In the midst of the writers’ strike, American Movie Classics debuted an off-the-beaten-path hit with new series “Breaking Bad.”
Starring Bryan Cranston of “Malcolm in the Middle” as high school chemistry teacher Walter White, the series centers on Walt’s decision to enter the methamphetamine business in response to mounting mid-life tensions. Stuck with two lackluster jobs, a dull marriage and recent lung cancer diagnosis, Walt is strapped for cash and longs for the earlier, more stimulating days of his chemistry career.
Through an unlikely sequence of events, White stumbles into an ex-student and meth cooker, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). Blackmailing Pinkman, White proves his value as a chemist to Jesse, cooking up the cleanest batch of “crystal” that Jesse has ever seen. Blown away by White’s ability, Jesse jumps into business with him.
Unfortunately, the world of dealing meth isn’t as simple as cooking up a crystal-clear batch. Accidental explosions, run-ins with local drug-dealing baddies, and close calls with the DEA follow in the strike-shortened, seven-episode first season.
While the first episode sees Walt transform from a lowly chemistry teacher to a meth-cooking accomplice, the show never feels rushed. Through a flawless blend of gradual character-building and escalating suspense, “Breaking Bad” never ceases to feel fresh, nor does it rely on an over-the-top portrayal of the shady drug underworld to keep viewers glued to the tube. “Breaking Bad” is a bona fide drama with plenty of dark humor for comic relief.
The cast and crew are quick to note, however, that the show does not glamorize the world of methamphetamine. While the show contains plenty of clips of the chemical synthesis of the drug, producers are careful in their portrayal of meth cooking. “We don’t want the show to be a handbook for how to make meth, but we wanted to show the intricacies and what could go wrong with it,” said show production designer Robb Wilson King in bonus material available on the show’s official Web site.
While the show cannot help the illegality of the drug as a driving force for the plot, the show cannot get dismissed as a mere shock-and-awe stimulator. While the first season may have finished with Sunday’s airing of the season finale, the first two episodes, along with all sorts of extra behind-the-scenes goodies, are available online. To catch up with the series, visit AMC’s official Web site at http://www.amctv.com.
Rating: Five out of five stars.