Sunday, January 20, 2008

Breaking Bad: This guy walks into an oncologist's office...

Spoilers for the debut episode of "Breaking Bad" coming up just as soon as I check eBay...

I talked in general about the series in my column on Friday -- short version: I love Bryan Cranston, here and elsewhere, and found the show overall interesting but not really engrossing or fully-formed yet -- so I'll hit the usual bullet points and then open it up to anybody who watched:
  • As rote, lifeless sex scenes go, the eBay/birthday gift thing was especially mortifying (and funny), and of course worked as a nice counterpoint to Walt being sexually aggressive with Skyler in the final scene. Being diagnosed with terminal cancer and getting caught up in the meth world is 95 percent awful for Walt, but there's five percent positive, as he's been woken up from a long slumber.
  • The scene where he confronted the bullies at the clothing store reminded me a bit of George Costanza in "The Opposite," where he acts so obviously crazy with the guys behind him that they didn't even dare finding out if he could fight. Obviously, Walt took it a step further by assaulting the biggest guy first, but I wouldn't have been surprised at all if he had finished his rant with, "We're gonna take it outside and I will show you what it's like!"
  • I like how chemicals are omnipresent in Walt's life -- not just in his class or cooking meth in the RV with Jesse, but in all the cleaning products and fumes he has to deal with at the car wash, or the way he tries to calm himself after getting the bad news by lighting a series of matches and just appreciating the combustion reaction of it.
  • There are a few different scenes where Gilligan trying to make a grand point gets undercut by the reality of the situation. For instance, Walt's big speech to his disinterested class about why he loves chemistry is followed by the revelation that they're already on Chapter 6; isn't that monologue something for earlier in the semester? And even though Walt is saved by the fact that the sirens represent fire trucks and not cops (and by his ineptitude with firearms), wouldn't at least one of the trucks have stopped, even for a second, to see if there were any people injured in what looked like a bad car crash?
  • "Mad Men" is pretty much a PG-13 kind of show, in terms of language, skin, etc. The screener version I watched of the "Breaking Bad" pilot was definitely R, with the naked woman helping Jesse escape, Walt and Jesse arguing over the s--t he cooks, etc. But it's still the "Shield" version of R, which means no F-words, as the sound drops out quite noticeably when Walt tries to drop an F-bomb on his car wash boss when he quits.
  • Walt literally launders the drug money. Nice.
What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

The show was pretty good and I expect it to get better every week but is it going to be that graphic in every episode? I don't mind but shouldn't this show be on hbo or something? I don't want to hear bleeps or mutes all the time.

Oh, and Alan do you what Walter's son's condition is?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Oh, and Alan do you what Walter's son's condition is?

Cerebral palsy.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I tuned it. With only 1 more night for football, I'll be watching this and the Wire on Sundays. The Meth subject is something I thought a show could be based in. I have an uncle in Mizzou, who as a cop has seen his job come to revolve around the drug.

The show has a chance to become good and with the strike I will definately be givin it a chance

And AMC deserves some credit with this show and Mad Men. Something different and a nice way to try and establish their brand

Unknown said...

Alan --

OT, but any chance of you putting up links to the first season Mad Men shows as they re-run them, in the spirit of Strike Survival?

Liked Breaking Bad. Will definitely be back. I wish they had been a little clearer about the kid's handicap, as we spent a good portion trying to guess if he was just slow and disabled, disabled and making an acting choice, or playing CP. (Does the actor actually have CP that plays him?)

Alan Sepinwall said...

Tuck, you might want to scroll down a few entries.

Anonymous said...

i don't understand the nuances of comedy. its like that line about pornography. i know it when i see it.

i tried to watch weeds. nothing.

one ep of breaking bad?

hilarious. and it was totally bryan cranston, who i don't know, i have never watched his other shows.

the pilot had me from the get go.

too funny. give me more please.

thank you.

Anonymous said...

So far AMC is 2 for 2 with their original series. Loved Bryan Cranston in Malcolm In The Middle and I'm glad he's found a great character in Walter White. Sorry to hear that his character won't be along for long. I also echo Alan's questioning the lack of response by the firemen in seeing a man in his underwear standing next to a crashed RV. Also great was Walter's bone-jumping of his wife and her reaction. Sin can set a man free.

Anonymous said...

Did I zone out for a minute and miss it, or was the eBay scene cut from the version that aired? There seemed to be several profanities uttered with the sound dropping out. I'd much prefer they found out what AMC can broadcast and wrote to those standards.

"Interesting but not really engrossing or fully-formed yet" nails my reaction.

Cranston's pantsless tightie-whitie outfit reminded me of another moment with him dressed like that, in the underseen, very funny movie Seeing Other People. At one point, Cranston's character is caught sporting that look, and someone else responds with the killer line "A shirt but no pants. Is there a worse look for a guy?"

Hyde said...

On the Dole: I think you must have seen one of the repeats. It was commercial-free on its first run. I wonder if that will be the case every week.

Anonymous said...

I watched about half of the commercial free airing. Words were bleeped out, but they did show the E-Bay/sex scene (which by the way, didn't even remotely amuse me. Do you have to be a guy to appreciate it?) What's the point of putting in language and scenes that they know will be edited?

This didn't get my attention enough for me to want to watch it again. I don't think it was bad, it just didn't appeal to me.

Alan Sepinwall said...

What's the point of putting in language and scenes that they know will be edited?

Because I'm not sure they knew when they shot it what would and wouldn't be edited.

R-rated content on basic cable is still an uncertain thing. There's no FCC regulations, so it's a matter of what the advertisers will accept -- or what you think they'll accept. I was on the set of "The Shield" once when Vic's ex used the F-word in a scene. I asked whether that would actually make it to air, and was told they didn't know; they'd have to run it up a number of flagpoles first. It didn't, and the scene was shot in a way where you couldn't see Corrinne's face at that moment, so they could just re-splice the line without the F-word.

And AMC is brand new at this series thing. I wouldn't be surprised if the content in "Mad Men" becomes a bit more risque in season two (whenever season two gets made) as they gauge what their audience and sponsors expect from them.

Anonymous said...

^What maura said. I watched about half of it, but it didn't really engage me. I'll probably give it another shot next week.

R.A. Porter said...

I recognized that Walter Jr. had CP, but only because I remembered Blair's cousin Geri from Facts of Life. Draw what conclusions about me you will from that.

I thought the episode was pretty solid, loved/cringed at the eBay scene, and adore Bryan Cranston.

I think there are a couple things to consider in terms of the show's possible longevity: first, they might just remain on contracted time and stay in the here and now for a few seasons; second, Walt didn't get a second opinion. Could be he's got the equivalent of a "brain cloud".

I'd like to see his partner get fleshed out a bit more, and see a little more of Walt's life at school, but right now I'm sure I'm coming back for at least a few more.

Anonymous said...

"I recognized that Walter Jr. had CP, but only because I remembered Blair's cousin Geri from Facts of Life"

Well, Anna Gunn was Bullock's wife on Deadwood...

Mo Ryan said...

Tuck Pendleton, in answer to your question, I believe the actor playing Walt Jr, RJ Mitte, does have cerebral palsy in real life.

pgillan said...

This episode dragged a little bit, but I'll definitely continue to watch. I was fully on board when they were discussing safety in the meth lab, and Walter declares "we'll have an eye-wash station!"

Anonymous said...

Because I'm not sure they knew when they shot it what would and wouldn't be edited.

R-rated content on basic cable is still an uncertain thing. There's no FCC regulations, so it's a matter of what the advertisers will accept -- or what you think they'll accept.

Ah, I forgot that there are no FCC regs. for basic cable. I assumed they wouldn't allow bare breasts or the F-word, but then, I was shocked the first time I heard Tommy say ""shit" on Rescue Me. Not that I was offended. I just didn't expect it.

Unknown said...

I loved the first ep. I think I may like it better than "Mad Men," because it's great to see a guy who's so beaten-down snap and take what he wants.

Also, the Anna Gunn character seems pretty promising--I loved when her sister offered to critique her writing and she just said "No."

My first thought as soon as it was over: "Weeds" is going to have to do a lot better than last season in order to not suffer by comparison.

Rand said...

If cable was FCC regulated what would they do with South Park's night of 100+ sh**s (I'm unsure of your policy on curses, Alan)?

But this episode was... quite a bit creepy. But yeah, it was hilarious and thrilling. But I'm curious how far they are/can let Walter evolve into a murdering drug-dealer and if several episodes of watching him act like that will just get tiresome. After all, while the sidekick is funny and interesting, there isn't really any other strong characters in the show right now (although it just began and from the previews at the end it seems the wife could become interesting).

In the end I'm cautiously excited.

Anonymous said...

I downloaded it for free on iTunes yesterday. Just checked and it's not free anymore. Pretty good show. Interesting to see how it turns out.

K J Gillenwater said...

I loved it, too. The first airing of the pilot had been languishing on my TiVO for a few days, so I'm a little behind with the commenting.

I didn't see the eBay/sex thing as funny...just really sad. That the wife seemed so disinterested and sort of joking about what usually is an intimate loving act between a husband and wife.

Everything about this show kept me interested. I like characters who, for one reason or another, act out of character and challenge themselves. That a chemistry teacher would become a meth 'artist' was so intriguing to me, I can't wait to see where his drug adventures take him.

I also love Bryan Cranston. A very gifted actor. Some of his stuff on "Malcolm in the Middle" was genius.

Sarah Mae said...

So, I’m rewatching the first season of “Breaking Bad.”

When the series ended, I thought I’d be a long time before I revisited it. The end of “Breaking Bad” was such a monster TV event that I felt over-stuffed on it by the time the finale came along, as much as I enjoyed the ride. But between the best drama win at the Emmys and chatter from other fans and blogs, I found myself really wanting to go back to it after not much more than a year. At least, for the first season. I was not into the series when its run started (though I did watch bits and pieces of the first season as it aired), so I’m adding the comments here to give my rewatch some structure and to see how this show looked the first time around.

I’ve watched the pilot several times, and it holds up extremely well as a two-hour movie. It would’ve remained a very strong hour or drama and dark comedy even if the series itself hadn’t come to much (I can see how it would’ve been hard to see how this was an ongoing series, as good as the pilot is). It’s beautifully shot, wonderfully paced, and establishes its world and invests the viewer in Walter White instantly. The character arrived fully-formed by Bryan Cranston, and even if it’s unclear where the show goes from here, I am interested in that guy.

What’s striking is how under-formed the rest of the characters were. Jesse is a wannabe gangster whose main role is comic relief, Hank is a stereotypical blowhard, somewhat racist cop, it’s striking how cold Marie is. Say what you will about her character, she grew into a reliably warm presence and it’s weird to see her be such a mean girl to Skyler at the baby shower. And Skyler really is introduced as a nagging, disinterested wife, as wrong as that description came to be as things went on. She’s not terrible, she clearly cares about Walt and her son, but she’s introduced in broad strokes so the stale state of the White marriage will be clear to the viewer, and the writers did have to “fix” their take on her to make her a fully realized character as the series progressed.

The secondary characters aren’t the point right now, though. The point is Walter White, and he’s 100% pure from the start, even if he begins as more Mr. Chips than Scarface.