Posts Tagged ‘Breaking Bad’

Breaking Bad Season 3

July 19, 2011

In anticipation of Breaking Bad Season 4 (first episode aired last night, and man was it insane), I just finished Season 3 and…wow!

I stick with my A+ rating from my earlier review.

I stand by everything I said earlier and would like to elaborate on three things that make this one of the best shows on television.

Breaking Bad Is Fearless

So much of television, and in particular procedurals, is plot-driven.  Breaking Bad is the opposite.

Breaking Bad is character-driven and it is the actions of the characters on the show that progress the plot forward.

It is the characters who make the decisions that impact the direction of the show.  And they get it wrong more often than they get it right (kinda like in real life).

Jesse is a perfect example of this.  His decisions are dictated by the ‘what would a f***-up meth dealer and wannabe gangster do?’ and not by the whims of what is convenient for the writer.

And he is just the most obvious example.

The Production And Art Departments

I talked in-depth about this in the earlier review and I stand by the fact that the art and props department (and location scouts) are “JJ Abrams quality” in their ability to set the scene perfectly.

I’m always raving on Twitter about how flawless the production design is on Fringe and I gotta say that Breaking Bad is just as good (maybe better).

From that stupid Pontiac Aztek to the leather jacket that Walter wore in a flashback, there is never a moment when you are not in the reality of Breaking Bad.  Never a moment that you think that you’re watching life and not a Hollywood production.

Oh, and those Los Pollos Hermanos commercials are just brilliant.

Three words: Gale’s recumbent bicycle.

I should also mention that the cinematography and lighting are superb.

Giving Character Actors Something To Do

By far, the biggest strength of Breaking Bad is its extended cast.

It’s one thing to hire great character actors.  Any show can do that.  It’s another to actually put them to work.  To give them depth and literally “things to do.”

Dean Norris has shined on this show, but then you get guys like Jonathan Banks (Mike) and…seriously, Jeremiah Bitsui (Victor).

The two of them.  There’s so much going on with those characters and they just nail it.  For Bitsui it’s even more difficult to step up to the challenge since I can’t say he’s said 10 words on the entire show.

Which is probably why Mike and Victor are currently my two favorite characters on the show.

I should also mention that even though he’s not a character actor, Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman might be one of the greatest supporting characters ever.  TV Guide, EW and whomever else makes those type of lists needs to make sure he’s in their Top 3 (at least).

I don’t know what else I can say about how great this show is except that I have loaned my Season 1 and 2 box sets to the first of many friends and expect them to continue traveling for quite some time.  (which means you’re on your own to get caught up before Season 4 starts)

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Observations From Breaking Bad Seasons 1 And 2

September 8, 2010

Rating: A+

So why have I not been watching Breaking Bad (AMC) since the pilot?

I will admit to having been distracted when I watched the pilot when it first aired.  My head was “somewhere else” and I turned it off after five minutes, which in retrospect was a mistake.

A number of people who I know, and trust, have been raving about this program and as a result I have been spending time getting caught up.

I can say, emphatically, that it has been time well spent.

Season One (seven episodes) and Two (thirteen episodes) were on sale at Target and I have been squirreling away Season Three (thirteen episodes) on my DVR, hedging my bets that I would like it.

And I have enjoyed what I have seen so far (1.01 – 2.10).

This is a spoiler free review and I will not talk about plot or characters in a way that will take away from your enjoyment of the show.  In fact, this isn’t so much of a review as it is observations.

The reason for this is that one of the things that added to the enjoyment of the program for me was knowing little to nothing about it.

I knew that it was about a science teacher who cooks meth with a former student.  That’s about all I knew and that’s about all you need (or want) to know going into it.

The Writing

The character creation is tight and quite strong.  Creator Vince Gilligan was a writer on The X-Files; one of the best television shows of the 1990’s.  He and his writing staff can do subtle, but they can also shock the **** out of you with a single line of dialogue.

From a plotting standpoint, the show is ultimately about how life throws us obstacles and the decisions that we make to attempt to overcome them.  Sometimes they are the right decisions, but the outcomes are wrong.  And vice versa.  And anything in between.  It’s about how we adjust and adapt and what we do when faced with challenges.  Where this program, and others on cable (versus the “big four networks”) differ is that things don’t always work out in the end.  Rarely are the happy endings happy.

It is also interesting to note that characters stay in character.  They make bad decisions as if they would in real life, and not decisions that are convenient for the writers (or network).

In a weird way, this program has a number of similarities to the 1985 film, The Falcon and the Snowman which I blogged about in the past, but expands on a number of the ideas in that film throughout the seasons.

I hate to use the word “raw,” but when it comes to the affect drugs and the war on drugs have on people’s lives, this program is quite raw when it comes to portraying this.  Episodes 2.06 (“Peekaboo”) was one of the most disturbing things I have watched since Oz.  It will haunt you.

It also does a very good job of adding discourse to another aspect of the current political debate (which I won’t talk about because it might spoil a reveal in the pilot and throughout the show).

The Acting

Brian Cranston did appearances on Adam Carolla’s podcast to promote the show, and he sounds not only like a nice guy, but like a man who is doing something he loves.  Looking at his IMDB credits, there is no doubt that an actor with this much time on screen could pull in three Emmy awards in a row, he just needed the right part.  And to that point, I would submit that his work on Malcolm In The Middle prepared him for this role more than any other actor when you consider that this is a role about a man undergoing a metamorphosis; one where he is changing from the man he was to the man he is at this moment.

It is a Jekyll/Hyde role, but it is in the moment.  He needsto be able to switch from “family man” to “what he as become”  flawlessly and in an instant.  151 episodes and six years doing Malcolm In The Middle makes his transitions immediate and jarring and effortless.

The entire cast, supporting cast and guest actors/actresses are fantastic but the standout is Aaron Paul.  Paul has one of the most difficult jobs on this show; going toe-to-toe with Cranston in the bulk of his scenes.  It is exhausting work for any actor, let alone an actor as young as he is, but he pulls it off (and got an Emmy award of his own for Season Three).  The “relationship” that Cranston and Paul negotiate on camera changes from father/son to business partners to apprentice/mentor to contempt and then respect…changing by the second and based on the whims and scenarios of the characters.  He can play aggressive and then clueless and then sympathetic as the scene progresses.  And both of them keep pace with each other (and the rest of the cast) perfectly.

The Production

The production department for this show deserve a tremendous amount of credit for the authenticity of this show.  Costumes.  Props.  Locations.  When you watch this program, you feel as if you are looking at real people living their real lives and not a Hollywood interpretation.

This is further made real by the cinematography and lighting.  For a program shot in HD, there are scenes that look like they were shot using a Kodak Disc with a bad flash and then enlarged to 5 x 7; grainy, washed out with lots of muted browns and yellows.  The show has a distinct look that combines the way it was shot with the physical elements and provides authenticity.

Every person who works on this show behind the scenes contributes to why this show works and why it looks so “real” without the viewer thinking that it is being faked.  To say that it looks “real” is the highest compliment I can give a production.

AMC Gets It Right Once Again

AMC’s new strategy for producing quality original drama programs appears to be working; High-end creators working with limited creative restrictions and a cautious/low risk production rollout.

While it is a small lineup of three programs (though it will be growing to include The Walking Dead and The Killing), I can safely say that every show on AMC is worth watching and I will watch anything they decide to air.

As far as distribution, the first seasons are either seven or thirteen episodes commitments and the original programming is limited to Sunday evenings with two hour blocks, multiple repeats and availability on iTunes.

…and with that, I have to get back to finishing the end of Season Two and starting up Season Three.  In the meantime, here is a great image from print maker Tim Doyle called, “The Cook.”  (it was for sale on his site, but has since sold out so check eBay if you want a copy).

The Cook, By Tim Doyle

The Cook, By Tim Doyle