Monday, September 30, 2013

Breaking Bad

Season 5, Part 2 (2013)
Hank’s revelation about the dark truth concerning his brother-in-law causes him to go rogue and spurs a collision course leading to a catastrophic showdown between Walt, Jesse, and everyone else that comes in their path. The ultimate show for the instant gratification generation comes to its conclusion in a leave nothing to the imagination fashion that is sure to please its attention deficient minions (thank God they didn’t leave things open and make you think like The Sopranos!). For the high dramatics required for this concluding half season, Aaron Paul and especially Dean Norris are not up to the task while Bryan Cranston, an actor I’ve criticized for his one-note portrayal, pulls off something wondrous in generating sympathy for his despicable character. Vince Gilligan and company continue to misuse their female actresses while presenting flashy photography and plotlines that get way more credit than they deserve. All said and done, I must admit that it has been fun these last several weeks to have a TV event that seemingly everyone has been discussing, but now that the dust is settling it will be a relief to see the conversation draw to a close.
** 1/2

Season 5, Part 1 (2012)
With the eradication of Gus Fringe, very little (some questions of supply, and about a baker's dozen of Fringe's constituents) stands in way of Walter's ascension to the methamphetamine throne of the southwest. Now his real contenders are his disaffected wife, persistent brother-in-law, increasingly conscious driven partner and, of course, himself. The first half of the final series (why they're splitting a show that covers such a short time span is beyond me - Walter Jr. looks like he's 30 for god's sake) is essentially just fallout and wheel spinning from the spectacular finale of the altogether lackluster previous season. Walter continues to evolve into an increasingly dubious and unrealistic creature and I still stand by my statements that Bryan Cranston is a one trick pony not up to the task (same still holds for Aaron Paul too). Anna Gunn's melancholic turn has also brought her likewise insufferable character to a whole new level of unbearableness. Creator Vince Gilligan continues to shoot himself in the foot (e.g. a well constructed train heist followed by a ludicrously abominable act) and mask his lack of artistry and vision with a series of kitschy time-lapse montages which have typified the series. Great moments of frenzy and disorder, where the show should rest its focus, are few and far between and Gilligan opts for sheer improbability and implausibility in both plotting and characterization.

Season 4 (2011)
The fallout from season 3 places Walt and Jesse in a contentious spot, not only with their employer Gus, but also amongst themselves. As Walt continues his approach into utter amorality and Jesse into a spiral of addiction and despair, the crippled Hank begins to pick up the scent, and a major confrontation looms for all involved in the Albuquerque crystal meth trade. For "Breaking Bad", the motto has become "shock at all cost, character development and believability be damned". Although containing few great moments, the series is beginning to resemble a Saturday morning cartoon more so than a great piece of art, which many would have you believe. Although we remain invested in the characters of Walt and Jesse, Bryan Cranton and Aaron Paul's performances have grown redundant and tiresome and their characters have grown so erratic, I have a hard time buying any of their choices. I don't find Giancarlo Esposito's Gus to be as passively menacing as commonly held and Jonatahan Banks' more fleshed out role is not as refined as I had earlier supposed. Anna Gunn continues her turnaround and delivers good work this season, Dean Norris is viable as Hank, Bob Odenkirk continues to amuse as Saul the attorney. I thought creator Vince Gilligan wrapped things up well (perhaps a bit too neatly) but overall this past season functioned in fits and starts. With 16 episodes to go, hopefully Gilligan can deliver something that is not only hard hitting and riveting, but also in the limits of believability. 
** 1/2

Season 3 (2010)

Albuquerque is in mourning following the plane crash. Walt is now separated from Skyler and Jesse is struggling with his loss as well as sobriety.  Not wishing to cook anymore, Walt finds it hard to turn down a lucrative offer from Gus, and events from the past invite two strangers from south of the border who may not only jeopardize Walt's life, but may also threaten his family as well. Season three of Breaking Bad sees the show getting full of itself and getting out of hand. I did not believe one of the turns of the show and found myself shaking my head in disbelief more often than not, not being able to buy any of the character's choices. Bryan Cranston's much praised work I find to be one note (although he hits it well) and his character's transformation is so ridiculous that his antics in these scenes almost mirror his character in Malcolm in the Middle. Also, the scenes involving the two Mexican brother assassins is just too close to "No Country for Old Men" not to say anything. There were some elements I liked, including some intense sequences handled extremely well. The cast is very good as well. Aaron Paul continues his fine work. I was surprised to appreciate Anna Gunn and Betsy Brandt, whose work I had disapproved of in the prior two seasons. Dean Norris continues his stellar work as well and Bob Odenkirk continues to be a hoot as the slickster attorney. Finally, Giancarlo Esposito does nice work as an atypical drug lord and Jonathan Banks is effective as a "cleaner." As far a television goes, Breakinng Bad is still a good show. The problem is that the people behind the show know it's good and let it show.
** 1/2

Season 2 (2009)
The second season of Breaking Bad picks up with Walt and Jesse's premium batch of crystal meth being a booming success and everything else going wrong. They both have to contend with their psychopathic distributor who has big plans for his employees. Problems accrue with all members of their distribution crew, leading to their retainer of a high priced shyster attorney. Women problems occur for both men, one even turning tragic. Walt is still battling his severe lung cancer while Jesse battles drug addiction. Then there are those mysterious teasers that play before the credits, building up to an unpredictable occurrence. Vince Gilligan's series steps its game up for its second time at the plate. Bryan Cranston is still great in the lead, always wearing that sense of dread. Aaron Paul makes strides as Jesse, as his character sinks into addiction and a toxic relationship. Dean Norris is great as well as his DEA character gets a promotion that may not be all its cracked up to be and the series benefits greatly from the additions of Bob Odenkirk as the scumbag lawyer and John de Lancie as the father of Jesse's new girlfriend. I still have a problem with some of the contrivances of the show and it should be mentioned that the credited females on the show, Anna Gunn, Betsy Brandt, and Krysten Ritter, are terrible. Still, Breaking Bad is among the upper echelon of television programming and is a tense and entertaining way to spend 47 minutes.

Season 1 (2008)
Walter White's life is not going as he would like it too. Once a chemistry prodigy with a successful future ahead of him with limitless possibilities, he is now reduced to teaching the Periodic Table to bored high school students in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He even has an after school job at the car wash to help make ends meet. The passion has gone out of his marriage and his disabled son mouths off to him so when his doctor informs him he has stage 4 lung cancer, he seems curiously impassive and more concerned with the mustard shirt on the doctor's smock. Not wanting to leave his family in dire straits, and with a little inspiration when hearing about a drug bust from his DEA agent brother-in-law, Walter decides to seek out one of his old students and current drug dealer and cook crystal meth. Breaking Bad is a strange show that doesn't (really) moralize the situation its lead character has thrust himself into. Bryan Cranston, a TV veteran whom most remember as the dad in Malcolm in the Middle, hits all the right notes as the internalized and Aaron Paul is just as fine as he reveals an intelligent person in his seemingly idiotic drug dealing character. I wouldn't call the writing great and situations are often contrived, but this is highly original, entertaining, and engaging programming.
sidenote: This inaugural season was a victim of the writer's strike and was unfortunately cut short to 7 episodes. It does feel somewhat condensed and does not have the feel of a full season.