When I was little, during school vacations, my mother had a strict one-hour limit on TV viewing. She knew that given the choice between running free outdoor and watching repeats of '70s and '80s sitcoms, there was no real contest.
Because of the restriction (which was firm and didn’t allow for any maneuvering), the daily decision of what to watch required the kind of high-level planning and attention to detail normally used only for military campaigns, shuttle launches and golddiggers eying future husbands.
Today, I have the same time limit, this one self-imposed because of life but over the past three months, I have waiting for my weekly Breaking Bad fix with the same excitement as my 10-year-old self.
There is a lot of good TV out there, whether your taste runs to sitcoms, drama or reality TV. There’s even some great TV, not just the critically lauded kind but shows that have transcended the medium.
What sets "Breaking Bad" apart and especially this season, is that the kind of virtuoso acting and writing on display is rarely seen in entertainment in general. (Spoiler alert. If you haven’t seen "Breaking Bad" yet, shame on you).
The show’s concept doesn’t seem to be all that mind-blowingly original — a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher teaming up with a loser former student to cook meth in order to finance his family’s future. A friend who hasn’t watched it declined on the basis of it sounding like a hybrid of "Weeds" and "The Wire," with a little bit of "Scarface" thrown in. And he’s right, it could have been exactly that except for the outstanding talents of three individuals: the creator and writer Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston as Walter the teacher and Aaron Paul as Jesse the stoner.
I don’t think it’s easy to delve into the darkest corners of your mind to come up with storylines that constantly navigate between humor, tragedy and pathos often all in the same scene. I also have enormous admiration for actors who shed their skin to become the character, to the extent where you can’t see the lines they’ve painted in at all.
When you strip away the body count, you’re left with people doing extraordinarily bad things for good reason and good things for bad reasons. The draw for me has always been the humanity of the show and the total commitment of the actors. Gilligan’s goal this season was to see how far he could push the audience to question their own morals. Would they be sympathetic to the drug kingpin who cuts the throat of his own bodyguard to prove a point? Would they be willing to forgive Walter anything, including hurting a child?
But you’re not given this in the form of medicine. You’re taken for a crazy ride which leaves you breathless, scared, panicked, laughing, sweating and ready to do it all over again next week.
To focus on these three is not to take away from the fantastic ensemble cast, whose quirks and personalities are revealed over the course of four seasons in strange and beautiful ways. It is a testament to exceptional writing that no character gets only broad strokes and no detail is overlooked. However much we learn and just when we think we know where things are headed, we’re surprised, horrified or amused by what happens, often at the same time.
"Breaking Bad" will come back for a final mega-season sometime over the next year and a half. Gilligan was always firm about the show, like Walter, having a set expiration date. I can tie my brain in knots thinking up ways for the show to end (Walter kills himself, Jesse kills Walter), but I know that I won’t come close to what the brilliant twisted minds in the writer’s room invent (Gus knotting his tie with half his face blow off? Genius).
I will watch many hours of TV over the course of the next year and a half but there’s an hour a week that’s already cleared, waiting for my fix.