I used to be one of those people who took obnoxious snobby pride in the fact that he didn’t watch television. For the longest time I didn’t even own one.
That hasn’t been true for a while now. And not only will I not offer up my former excuse (“The worst book is better than the best television show”), I’ll flatly contradict it. There’s stuff on tv now that is friggin amazing. The last few years have seen some of the best tv shows ever.
I’m not going to make a case for living on your ass and devouring shows. I like to think that no one on his deathbed looks back on his life as the lights are dimming and thinks, “I sure watched me some great tee vee!” But, y’know, I talk about books & writing a lot here, and sometimes about movies, and it’s just stupid to disregard a medium in which really good things are happening. Being a DJ has taught me that no medium is by its nature good or bad, and being a DJ and being published in science fiction & fantasy have taught me that there are no bad genres, just bad practitioners.
So I’m gonna spend a couple of entries not admitting to which shows I watch, but boasting about them. So nyah nyah.
I heard about how good this show was for years, but I had no desire to watch it. A chemistry teacher who becomes a meth cooker — oh, look, Weeds on speed! No, no, people said: The writing is great, the show is really dark & gritty & interesting, and everyone’s a bad guy. Oh, look, I said, The Sopranos on speed! (I was funny about The Sopranos. Beautifully produced, written, & acted, and I didn’t care, because I wanted everyone on the show dead. I only watched a few of them.)
Then Netflix streamed all the Breaking Bad episodes and I watched the first one. I was hooked in five minutes. (That’s right, kid, the first one’s free.) The opening was one of the strongest hooks I’ve ever seen on TV. And it’s not about bad guys doing bad things. It’s about how you become a bad guy. About losing your perspective. About the incremental path to evil.
And what makes it devastatingly effective is that it isn’t moustache-twirling, vein-popping, sociopathic TV Loon evil. It’s suburban two-car-garage evil, evil across the street from you, evil that belongs to your rideshare program and cheers the little league team. Not pure evil, because that’s a fiction concocted by lazy storytellers and simplistic moralists. This is evil alloyed with good, evil where the worst traits are actually caricatures of your own ambitions and desires, commingling with your best intentions. Fuck Sauron, folks. I’m never gonna meet him and neither are you. But I’ve met Walter White a hundred times, at least — and that’s scary.
To follow Walter White’s arc is to become acquainted with a perfectly understandable evil. You’re taken along so effectively that I imagine it’s startling to watch the first episodes again to see how naive Walter seems, how relatable, compared to the alpha-male Machiavellian bastard he is now.
The writing is spot-on, the characters are laminated and contradictory and their evolution is (mostly) believable (I have some issues with the rapid ballistics of Walter’s wife, Skyler). Its worldview is sparse, Spartan, bleak, dark darker darkest.
I can’t wait for the season premiere Sunday night.