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"Breaking Bad" Returns Brilliantly, With Even More Intensity
March 6, 2009  | By David Bianculli
breaking-bad-09-M08-green-f.jpgLast season, American Movie Classics' Breaking Badwas one of the more delightful surprises of the year. Bryan Cranston's performance, creator Vince Gilligan's dark vision, and the show's relentless, involving dramas and crises -- they combined for a seven-episode blast of high-octane, darkly comic, intensely dramatic television. Sunday night at 9 ET, Breaking Badreturns for season two. Somehow, it's even more intense -- and even more impressive...

First off, anyone who missed the first season of this boldly original drama series, which presented only an abbreviated seven-episode run last year because of the writers' strike, can catch up tonight (Friday) at 8 p.m. ET, when AMC presents all eight episodes in a very convenient marathon. Cranston won an Emmy for his portrayal of high school teacher turned meth manufacturer and dealer Walter White, and those episodes easily explain why.

What Walt is doing is heinous, illegal, and not without repercussions. His motives, however, are pure: He's dying of cancer, and wants to leave his pregnant wife (played by Anna Gunn from Deadwood) and cerebral-palsy-stricken teen son (played by RJ Mitte) enough money to provide for them and pay his own deathbed medical bills.

But purity of motive doesn't mean much when he's dealing with deadly drug dealers, and investigated by DEA agents including his own brother-in-law (Dean Norris).


Breaking Bad is written in serialized form, and the new season's first three episodes concerns Walter, and former student turned meth-sales partner Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), as they strike an uneasy deal with a psychotic meth dealer named Tuco. He's played by Raymond Cruz, who's more familiar from the other side of the thin blue line, as Det. Julio Sanchez on TNT's The Closer. Here, he's so scary, so volatile, and so mad-dog unpredictable, every encounter with him is a high-tension, highly risky affair.

And what Breaking Bad does to add to the tension, besides its finely tuned writing, acting and directing (Cranston himself directs the opener), is to eliminate background music almost entirely. More than almost any series I can remember, Breaking Bad plays out against eerie, uncomfortable silence. No music bumpers between scenes, no dramatic underscoring during the climaxes and confrontations -- almost nothing unless there's a musical montage at the end of the show. The starkness is haunting.

So is Cranston's performance, which is so total, so real, you forget it's a performance at all. You just feel for poor Walter, and hope for him to dig out of the latest hellhole into which he's found himself, even when it seems there is no escape, no way out, and no possible path to survival.

Just like Walter's own death sentence.

But in following Walter on his desperate final journeys and adventures, Breaking Bad has given us one of the most lively, and thrilling, TV shows of 2009.




Greg Kibitz said:

I love this series and hated that all I've gotten so far was 7 episodes. So little was said after the last episode aired that it was hard to know if it was over or cancelled or what. But now I am so happy to see it return.

For tose not in the know, the best way I can describe it is: Weeds on Steroids.

Same basic fundamental idea but taken to a whole nutter level! (not the Weeds ever fails to please either but I don't have to pay extra for Breaking Bad.)

Comment posted on March 6, 2009 5:30 PM

Gregory Kibitz said:

Let me preface this with:

I almost never rewatch series episodes that I have seen before, be they Sopranos or even Seinfeld & Family Guy.

But last night I did the entire marathon because there was just too much time between now and then and it was only 7 episodes (so no more than 2-3 movies and I can DVR through all the commercials if I do it right).

Well, it was fabulous and I even blew off all the talk shows as well as Real Time. There was so much that I would not have remembered well enough and now it is cast into my brain for Sunday Night's all too delayed return.

For me, one of the best little things about this series is it does not just throw bogus chemistry and science around (like so many good and bad sci-fi stuff tends to do) but even tries to make that part of it accurate and truthful as they reasonably can (and still do a dramatic series - the explosion was pretty bogus as many would have doies or at least been deaf and I'm not sure those crystals are possible). I'm a scientist and engineer by education and training and nothing does more to un-suspend my disbelief than some bogus bit of scientific lingo that get me thinking about anything but what I am actually watching and honestly, as I watch this show that rearly ever happens.

As to the thing about no background music, I think that is not that unusual. I tend to find that the norm with much of the original series I like the most, especially on the premium channels. I really like when a drama only uses the background sounds that should be there for the scenes that play and, IMO, if the writing and acting ans storyline and whatnot are good enough, the viewer does not need all that extra music to create that which is not there. But on the flip side, music is great and some of the greaest movies woudl not be what they are without the music (see the movie "Once" now playing on one of the premium multicasts as it is a perfect example of how music can make the movie and yet still be very much part of it too. I quite liked it! One of the best little movies I've never ever heard of and yet was so immensely good.)

Comment posted on March 7, 2009 7:52 PM

DaveW said:

Couldn't agree more about BB. This season has had a surprising number of shows worth watching, but I think this is the unmissable one. I can't think of another show, current or past, that's so able to put the viewer into its constructed reality. It absorbs one into its world with a completeness that he bogus "reality" shows can only dream of.

The new series is off to a great start. My only possible misgiving is the seeming switch to a more dramatic, less comic, turn in the latest episode. I hope the bizarre humor that so defined the series returns in force.

PS: are you never going to get a decent Comment interface? Do you wish to discourage comments?

Comment posted on March 9, 2009 1:07 PM

farai said:

I loved this movie and generally do not watch series. This series is the bomb. The bizarre humour is really good and in recent years there is no movie that has surpassed this. Good script and brilliant acting. i have never commented on a show before in the blogsphere. (Well, welcome to the Interweb. Glad you liked "Breaking Bad." Amazing, isn't it? -- David B.)

Comment posted on March 25, 2009 4:40 PM

Eric said:

I've been a huge fan of the show from the first few moments of episode 1 (was this guy really Malcom's Dad?). It just shows Cranston's mind blowing versatiliy. What confuses me is the reference to a season 1 episode 8 in David's blog: '...when AMC presents all eight episodes...'. I didn't catch the Friday night marathon however no such eppy is listed on AMC or IMDB, etc. Can anyone clear this up for me please?

Way to make Chem class cool. See, I told you you'd use it later in life. (I can clear the "eight" up: That was me on sleep deprivation, miscounting. You've seen them all. -- David B.)

Comment posted on March 25, 2009 8:48 PM
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