I can’t remember what Becca was doing this Saturday night, but whatever it was, it didn’t involve me. Instead, I was laying on the couch, perusing social media sites on my iPad and essentially doing little more than wasting time. Finally, I decided this was a good opportunity to watch something in which my beloved wife would have no interest. But what?
Daryl Bosma, with whom I frequently share Friday morning coffee and conversation in Sibley, had spent months talking about a certain television show, and even lent me the DVD of its first season. (I ended up passing it along to another person Daryl kept talking to about the series.) I think part of the reason I restrained from viewing was because I was somehow afraid I’d feel the need to spend hours upon hours catching up with dozens and dozens of episodes, rather than engaging in something far more productive. For example, the last time I watched a TV show I’d never seen — the remarkably unique comedy “Arrested Development” — I wound up embarking on a multi-hour marathon that, after a brief break for sleep, resumed the next day. It should also be duly noted that Bec and the kids were out of town at the time, at her parents, which made such a prolonged tube time easier and — I suppose — a tad more justifiable.
So, it was after a brief internal debate that I tapped the Netflix app on the iPad and went to “Breaking Bad.” Suffice it to say that my life hasn’t been the same since.
Let me first issue a disclaimer: this show is definitely not for everyone. Between its frequent depiction of drugs, use of profanity, and occasional nudity and sexual situations — not to mention violence and the overall nature of the subject matter — to say “Breaking Bad” is for mature audiences is an understatement. But let me also say this: even though I’ve only watched a few episodes now — yes, I’m hooked — I think it’s fair to say that in no way is all this nastiness being glorified nor glamorized.
For the uninitiated, “Breaking Bad” (which aired its series finale Sunday) centers upon a married chemistry teacher named Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston, who embodies this character in a way few actors probably could) who has a teenage special-needs son with another child on the way. In the pilot episode, Walter is shocked to learn he has advanced lung cancer. Deeply concerned about the massive medical costs in front of him, he confronts one of his former students — now a methamphetamine dealer — and asks if they can forge a partnership.
Several things, in my mind, make “Bad” great TV. Cranston’s portrayal of Walter is exceptional — he has been awarded multiple Emmys — but it helps that the writing is razor-sharp and the character development beyond reproach. The various ways the protagonist copes with his diagnosis are staged with an unsympathetic realism.
The series’ fourth episode, for instance, featured a stunning conclusion that I still can’t get out of my head days later. While driving, Walter experiences a coughing fit so bad that he ends up spitting up blood. He pulls off to the side of the road to collect himself, alone in his misery, and then sees a man consumed with his own complete arrogance talking loudly on his cell phone (which he also had been earlier, when Walter encountered him at a doctor’s office) while walking into a gas station. Moved to somewhere between tears and uncontrollable rage, Walter walks over to his vehicle, opens the hood and intentionally sets the vehicle ablaze within seconds. Sure, Walter’s actions could never be condoned, but you still can’t help but feel pity.
Walter, too, displays a humanity when confronted with the reality of a hostage situation in the basement of his partner, Jesse (the terrific Aaron Paul). The obvious struggle to do the right thing — whatever that may be, as time passes and Walter develops something of a relationship with his captive — is engrossing, agonizing and tension-building. And if you think for a minute that “Breaking Bad” promotes drug use in any way, I suggest you watch the scene in which Jesse is so overcome by meth-fueled paranoia that he sees a pair of bicycle-riding evangelists as weapon-wielding, Harley-riding toughs who are coming to kill him.
I could go on and on about this show, but the only thing more I’d add about it is: If you think you’re up for it, try it. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you that it could become addicting. Bec and the kids were at her parents’ this past weekend — the first time the three of them had gone since my “Arrested Development” extravaganza. I bet you know what I did in their absence.