Sunday, July 26, 2009

Breaking Bad [television review]

* Season one now available on DVD; season two's DVD release date TBA

When the glowing reviews for AMC's Breaking Bad came in during its first season, I viewed the critical praise with cautious optimism. Other recent amazingly reviewed series such as Mad Men, Carnivale, Grey’s Anatomy and House completely left me scratching my head as to what the fuss was about. Usually I’ll allow myself three or four episodes of a new show to find something that will keep me watching and Breaking Bad had me hooked after just one.

The storyline revolves around a dull high school chemistry teacher who suddenly finds himself facing his own mortality and sets out on an unconventional path of cooking crystal meth to provide a financial safety net for his family when he’s not around any more. A terrific cast is highlighted by Bryan Cranston (Malcolm In The Middle) as central figure Walter White, Anna Gunn as his wife and Aaron Paul as Walter’s drug partner-in-crime.

Cranston completely inhabits the lacklustre soul of a man who is 50-ish and leads a safe, unadventurous life, albeit with a loving wife and son to show for it. There’s such a restrained, mannered, uptight air about Walter that it’s unsettling. He’s not an unlikeable character, though, more one that the viewer just feels pity for. A much-needed kick in the ass for him arrives via the aforementioned circumstances and it’s fun to see Walter come alive and live on the edge, even as he struggles with how much time he has left to walk that tightrope. Paul, as Walt’s former student Jesse, is an entertaining foil in the unlikely duo.

Season two recently ended and it only improved on the excellence of the first season. Bob Odenkirk joins the cast with a recurring role as the epitome of a sleazy lawyer and it’s one of the better supporting performances I’ve seen on the small screen in recent memory. Breaking Bad certainly lives up to the hype (season one brought multiple Emmy wins and the show is nominated in five categories this year) and I couldn’t recommend it any more highly more as the next TV series you need to catch up on.

Rating: 8/10