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Breaking Bad: five reasons you should watch
© 2011 Sony Pictures Television Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul in Breaking Bad
Breaking Bad's season five is underway in the US. Here in the UK, although the show is not currently broadcast on TV, season four is out now on DVD. And it's highly recommended.
Cancer-ridden chemistry teacher Walter White (magnificently played by Bryan Cranston) is still making meth alongside sidekick Jesse (the wonderful Aaron Paul). But Walter's attempt to provide for his family sees his dark transformation to full-blown criminal reach lethal new heights.
While the show is not available to watch on TV, here are five reasons you should be watching Breaking Bad.
Breaking Bad drills so much deeper than the premise (underachieving chemistry teacher is diagnosed with cancer and manufactures crystal meth to posthumously support his family).
Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season is out now on DVD. © 2011 Sony Pictures Television Inc. All Rights Reserved.
As with The Sopranos and The Wire, Breaking Bad unfolds like a literary novel, layered with themes, brimming with sharp dialogue and crucial, corner-of-the-eye detail.
Show creator Vince Gilligan's forensic guidance renders every scene - almost every shot - as an eloquent stitch in a bold and vivid tapestry.
It's a meticulously crafted adult drama that rewards viewer attention. Park any preconceptions about it being intimidatingly 'dark'; there's a delicious, Coen brothers-like flavour to the situations, with the writers depositing inky-black humour in the most desperate of dilemmas.
Any show that can wring a laugh from a semi-decomposed body splatting through a hole in the ceiling deserves your attention.
Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul have enjoyed Emmy acclaim for their portrayals of teacher-turned-drug kingpin Walter White and his reluctant sidekick Jesse. However, the series is rich with equally immense performances from superb character actors. Take Dean Norris - who expertly portrays Walter's bloodhound DEA agent brother-in-law, Hank as a conflicted mush of panic attacks and locker-room swagger.
Then there's Anna Gunn as Walter's increasingly disheartened partner; she slowly shifts - believably and sympathetically - from loyal wife to horrified observer. Giancarlo Esposito plays meth mogul Gus Fring with calm, android-like clarity. Every player - from bit-part to lead - brings their A-game to Breaking Bad.
Although 'sleazy lawyer', 'cocky dope-head' and 'laconic hitman' might seem like over-familiar and sketchy archetypes, the Breaking Bad versions are far from cartoonish. Gilligan and his writing team take great care to round their characters out with plausible motivations and three-dimensional inner lives. But, as all screenwriting tutors will insist, it's not enough for characters to be believable; they have to develop - and change.
"Chemistry," says Walter to his surly class in season one, "is the study of change." Equally, Breaking Bad is the study of one man changing - from meek and mild schoolteacher to sleek and wild-eyed drug manufacturer, organised-crime overlord and multiple murderer. Crucially, throughout the change, we tend to see the (usually disastrous) results of Walter's choices. Gilligan's message remains pure throughout: crime doesn't pay.
Wide-open south western American vistas are a stark contrast the paranoia of the characters; interiors are framed with painterly precision; every shot - however mundane - is composed with cinematic flourish.
Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad © 2011 Sony Pictures Television Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Breaking Bad is both brain food and eye candy, and these ultra-high production values mean the show practically demands repeat viewing. First time around, you roll with the story; second time, you wallow in the surroundings. It's also packed with startling, iconic individual images... As a DEA cop jokes with Hank on assignment in Mexico: "You look like you've never seen a man's severed head stuck to the back of a giant turtle before!"
Usually in TV, it's the episodes directed by the show's creator that stand up as the best. However, with Breaking Bad, the quality doesn't dip, irrespective of who's behind the camera. There's a clear sense of centralised control - Vince Gilligan's obsessive focus shadowing everyone who takes the job.
Gilligan's favourite guest director, Ryan Johnson, is even given the luxury of indulging in a high-concept episode set in a single location ('Fly'). Far from being a tolerable quirk, it's one of the series' finest 50 minutes.
Seriously, if you're not watching this show - you're missing out.
Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season is out now on DVD.
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