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They’re not standing around the watercooler, but Cheryl Sadler, Mark Meszoros, Mark Podolski and Nicole Franz are talking about what they’ve been watching, listening to and playing during their free time.

Monday, August 6, 2012

'Bad' is just so, so good

Are you watching? I hope you are.

This is really good TV. Great television, really.

“Breaking Bad” is the story of a down-and-out cancer-stricken high school chemistry teacher morphing into Scarface -- or at least a reasonable facsimile. It is gripping, shocking, heart-pounding, gut-wrenching, emotional and even occasionally funny. 

And it’s going away sooner than later, so enjoy it while you can.

Deserved multiple Emmy Award winner Bryan Cranston stars as Walter White, the Albuquerque, N.M., teacher given a death sentence in its 2008 pilot episode when he is diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. To meet his medical expenses and set his family up financially for their time post-Walter, he turns to making crystal meth. And while Walter has the chemistry background to crank out the best crystal Albuquerque’s ever seen, is doesn’t know the first thing about selling it. So he inlists a former highly unpromising student, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul).

The pair have always been good together, but one of the great things about “Breaking Bad” is how the relationship between Jesse and “Mr. White” -- as Jesse has always called him -- has evolved over time. Once constantly at each other’s throats, there is now a genuine mentor-student or father-son thing going on, although it’s threatened by the possibilty that Jesse might learn how Walter has manipulated him recently into helping him off his rival, Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito, doing the best work of his career).

No, Walter is not a good dude. Not any more. “Breaking Bad” is, as the story suggests, is the tale about how a good man breaks -- aka goes -- bad. And Walter hasn’t just been bad when it comes to Jesse. He has also become a genuine threat to his wife, Skylar, whose best interests Walter has always felt were foremost in his mind. After reluctantly going into business with her husband and laundering his drug money, Skylar has turned her attention to getting their two children out of the house for their own safety.

When this first half of this, the fifth and last season began, and Skylar became afraid of her husband, I didn’t feel like it was all that interesting or compelling. The character’s journey to willing accomplice had been fascinating, and now she’s suddenly scared of Walter? I wasn’t buying it, and I felt creator Vince Gilligan was trying to set Gunn up for an Emmy. Well, after Sunday’s most recent episdode, give Gunn the Emmy. She was amazing, giving a performance -- complemented by great writing -- that changed my mind completely about Skyler’s character arc. 

Skylar White (Anna Gunn) has become terrified of her husband,
Walter (Bryan Cranston) and the dangers that come with his
business -- drugs -- in recent episodes of "Breaking Bad."

Gilligan has all but said that Walter’s story will not end well. But what or who will get him? The cancer? Skylar? Rival drug criminals? Or Jesse? My money’s on the latter, but who knows? We haven’t even mentioned Walter’s DEA agent brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris), who, by the way, just got promoted.

I do have a bone to pick with “Breaking Bad.” The show has been reminding us lately that Walter was diagnosed with cancer only a year ago, that his transformation from chemistry teacher to one of the major forces in the New Mexico drug trade has taken only 365 days. It’s a distracting bit of information not helped by the fact that Walter’s son, Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte), appears to be four years older than when the show started.

Well, whatever. I can buy that as easily as the show’s premise, I suppose. Because at a time when there’s almost nothing good on television -- with apologies to all you “True Blood” fans -- “Breaking Bad” is, if you’ll pardon the drug pun, addicting.

“Breaking Bad” is already done with half of its eight 2012 episodes, which is highly depressing. The show will return in a year for the last eight episodes of this 16-part season. Will Walt be a total monster my then? The season opened with an older Walt -- his typically bald head had a good bit of hair -- buying an automatic weapon. Knowing how the brilliant Gilligan likes to structure his season, that’s probably the beginning of Walt’s end.

Can’t wait.

-- Mark Meszoros | | @nhfeatures

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