes on and, come the final episodes, you'll be bingeing on it. Breaking Bad is, quite simply, one of the finest examples of television art. There are many British shows that could learn from it.
on 26 October 2011
This series was recommended to me and when I started to play it immediately thought that it was not going to be my kind of thing. How wrong can you be... within five minutes I was really enjoying it and watched two episodes in one go. The characters are all very believable and I found myself quickly caring very much about the main character Walt and his lovely wife and son who is a superb actor. I'm about to purchase series two and can't wait to start watching. It's a series that appears to go on and on which for me is great now that I've found something that really is very different and highly entertaining. I can't rate it enough. Five stars plus!!
on 6 May 2009
This show needs to be picked up by the UK and be shown for all to see! The writing is unexpected the characters totally believable and Bryan Cranston is fabulous as Walter White. It sucks you in and makes you want more and more!
Great great great - get hold of it - dont wait for it to come over here buy the DVD - you will not regret it and if you do then there's something wrong!!
on 1 July 2015
Once I started watching this series, I didn't stop, until I got to the end... It is a perfect parable
for what happens when good people, turn bad, and money and power become a prioritised motivation,
over love and happiness... Every series, is fantastic, and brilliantly acted, and a real well made programme.
Recommended as it is superior to so much stuff you'll see... (Or won't see).