In this series of posts, I’m going to talk briefly about some of my favourites TV shows of yesteryear, and some which I’m watching at the moment. In ‘Sh*t I Used To Watch’ I’ll reminisce about some TV shows that I used to watch, from my childhood up until roughly the time I graduated from University – by and large these will be shows that I haven’t watched since that period, or have only caught a small numbers of episodes of. In ‘Sh*t I Watch’ I will talk briefly about the shows I’m watching at the moment, and will deal with both current series which have not yet been cancelled or completed, and those which I am catching up on having missed first time around. I’ll try to post one of these each week, but as regular Glancers will be aware, my regular posts are fairly irregular. Some of the shows in both categories which I’ll talk about will be ones you should all be familiar with, while others will be extremely niche and I can only imagine about three other people will have ever heard of.
Breaking Bad. I’ve never heard anyone say a bad word against it, and those who watch it inevitably praise it. Well, all that’s about to change folks! Don’t worry, I’m not going to sit here and say that Breaking Bad is crap – it’s clearly not. It is an often excellent show with always superb performances, it tows the line between gripping tension, brutal violence, offbeat humour, and depicts its characters with a maniacal realism. But it isn’t without some faults, most of which are minor, subjective, and petty at worst, and I’m going to briefly talk about those below. But first, bear in mind that I have not yet finished the show – I’m almost at the end of Season 4 – which has taken me maybe two years to reach, so I don’t have much more to watch – NO SPOILERS!
Breaking Bad’s first series was an entertaining blend of humour and drama with two interesting characters who you wanted to root for, but also screamed at for dumb decisions. Season 1’s biggest failing perhaps was the lack of interesting supporting characters – with the exception of Hank no-one else really felt important or worthwhile (although Jessie’s assorted mates provided some decent light relief). Later seasons have rectified this by bringing in a more layered cast of characters, each with their flaws and plus points, and even characters not used to great effect ni the early days begin to show their worth. I do feel though that the addition of new characters has been at the detriment to the plot – we’re basically going through the same moves now, with Walt and Jessie getting up to some dire escapade and just barely avoiding death or the law or worse. Each Season has its own arc, but at its core it’s still about getting rich off drugs and not getting caught or killed in the process. That doesn’t mean that the show is not worth watching, clearly it is, just that it doesn’t engage or excite me as it did in its early days. The stakes are higher, but somehow the drama is less intense.
The show’s strength having said all of that is its writing. There are few shows which can compete with the writing of the characters in Breaking Bad. The conflicts within and between each character are multi-faceted, and the likes of Walt and Jessie are given exceptional dilemma and dialogue. The show, again highlighted in its early days, is written with a scientific precision and it is again one of a very small number of series which makes you feel smarter just by watching. On the flip side, the show is not afraid to go deep into the dark, seedy side of drugs, abuse, and the criminal underbelly. It tows the line between the glossy side of drugs – the money, the feeling, the experience, but never shies away from the fact that someone somewhere is being killed, tortured, or abused by making, selling, or taking these narcotics. The dialogue though is only as strong as the person delivering it, and with Breaking Bad there is a stellar cast who are so good they risk being typecast themselves. Even the bit players, or those who are important for a few episodes are stellar. While lacking the Hollywood names of shows which would come after, Breaking Bad is definitely one of the shows which heralded in this New Golden Age Of Television, where the best writers, actors, and directors realised they could give better performances, tell greater stories, and reach wider audiences on the small screen.
One thing which the show gets a lot of praise for is its music; not for me though. Too often are there pointless musical interludes or unnecessary blasts of sound or songs. These pieces are more often than not irritating and, well, crappy. Sure it can be argued that they set the scene for the border war area, but for me they get in the way, add nothing, and could be easily replaced by a more traditional score. Something more petty which bothers me is the emptiness of the setting. This looks like a dead America, lifeless and barren. I’m sure this is all deliberate, and understand that I’m not taking about the deserts employed in Season 1, but rather the town and suburban areas. This is a personal thing which in no way detracts from the show, but it gives me some feelings I can’t quite put into words – something akin to depression, the same feelings I see in the autumn countryside where everything reeks of death and useless expanses of land decaying.
Leaving loose ends is something I’ve also noticed, and while i haven’t finished the show to see if some of these are picked up on, to me it gives the impression of the writers trying to take a story or character in one direction but then abandoning that idea. I know that my two examples below aren’t the best as I;m sure they will be revisited, but as I’m writing this from the top of my head with no prior planning, you’ll have to bear with me. Jessie’s relationship with what’s her name goth girl – not necessarily set up to have the tragic ending that it did have, but at this point Walt has not had to answer for his crimes. Like I say, I’m sure this will come around again, but I get the feeling that this was set up to be a central conflict between Jessie, Walt, even the girl’s father – but that they decided to sweep it under the carpet. Similarly, Hank’s brief job down south where he witnesses a brutal turtle-related explosion, is all set up to show how scared and unhinged Hank is becoming but there is no pay-off or resolution. Some will argue that this lead to Hank’s beating of Jessie, but for me it again looked like the writers wanted to do something different with Hank then, for whatever reason, discarded the idea. Naturally both of these examples are covered up nicely but the rough edges remain.
So, enough moaning. Good acting and good writing is usually enough to get me watching any TV show. The idea of this meek, dying, mid-life crisis, talent thrown away man becoming a drug king pin is the main reason for the show existing, and Walt’s transformation over time is brilliantly executed. From the subtle moments in the early episodes of him failing to lose his nerve, from his increasingly devious and desperate plans, to his eventual cold-blooded malice and self-serving violence and vengeance is arguably the best portrayal of one man’s descent ever filmed. Jessie’s changes have likewise been interesting, but more uneven – from drug-taking waster, to man on the street with connections, to Walt’s lackey, to reformed junkie, to efficient drug-maker and killer. I want to see what happens next to these two – Skylar was such a wasted opportunity that I don’t care what happens to her. With a better written wife, a more interesting character from the start, she could have created and become involved in more interesting drama, instead of being the paranoid, bored, boring housewife who goes down the tried and pointless storytelling technique of having sex with someone else – the show doesn’t know what to do with its women. Side characters like Saul, Hank, all have their moments and are more the sort of person the show needs to keep that spark as the series progresses. Again personally, the show never quite pulls me in enough that I feel I need to watch episodes in rapid succession, but after some time passes I do want to come back to it.
That seems like a reasonable place to stop. I’d like to go on a little more about the humour but for now I’ll say that the show has a fair amount of funny moments, whether it be silly slapstick, or simply the increasing ridiculous nature of the scrapes the characters paint themselves into. I could talk more about the violence, the realism, the smaller side characters, but for now I want to go finish the season and see what happens next as it has been a few weeks since I last watched an episode. Let us know in the comments what you make of Breaking Bad – are you a fan, or are you one of the crazed few who hasn’t been wrapped up in the love-fest? How does that Saul spin-off show shape-up? Inject your opinions below.