What You Should Be Watching: Breaking Bad

Sunday evening saw the return of the best show you’ve never seen: Breaking Bad. Across the Atlantic, the AMC drama enjoys cult status and critical acclaim (17 awards, including six Emmys) due to its engaging storylines, impeccable acting and fantastic photography – the visuals in Breaking Bad regularly exceed those found in cinema. But one of the main attractions of this show is its development. This is one of the few things on TV that gets better, episode by episode, season by season. The only series which comes close in this respect is House, but even Hugh Laurie & Co’s excellent character development cannot compare to this evolution…

Okay, we get the picture – it’s good. But what’s it about?

Walter White is a family man with a brilliant mind working a job far below his calibre thanks to his people-pleasing past. He’s a high school chemistry teacher and he’s happy, that is, until he gets diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Walt quickly realises his family will be in serious financial trouble after his passing and hatches a plan – he’ll become a drug dealer. But not just any drug dealer, he’ll make the purest meth known to man. After haphazardly teaming up with one of his former students – local small-time “cookâ€? Jesse Pinkman – he accidentally becomes one of most notorious drug dealers in all the Southern States; unbeknownst to his loving family.

Who are these wonderfully enigmatic characters you speak of?

Walter White aka Heisenberg
Played by Bryan Cranston (the dad from Malcolm in the Middle). As you might expect given his circumstances, of all the characters in this show this mild-mannered teacher-turned-ruthless meth peddler goes through the biggest transformation and by seasons two and three his public persona has changed entirely. He’s no longer Walt White, people-pleaser, he’s domineering drug dealer, Heisenberg, with a shaved head and thousand-yard stare to match. However, he never loses sight of his motivations and always acts like Walt around his family.

Jesse Pinkman
Local dealer and small-time “cookâ€? Jesse (Aaron Paul) is a mess, a twenty-something no-hoper who’s hooked on meth, among other things. When he meets Walt (who he still calls Mr White, from his school days) his life turns around, Walt believes in Jesse and over the course of the show his character evolves from a loveable misfit into a man with vision and purpose. Jesse often falls back into his old ways, but Walt is always there to pick him back up again. As much of a mess as Jesse is, he’s no-doubt the viewers’ favourite with his skater slang adding some much needed comic relief.

Skyler White
Walt’s pregnant wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) is extremely intelligent, by the second season she’s untangled Walt’s web of lies and discovered the reasons for his multiple mobile phones and unexplained disappearances. As much as she cares for Walt and the sanctity of their family life, she begins divorce proceedings (although later admits she never filed the papers). However, she later comes round to the idea of Walt’s “cookingâ€?, after discovering that spouses cannot be forced to testify against one another and ends up advising him on better ways to launder his money.

Walt’s brother-in-law Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) is the quintessential DEA officer, born bad-ass, any emotional weakness is non-existent, just like his neck. Not only this, but he’s damn good at what he does (kicking ass and taking names), so as you can imagine, Hank is something of a thorn in Walt’s side – actually, he’s more like an eight-foot spear. But Hank is not all powerful, as the show progresses Hank’s unimaginably stressful job begins to take its toll on his psyche and after witnessing some particularly harrowing events when he’s assigned to a Mexican task force, Hank’s hard-man exterior begins to crumble.

Saul Goodman
Walt and Jesse’s shyster lawyer, Saul (Bob Odenkirk) provides much of the series’ humour. Saul is every inch the silver-tongued charmer – he gains his two best clients (Walt and Jesse) after they drive him out to the desert with the intention of shooting him dead. His catchphrase is “better call Saulâ€? thanks to his low-budget cable TV ads and he’s known by all the local delinquents as the man who can get you off anything… just call Saul. Check out his website..

Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) is the head-honcho, the cartel leader, a true professional and he doesn’t work with amateurs. He launders his money through his fast food company “Los Pollos Hermanosâ€?, which features prominently in many of the series’ scenes. Externally he is an upstanding member of society, even Hank’s DEA detail look upon him with admiration, however – there’s always a however with Breaking Bad’s characters – he is a seriously dangerous man, his reach in both Mexico and the US is unparalleled, oh, and as if Walt doesn’t have enough problems, by season three’s end Gus wants Walt dead – and everyone knows it.

Breaking Bad is, at its heart, a fantastically dark comedy, every episode has humour hidden in the carnage, and although its premise may sound slightly, nay, unbelievably gloomy, more often than not it’s extremely uplifting. I really cannot recommend it enough. UK broadcasters have failed woefully to give Breaking Bad the air time it deserves, but fear not, because the first two seasons are now available on DVD, with season three coming soon and it can only be a matter of time until one of our major broadcasters realises what they’ve been missing… when they do you’ll be way ahead of the curve.