Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Breaking Bad, season 1 (2008) ****

TV-MA, 7 47-min. episodes
Creator: Vince Gilligan
Directors: Vince Gilligan, Adam Bernstein, Jim McKay, Tricia Brock, Bronwen Hughes, Tim Hunter
Writers: Vince Gilligan, Patty Lin, George Mastras, Peter Gould
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, RJ Mitte, Maximno Arciniega, John Koyama, Steven Michael Quezada, Carmen Serano, Jessica Hecht, Tess Harper, Michael Bofshever, David House, Adam Godley, Raymond Cruz, Charles Baker, Cesar Garcia

I’ve heard this show is the best on television. After watching its brief debut season on Netflix Instant, I’m willing to believe it could be.

The story follows a high school chemistry teacher who discovers that he has terminal cancer. He’s given two years at the most to live. His wife is pregnant, and they seem fairly happy with their teenage son, who happens to have cerebral palsy. Looking at his life, he decides he’s worked too hard to continue his lamb-like existence and allow his family to have to pay for his cancer for the rest of their lives. He takes his chemical wizardry and hooks up with a former student (a bad one) to produce crystal meth.

It isn’t a surprise that such an unlikely concept for a television series came from a former writer and producer of “The X-Files”, Vince Gilligan.  The character-driven drama is a breath of fresh air in a television world where the independent detective has become the staple for a successful series. Bryan Cranston’s sometime hapless chemistry teacher is a study in someone getting in way over his head. He doesn’t inform his family about his illness for over a month. His brother-in-law is a DEA agent. Even his partner in crime isn’t fully aware of all the ins and outs of the drug trade.

Cranston is an incredibly watchable actor, who pulls off the amazing balancing act of cluelessly forging into unknown territory while constantly projecting his character’s extreme intelligence. He has a mean streak in him as well. Those moments when he lets go on a lesser person are the most satisfying of the first season, and probably those to come.

Gilligan and his writing team don’t seem to have a problem raising the stakes either. They start with a development you’d think would make a great climax to a first season when the two green drug partners are forced to deal severely with more experienced and dangerous individuals. Somehow, that’s only the beginning for these two. Gilligan also does a good job incorporating a good deal of comedy into this heavy enterprise. It all results in a show that you can’t wait to watch again once you finish an episode.

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