Breaking Bad is Amazing

There can be little argument that Arrested Development is one of the finest TV shows ever produced. But it is essentially a pre-recession show: the characters are careless, shallow, and rich, the plot follows executive hijinks at a real estate development company, and the humor revolves around intricate post-modern inside jokes. It’s a lighter-than-air comedy that couldn’t be more delighted with itself.

What people may not know is that Breaking Bad is also one of the best shows ever produced, and perhaps the definitive post-recession show. It’s a brooding drama about wasted talent, the struggle to make ends meet on a middle class paycheck, and the dark temptations of power.

The plot follows Walter White, a brilliant but timid chemistry teacher stuck in a thankless job and a decaying marriage. When Walter, played with otherworldly intensity by Bryan “Dad from Malcom in the Middle” Cranston, receives a cancer diagnosis that’s equivalent to a short order death sentence, he takes matters into his own hands. He decides to use his chemistry expertise to create the purest and most potent crystal methamphetamine in the country.

Suburban Albuquerque, NM (ravaged both by the spread of crystal meth and the collapse of the housing bubble) is the perfect setting for this story — sunny all the time yet extraordinarily bleak. It’s also worth noting that the desert, and this unlikely city right in the middle of it, is photographed beautifully.

The show proceeds slowly and awkwardly, as Walter must find some entry into the drug trade while also fooling his innocent wife and son, who sense his desperation. He happens upon a former student, a shiftless drug addict whose affected urban speech and careless attitude clash with Walt’s meticulousness — and (finally) allows us a little fun. The two are hopelessly out of their depth, and soon blunder into danger. Walt’s family life goes from tense to barely watchable, with the threat of a DEA raid or a brutal gang reprisal lurking in the shadows. In order to lead this double life, Walt gradually slips away from the moral mainstream, from mild mannered everyman to fraught anti-hero. As the suspense builds, Walt finds himself enjoying the thrill of this transformation, even as his life crumbles around him.

I am running late so I’m gonna wind this up: Watch Breaking Bad! Like The Wire, it’s so good, and so unexpectedly pertinent to the real world, that it’s hard to believe such a show was ever produced.

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