AMC’s Breaking Bad is the second cancer-related TV series to have a full season DVD set released this week. The series would seem, on the surface, to be about a terminally ill middle class guy trying to provide for his family after his death – through cooking up a unique version of crystal meth. Instead, it’s about how that basically decent man – a high school chemistry teacher who could have been much more – has a knack for making exactly the wrong decisions and is devolving from decency to hardcore criminal.
Season one of Breaking Bad had Walt White [Bryan Cranston], meek chemistry teacher, learning he had terminal cancer and deciding that he had to go into the crystal meth business to provide for his family after his death. It was all about a decent man making all the wrong decisions.
The second season finds Walt and his accomplice, Jesse [Aaron Paul], surviving an encounter with a crazy drug lord and deciding that they have to be more business-like. Walt also sets a goal for the minimum amount of money required to let his family prosper after his death.
When Bryan Cranston won the Emmy for Best Actor, last year, it came as a surprise to most of the Awards show’s audience. After all, Mad Men’s Jon Hamm had all the buzz for that series going for him. That and Cranston’s Breaking Bad role, chemistry teacher Walter White, being a guy who decides, upon learning that he has terminal lung cancer, decides to provide for his family by going into the crystal meth business. The DVD release of the truncated first season [seven episodes, down from nine, bcause3 of the writers’ strike] shows that Cranston was consistently amazing throughout – but also that the entirety of the show’s cast is just as remarkable.
Walt has a nuclear family – him and his pregnant wife, Skyler [Anna Gunn] and son Walter Jr. [R.J. Mitte], a high school student who has cerebral palsy [as does the actor who plays him] – and a brother in law who works for the DEA, Hank Schrader [Dean Norris]. Hank’s wife [Skyler’s sister], Marie [Betsy Brandt] rounds out the family. Walt’s partner in crime is Jesse Dupree [Aaron Paul], a high school dropout whom Walt failed in chemistry.
The series is a black comedy that follows Walt as, bit by bit, he goes down the wrong path as his disease worsens. At first he hides his disease from his family as he starts up his meth lab [making the purest stuff Jesse has ever seen], but he eventually tells Skyler and the rest of the family persuade him to take chemotherapy. Along the way, Walt is faced with increasingly difficult choices – like what to do with a couple of dealers who try to horn in on his and Jesse’s set up – and, invariably, makes the wrong choices [though always from a place of good intentions…].
Series creator Vince Gilligan has created a darkly comic series that more than lives up to its intriguing title [Gilligan says that it’s slang for “raising hell”]. Even as we wonder what the heck Walt is thinking as he goes down the path into his personal dark side, we can understand his motivation – and even sympathize. Like the blurb on the box says, “…Walt will stop at nothing to make sure his family is taken care after he’s gone, even if it means putting all their lives on the line.”
Features include: Deleted Scenes on every disc; Audio Commentaries by Gilligan and Cast for the Pilot and Crazy Handful of Nothin’; Making of Breaking Bad; Inside Breaking Bad; Vince Gilligan’s Photo Gallery; AMC Shootout: Interview With Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston and Mark Johnson, and Screen Tests.
Grade: Breaking Bad: The Complete First Season – A+
Grade: Features – A
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You’re a high school chemistry teacher with a family and a mortgage. After inquiring if you’ve ever been a smoker [always a bad sign], your doctor tells you you have six months to a year to live – lung cancer. You’ve always taken the safe course, but this throws you. What do you do? That’s the subject of Breaking Bad [Sunday, 109C], AMC’s new darkly comic drama from X-Files veteran, Vince Gilligan.