September 27, 2013

So I tried to watch the pilot episode of "Breaking Bad."

There's much talk about the final episode of "Breaking Bad," and I've got a houseguest arriving on Sunday who importuned me to set the DVR to record that episode but told me I can't just watch the final episode with him. I've got to watch the whole series from the beginning, which is to say I've got to watch 61 hours of the thing before I can hang out with my newly arrived houseguest watching the show he's so excited about and (not that I care much) everyone in the media seems unable to shut up about.

Attending to the assigned recording task, I see that the network (AMC) is running a marathon of all the old episodes leading up to the big finale, so I set the DVR to lay in the requisite 61 hours. Last night, settling in to watch the new episode of "Project Runway," I see that I accidentally bumped it, what with all the incoming "Breaking Bad" and baseball games. (The DVR can record 3 things at once, but not more.) So I call up the "Pilot" episode of "Breaking Bad."

I turn it off after 22 minutes. Interestingly, 22 minutes is the classic length of a sitcom. Have I got Sitcom Mind? Reading the summary of the "Pilot" episode, I see that some exciting stuff was about to happen. When I turned off the show at 22 minutes, Meade and I had a conversation of untimed length about how perhaps there's a Hollywood plot to disparage ordinary American life through the depiction of the bored, boring, declining, dying white man. It started long ago with "The Honeymooners" — notice the shift to sitcoms — but the man we're invited to look down on has become more and more dull and meaningless until he's fully dehumanized and about to fall off the face of the earth anyway. (The "Breaking Bad" guy learns he's dying of lung cancer.)

If we'd hung on past the sitcom length of time, we'd have seen the police bust a meth lab, and other scenes of cooking up drugs, accidental fires, deadly fumes, sirens, a misfired gun, and a reactivated cock. I'm reading the plot summary out loud to Meade as I try to write this. We get into another conversation about television over the years and what it's done to our notions of masculinity. We're talking about Ralph Kramden and Ricky Ricardo as I dump sesame seeds into the stove-top seed roaster. (I like darkly toasted sesame seeds on cottage cheese for lunch, and Meade has been chiding me about over-toasting them, like sesame seeds are going to cause cancer.) The conversation continues as I follow Meade out to the front door, and it's on and on about "Bewitched" and "Leave It to Beaver" and Red Skelton.

"Remember how Red Skelton used to say 'Thank you for inviting me into your living room'?" I ask, and Meade — picking up the dog leash — remembers and entertains my elaborate theory about TV needing to be different from theater and movies because it comes into your home and how in sitcoms you're mostly sitting in your living room looking into some fictional family's living room, and there's this interchange between the sitcom family and the viewers' family. I bring up the transfusion metaphor from "Atlas Shrugged" that we were talking about a couple days ago. How has the poison — is it poison? — been administered all these years? Why have we kept the channel open? Because it only takes 22 minutes? What subversion of our values has taken place? I go on about Archie Bunker in his chair, which faces the TV....



... and we are on the other side of the TV, in our chairs, looking through at them, as if we are on their TV. What are we doing? Are the women nudged to look over at their men and see them as Edith, above, sees Archie? What has been happening in these 22-minute treatments we've volunteered for all these years?

Meade inquires about the 22 minutes — the time for the show in a 30-minute slot with commercial — and he seems to notice for the first time that the premium cable channels don't have commercials, and I tease him that he's like these sitcom husbands who are never fully clued in. He's off to get Zeus (the dog) to take him for a walk, and I make some wisecrack — like I think I'm in a sitcom — about how he should do well with the dog, since dogs don't even know the difference between the show and the commercial.

Ha ha. Back in the kitchen of my sitcom life, I see — through billows of smoke — that the sesame seeds are on fire.

86 comments:

Anne said...

National Review recently had a complimentary article about Breaking Bad, so I endeavored to watch it again, after having tried a few years ago. I've now attempted to watch the Pilot episode 2 times and quit within the first 20 minutes.



YoungHegelian said...

through billows of smoke, I see that the sesame seeds are on fire.

ANNN-NEEEE, you've got some 'splainin' to do!

ajs said...

The show gets much, much better. Don't give up after the pilot. The transformations and motivations of the characters are fascinating, over time.

Henry said...

If you want to read a heartbreaking story about meth addiction, read Paul Kix's ESPN story on Joe O'Brien, here:

Breaking Good.

It's about masculinity too, I suppose, but mostly its about tragedy and self-destruction and redemption and the impossibility of redemption.

It's a perfect example of why history is better than fiction.

Oclarki said...

The first few episodes are a little bit hard to get into, but the show is so well written and and acted that I can't imagine anyone with a developed aesthetic sense disliking the show.

If you try to analyze the politics of the show you will be frustraed. It is not a commetary on any wider phenomenon, it is simply a study of one man's transformation from Mr Chips to Scarface.

Oclarki said...

The first few episodes are a little bit hard to get into, but the show is so well written and and acted that I can't imagine anyone with a developed aesthetic sense disliking the show.

If you try to analyze the politics of the show you will be frustraed. It is not a commetary on any wider phenomenon, it is simply a study of one man's transformation from Mr Chips to Scarface.

Widmerpool said...

Well Ann (and Anne), there are certainly books, movies, TV shows etc. that don't merit all the attention and it's fine to have a post-and-comment-jam-session where participants can all pat each other on the back and congratulate themselves for not falling for the hype. But this is not one of those instances and a post and thread of this sort does none of you any credit. Just the first 20 minutes is all it took? Pah!

YoungHegelian said...

I watched an episode of "Breaking Bad" a few years ago that ended with the crew dumping a murdered man into a barrel of hydrofluoric acid at the meth lab to get rid of the body, and my primary thought was that sulfuric acid would have been so much cheaper & got the job done just as well.

There's just too much meanness in the arts today that thinks it's edgy because it's mean. No, most of it is just mean, and it's wearyingly boring & predictable to see every spark of goodness crushed. We're not reading the Iliad 2400 years later because it's full of punks & rotters.

Cranston in a more heroic setting.

Grundoon said...

I was born in March of 1954. The first TV arrived in my house for the Rose Bowl in January 1954 (I am told) so TV was always part of my life. I made a conscious decision to stop watching TV during the Dallas craze many years ago when it struck me that it was a waste of my time and emotional energy. After giving up TV I was surprised to realize how much of the newspaper's efforts were directed to covering what happens on TV. Now that I have moved away from newspapers to blogs I see that what is on TV is still a very important part of the culture. Oh, well! I just smile and wait for the conversation to turn to something else if current TV issues come up.

FullMoon said...

Yeah, I agree, that TV thing is way beneath me, also.
Boob Tube? Spot on!

I have an old black and white I bring out of the closet to watch Gourmet cooking shows on PBS.

Other than that, I enjoy reading European Classic literature in the original languages.

Etc.

mrs. e said...

Shoot, I didn't know AMC was running a marathon...

Mountain Maven said...

What you're seeing is the post modern philosophy of nihilism displayed on TV. TV programming is written by people who by and large despise western culture and its beliefs, particularly white nuclear families with strong fathers. And they have nothing but PC garbage to replace what they reject.
I only got thru about 20 min of the pilot as well. Way too depressing. All I watch on TV is sports.

William said...

I just started watching it on Netflix. I'm up to episode eight. The show really picks up velocity. It takes real self discipline to limit oneself to only two shows a night. You're cheating yourself if you discard it after one episode. It's up there with the Sopranos and GOT.

Alex said...

Breaking Bad may be the best TV drama ever made. It's really worth it.

PB Reader said...

It's only 48 hours as each episode is about 47 minutes long. Also, if you have the right video player, you can accelerate play by 20% and watch them in about 38 hours. You could probably halve that by skipping episodes because of the "previously on" at the beginning of most episodes.

You've got time.

PB Reader said...

It's only 48 hours as each episode is about 47 minutes long. Also, if you have the right video player, you can accelerate play by 20% and watch them in about 38 hours. You could probably halve that by skipping episodes because of the "previously on" at the beginning of most episodes.

You've got time.

John Lynch said...

Got bored in season 3.

I did last longer than I did for Mad Men, which took six episodes.

I look at these shows as Boomer propaganda. Mad Men is obvious- before the Boomers came along all men did was drink at work and cheat on their wives. Breaking Bad is about an older man (ahem) getting to fulfill all his unfulfilled youthful fantasies. Sure, ultimately that's bad for him, but he still gets to do it. It's about Boomers wanting to feel dangerous even when they're old.

Think about it- when have we seen a crime show where the protagonist was this old? The traditional gangster is much younger- even Tony Soprano looked younger. What's going on?

Bill Harshaw said...

FWIW: Breaking Bad is on AMC, which isn't a premium channel.

Watched most of it on DVD and streaming Netflix. Like alcohol, it's an acquired taste.

whswhs said...

I recommend a glance at Megan McArdle's piece on Bloomberg a few days ago, where she points out that the antihero is theoretically desperate because of his medical expenses and his HMO's policies—but in fact he's a teacher under a union contract that provides for much better medical services than that, and his district wouldn't be making him get his care from an HMO anyway. It was pretty entertaining as a study in cultural stereotypes.

Ann Althouse said...

"FWIW: Breaking Bad is on AMC, which isn't a premium channel."

Irrelevant to my purposes. The point is, I turned it off after 22 minutes, which is the length of a sitcom, which it wasn't. It's an hour-long drama. Meade and I have a conversation about TV that includes discussion of premium channels and he reveals that he doesn't know if there are commercials. By then, we're not talking about AMC.

But, actually, I don't think the episode of "Breaking Bad" had a commercial within the segment we watched. If it did, we FF'd it.

Ann Althouse said...

I've never watched "Mad Men."

Mark said...

I made it about a season and a half. As is the whole point of the show, every episode presented options of how Walter and others were going to live their lives, and they always took the most wrong and immoral choice available.

I know real people make bad decisions as well, but I did not see how watching this show was making my own life better. I just felt a little sick at the end of each episode.

David-2 said...

But, why didn't your houseguest set his own DVR at his own home to record the episode?

(You know, I thought Althouse has discussed houseguests from time to time but Google turned up only one post from 5 years ago. Still, I wonder what it is about the modern houseguest that makes him think this request is reasonable? Or maybe houseguests have always been allowed this kind of request by gracious host/hostesses?)

(I myself have solved the problem of houseguests permanently: I live in an apartment. No room for anyone here. We put them up at a local hotel at our expense.)

Tyrone Slothrop said...

Althouse the critic:

Call me Ishmael.

What? Where is this going? "Ishmael?", that sounds all Hebraic and stuff. I thought this was about a whale, not some Hebrew gentleman. I've now wasted twenty-two seconds of my life. Egad! The arugula is burning!

bandmeeting said...

I'm a pretty big fan of the show. Really enjoyed it, but I do agree with most of what you are saying. That said, on about the third episode the interchange between Walt and Jessie in Jessie's kitchen when they are arguing over a pistol is some of the best acting I've seen.

The one thing I have been unable to figure out is why Walt, with the healthcare benefits that a public school teacher gets, needed to become an outlaw in order to have his cancer treated. Even Rich Lowry in his NY Post piece yesterday mentioned the need for better medical treatment without asking why he didn't already have it.

Ann Althouse said...

You know, it doesn't really matter whether I would like it if I watched more of it.

Watching more TV isn't a thing one ought to strive to do in any way.

Watching less TV is already a good position to be in.

There is no problem to be solved.

I have limited time. To me, watching TV is something I do on an ordinary night, mostly to relax, for maybe an hour, almost throwing that time away. I'm not looking for major upgrades in my mental furniture.

I look for things that interest me enough and suit my emotional needs.

In that light, I can see why I turned it off right as the police were going in to bust up a meth lab.

Remember, I sat down to watch a show about competitive sewing.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

And yes, I do think Breaking Bad compares with Moby Dick.

ALP said...

We are huge fans of the show in this house. HUGE. I joked yesterday "hey wouldn't it be awful if we had a storm and a power outage during the finale?" and The Boyfriend said "Don't even joke about that."

But it would be a boring world if everyone liked the same thing. I love it, but its not for everyone. Hell, I can't stand "Downtown Abbey". I like my shows...you like yours...its all good.

Ann, you can visit AMC or a site like "TV Fanatic" and read summaries of each episode. Much faster that way. I admire your attempt at catching up.

bandmeeting said...

I've never watched "Mad Men

Good on you. I'll have to live with the shame of having tried. Twice.

Broomhandle said...

It really is an extraordinary show and there's nothing remotely nihilistic about it. If anything, it's a harrowing morality play about the insidiousness of evil in an increasingly nihilistic society.
The episode where Jesse goes to get his money back from the tweakers who ripped him off is the best piece of "scared straight" type film I've ever seen. I made sure my kids saw it.

Factory Yoyo said...

I thought you were more curious than that, Ann.

And just to cut off the whole health care debate: the meth biz was Walter's way of providing for his family AFTER he died. It was not to pay for medical bills.

Smilin' Jack said...

When I turned off the show at 22 minutes, Meade and I had a conversation of untimed length about how perhaps there's a Hollywood plot to disparage ordinary American life through the depiction of the bored, boring, declining, dying white man.

OK, I know a few people who don't care for BB, but none of their reactions was quite that clueless.

We get into another conversation about television over the years and what it's done to our notions of masculinity. We're talking about Ralph Kramden and Ricky Ricardo as I dump sesame seeds into the stove-top seed roaster. (I like darkly toasted sesame seeds on cottage cheese for lunch, and Meade has been chiding me about over-toasting them, like sesame seeds are going to cause cancer.) The conversation continues as I follow Meade out to the front door, and it's on and on about "Bewitched" and "Leave It to Beaver" and Red Skelton.

That's more like it. You can probably handle "I Love Lucy" reruns, too.

What has been happening in these 22-minute treatments we've volunteered for all these years?

Your brain has turned to mush?

Ann Althouse said...

"The one thing I have been unable to figure out is why Walt, with the healthcare benefits that a public school teacher gets, needed to become an outlaw in order to have his cancer treated. Even Rich Lowry in his NY Post piece yesterday mentioned the need for better medical treatment without asking why he didn't already have it."

Well, I know the answer to that from watching the first 22 minutes of the first episode.

He's not about trying to get money to pay for treatments. He's an entirely listless, enervated man with nothing to live for, utterly empty and bland and beaten down with no love for anything (except maybe chemistry) and he finds out he's got inoperable lung cancer and at most 2 years to live.

He's so numb about all that the doctor wonders if he even understands. He tells the doctor there's a mustard stain on his jacket. He doesn't inform his wife about the diagnosis.

Then he's at his car wash (moonlighting) job and he's asked again to leave the cash register, which was supposed to be his job, and go out and put that sploogy stuff on the car tires, and he flips out.

He's had it with his bland old life which wasn't worth living even before he was dying. He's energized to go bad. He's finally alive.

This is a classic melodrama plot point: man who is about to die finally learns how to live.

He's been emasculated and suddenly he embraces manhood, which is saying "no" to all the crap he's had to eat, like vegetarian fake-bacon strips that taste like Band-Aids.

It's not about how hard it is to pay for health care. What a boring thing to think about the show!

Am I to believe that the people who love the show have less appreciation for its themes than I derived in 22 minutes before turning it off?

I'm about to scream NOOOOO at all this bullshit and pull the merchandise down off the wall and yell at my boss that I hate his mustache.

On which side of the screen is the storied vast wasteland?

Ann Althouse said...

Meade proofreads my last comment and says "It was his eyebrows, not his mustache."

He's right.

Smilin' Jack said...

I watched an episode of "Breaking Bad" a few years ago that ended with the crew dumping a murdered man into a barrel of hydrofluoric acid at the meth lab to get rid of the body, and my primary thought was that sulfuric acid would have been so much cheaper & got the job done just as well.

No, HF is more effective in dissolving organic materials. Fluorine is the only element more electronegative than oxygen, so it displaces oxygen in organic materials and such things as glass and porcelain. Jesse learns this last point in one of the more memorable scenes from Season 1.

jr565 said...

If you give up after 22 minutes you have an problem maintaining attention and are missing out on probably the best show on TV right now.
But you have to invest your time in it as a story and not view it as an hour long show.
Its one of the few shows that actually goes through an arc the way a classic story does. There's a beginning, a middle, and an end. Unlike say the sopranos which just has episodes and then stops.

I'm surprised people don't get into it right off the bat because it hit for me immediately, but if it doesn't, give it a few episodes to tell the story.
Walt lays out the whole series in his description of chemistry in the very first episode. Its the study of change and transformation.
So you can't just watch 22 minutes because you are not actually viewing the change. You're arely watching the setup.

Actually in truth, I didn't really get into the show seriously until season 4. I saw one or two episodes out of context and didnt get who the characters were, but it looked interesting. So, I made the investment to go back and watch season one, episode one.
And then watched it in a marathon session over two weeks to catch up.

Don't start at the end either. You will not particularly care what happens, because you don't know who the characters are. But if you do, then the entire last season is one holy shit moment after the other.
I'm trying to think of a better last season of a series, and I'm not sure if I can come up with one.

jr565 said...

Althouse wrote:
You know, it doesn't really matter whether I would like it if I watched more of it.

Watching more TV isn't a thing one ought to strive to do in any way.

Watching less TV is already a good position to be in.

There is no problem to be solved.

I have limited time. To me, watching TV is something I do on an ordinary night, mostly to relax, for maybe an hour, almost throwing that time away. I'm not looking for major upgrades in my mental furniture.


There is a lot of good TV on right now. In fact, it seems like tv is in a golden age of sorts, and what's on there is better than what's found in most movies (when its good). But you've already telegraphed your preferences when you can't even get past 22 minutes of a show.
Good dramas are just not really for you. Stick with the sitcom, where you don't have to invest any time or brainpower.
Pearls before swine, as they say.
You probably shouldn't be blogging about it though. That's like someone blogging about music and saying they don't like songs that are more than three minutes, and who can't really listen to an album. That's fine, music is not for you.
But then your discussions about it are meaningless, except as a critique of your inability to listen to music.

Ann Althouse said...

"If you give up after 22 minutes you have an problem maintaining attention and are missing out on probably the best show on TV right now."

No, I don't have "an problem maintaining attention" -- did you have trouble paying attention to your own writing? -- but I control my attention and put it where I want it. I lock on to things every day that hold my attention for hours on end. I have powerful concentration. If you saw it in person, it would probably scare you.

But I'm also incisive and active when I'm reading or watching something, and I need to switch into talking or writing. When we watch TV, we pause it, and talk, and sometimes we decide this isn't what we want flowing into us. It felt toxic, and we chose not to unpause.

It felt toxic for reasons I'm trying to explain in this post.

It may very well be excellent, but everything is propaganda, and we declined this manipulation.

I'm paying plenty of attention, but I'm careful about my spending.

Carol said...

I've missed all Major Cultural Events since Seinfeld. I mean All..Survivor, Mad Men, the works.

That said I ran across BB last night in time to see the stuffed bear fall out of the exploding jet into to teacher's pool. That was pretty striking. But there is no point if it's just nihilism, *saying no to the bullshit* and all that bohemian crap.

My church is wise in advising us to just say no to indulging such entertainments. It's corrosive to the spirit.

jr565 said...

"When I turned off the show at 22 minutes, Meade and I had a conversation of untimed length about how perhaps there's a Hollywood plot to disparage ordinary American life through the depiction of the bored, boring, declining, dying white man."
Another conversation to be had is how people's attention span has been turned to mush because of too much Internet usage. To the point where following something for more than 22 minutes is too much investment.

You'll never get through a book like Les Miserables, or even Game of Thrones if you stop books after three pages.
And that's ok, I guess. Not everyone is suited for books, or movies, or music.

But it does seem to be a character flaw.

bandmeeting said...

Well, I know the answer to that from watching the first 22 minutes of the first episode

That's not how I see it. If I recall (I think I saw the first show 3 years ago) there was a legitimate concern as to how Walt the school teacher was going to pay for his treatment.

You are describing why he was so good at being an outlaw, not why he got into it in the first place.

jr565 said...

o, I don't have "an problem maintaining attention" -- did you have trouble paying attention to your own writing? -- but I control my attention and put it where I want it. I lock on to things every day that hold my attention for hours on end. I have powerful concentration. If you saw it in person, it would probably scare you.

But I'm also incisive and active when I'm reading or watching something, and I need to switch into talking or writing. When we watch TV, we pause it, and talk, and sometimes we decide this isn't what we want flowing into us. It felt toxic, and we chose not to unpause.

It felt toxic for reasons I'm trying to explain in this post.

It may very well be excellent, but everything is propaganda, and we declined this manipulation.

I'm paying plenty of attention, but I'm careful about my spending.


So then don't watch it. Don't talk about propaganda though, if you're basing your Interpretation of said propaganda on a tiny portion of a single episode. You simply are arguing out of ignorance.

That would be like arguing that the Beatles are shit because you heard one chorus of I wanna Hold Your Hand and thought it had too many chords or was too poppy.

No one should make you like The Beatles, but if that's your frame of reference, you don't really know The Beatles at all.

jr565 said...

Factory Yoyo wrote:

I thought you were more curious than that, Ann.

And just to cut off the whole health care debate: the meth biz was Walter's way of providing for his family AFTER he died. It was not to pay for medical bills.

cancer treatment is expensive even if you have insurance. But you're right, it was also about providing for his family after he died. But even that was not the primary motivation. After all Gretchen and Elliot said they would pay for his treatment in full, and he refused.

rcocean said...

"I have powerful concentration. If you saw it in person, it would probably scare you."

Concentrated Althouse. So Powerful - its scary.

But can it remove grass stains?

Beth said...

You're spot on about part of what the show is about just from the first 22 minutes. I went back and watched the first 2 1/2 seasons to feel caught up for the final season and it was fascinating to see it all closer together in time.

It strikes me as a true modern day Shakespearean tragedy - so many of the horrible things that happen don't have to happen if just X little thing goes differently. That draws me in.

I understand about not wanting toxic things, this show just seemed worth it, it's that well made.

damikesc said...

I'd argue that most cable TV dramas and comedies are brutally overrated. Breaking Bad did less than nothing for me. Game of Thrones is meh, but Martin's books can be tedious slogs to get through, so I can't fault them. The Sopranos was overrated as hell.

jr565 said...

Ann althouse wrote:
I have limited time. To me, watching TV is something I do on an ordinary night, mostly to relax, for maybe an hour, almost throwing that time away. I'm not looking for major upgrades in my mental furniture.

I look for things that interest me enough and suit my emotional needs.

it's understandable Breaking Bad (or, A Game Of Thrones, Or Downton Abbey, or even Top Chef) require an investment of time. If you aren't prepared to make the investment then the show is not for you.
There are shows out there that tell the whole story in an hour, no fuss no muss. Law and Order does that well.

rcocean said...

Too bad you dislike "Breaking Bad". Along with Mad Men, Seinfeld, early Simpsons, and the Sopranos - its the best American TV can offer.

But its still just TV. And I prefer your attitude to Jonah Goldberg's absurd contextualization of the program. I find his attitude totally false, unless he really is an idiot. Which I doubt.

William said...

During Tudor times, there were disciplined, acute minds who ignored that crap at the Globe and profitably spent their days reading Milton and Donne's liturgical studies. Such people not only improved their minds but also their souls. .....If you want to see a show that is truly manipulative and cynical and exposes the dark beast that lurks within humanity,I can recommend Newsroom on HBO. There's a repellent fascination to watching. It's like watching a python let loose at the Puppy Bowl. Every week another adorable puppy gets strangled and swallowed whole. Truth, justice, fairness all get tormented and pulled apart. It's horrible to watch........I like Emily Mortimer and don't understand why there's no nudity. My suggestion to improve the show: Emiliana Clarke (she's the dragon momma on GOT) gets cast from her home planet and dimension. Every week one of the dragons eviscerates and roasts another one of those self righteous assholes who inhabit the Newsroom. For purposes of the story arc, Jane Fonda doesn't get killed to the last episode. Her death is particularly gruesome. Meanwhile, Emily Mortimer struggles with her increasing attraction to Emiliana, especially when they're nude together in the sauna. Finally they both break down and have hot lesbo sex. This breaks the spell, and they 're both magically transported back to Westfall.

YoungHegelian said...

@Smilin Jack,

Fluorine is the only element more electronegative than oxygen,

I realize that hydrofluoric acid is more reactive than sulfuric, and that it will eat glass and thus is now stored in teflon containers (used to be wax).

But my point still holds -- sulfuric or hydrochloric will dissolve organic matter just as well, it'll just take a little longer. Hydrofluoric acid is not only way more expensive, but it's a bitch to store & the fumes are horribly toxic (as shown by the actors in full haz-mat when they use it).

By the way, animal rendering plants don't even use acids. They use alkalies -- sodium or potassium hydroxide. They must have their reasons.

befinne said...

I also stopped watching during the first show, but friends said that it really kicks in only with the 3rd and 4th episodes, so I went back. I'm now halfway through the 4th season. I look forward to seeing what happens but don't think the show is quite as good as its reputation would have it.

I'll say this: the actor who plays Jesse Pinkman (WW's young sidekick) may be the most convincing actor I've ever seen. Believable to the bone. Amazing.

befinne said...

I also stopped watching during the first show, but friends said that it really kicks in only with the 3rd and 4th episodes, so I went back. I'm now halfway through the 4th season. I look forward to seeing what happens but don't think the show is quite as good as its reputation would have it.

I'll say this: the actor who plays Jesse Pinkman (WW's young sidekick) may be the most convincing actor I've ever seen. Believable to the bone. Amazing.

eddie willers said...

As you know, Ann, there is nothing new under the sun. The last original theme happened long before Shakespeare but it wasn't so much what he said but how.

Breaking Bad has some of the best writing and acting ever committed to film.

When you can make a crippled old man ringing a bell more scary than three barrels popping up in JAWS, you know you are in masterful hands.

jr565 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
johns said...

can't you guys say "spoiler alert" once in a while? Geez, the whole series is ruined for me now, so I guess I won't watch it.

that said, I enjoyed the discussion here. I haven't watched any series faithfully in a very long time. I don't really know what I like anymore when I have a little time to watch...too many channels.
So I just watch what my teenage daughters are watching, and it's always a good way to pass some time. they watch:
cake boss; say yes to the dress; glee; castle; and lots of others.
The only one I can't watch more than four minutes is Kardashians. It's said that watching a train wreck is irresistible. Not so with this one; it's more painful than a train wreck.

janetrae said...

I saw the Pilot for the first time about 2 weeks ago. You really didn't want to find out what a man's pants were doing flying around in the desert? I had to know, and the Pilot told me. That said, I consumed the rest of that evening and the entire evening the next night watching Season 1. I am afraid to start watching Season 2 because I know I can't stop (and I won't have that kind of time until after October 15).

I find Walt fascinating and horrifying and anything but the bland white husband/father/teacher that everyone else (except Jesse) take him for -- that is what the show is about. That first impressions are false ones. And if anything, this show is the opposite of what you think -- Walt is not typical, or average, or anything I have seen before on television. As for fulfilling fantasies -- corrosive horrible and horrifying fantasies maybe -- but I don't think Walt has many fantasies left.

Martha said...

I had the same reaction Ann had to the first 22 minutes of the pilot. Then my 20 year old son came home to visit just as the third season was about to begin and he convinced me to give the show another try AND to catch up so I could watch Season 3 with him.

I am glad that I gave BREAKING Bad another look. It is one of the best tv shows ever. I am somewhat chagrined that initially I was so put off by the thought of a high school teacher becoming a meth dealer that I stopped watching.

janetrae said...

"After all Gretchen and Elliot said they would pay for his treatment in full, and he refused."

Wow -- this completely ignores the history and emotional baggage Walt would have had in taking a handout from his former lover and her husband, and what a failure they both succeed in making him feel (watch the beige birthday party episode if you want to see what bitter medicine their proffered handout is). Walt is about WALT (unsuccessful Walt) doing something for his family, even if that something is cooking meth and making bags of money, and blowing up distributors' hangouts, and being kidnapped, and killing (is it really self-defense, ever?), and what extremes his choices drive him to and how he can't ever seem to get back.

jr565 said...

Janetrae wrote:
"Wow -- this completely ignores the history and emotional baggage Walt would have had in taking a handout from his former lover and her husband, and what a failure they both succeed in making him feel (watch the beige birthday party episode if you want to see what bitter medicine their proffered handout is). Walt is about WALT (unsuccessful Walt) doing something for his family, even if that something is cooking meth and making bags of money, and blowing up distributors' hangouts, and being kidnapped, and killing (is it really self-defense, ever?), and what extremes his choices drive him to and how he can't ever seem to get back."


We don't really know what went down with Gray matter and how it ended. But knowing what we do about Walt, I'm sure his pride had a lot to do with it. He's too prideful to take charity, or what he perceives as charity, and that's his fatal flaw. His pride.
But the point is, he was offered both medical treatment AND a job. He didn't need to start selling meth.
When he describes to Gretchen they she stole his future from him and feels her to take her medical treatment and shove it, back In Season one, she's genuinely shocked that he feels that way. From her perspective, Walt was the one left and wasn't driven out. And has been nursing a grudge based on perceived slights
My guess is, her version of events are far closer to the truth.
Even if the choice was a painful one, it was one that was presented to Walt if he just swallowed his pride. And he wouldn't have lost his family if he took that choice instead.

jr565 said...

Johns wrote:
can't you guys say "spoiler alert" once in a while? Geez, the whole series is ruined for me now, so I guess I won't watch it.


If you haven't watched it by now, you're probably not going to. And how long do you have to not spoil things? I didn't reveal what happened this season, for example, but rather what happened back in season 3 and 4.
If you want real spoilers I could tell you what happened last season?

Ann Althouse said...

"There are shows out there that tell the whole story in an hour..."

I don't watch hour-long dramas. I'm not too interested in "stories."

I watched all of the episodes of "The Sopranos" over the years. And most of "6 Feet Under" and "Big Love." I don't know what it would take to get me started on some new series.

I would have to be taken in by the characters, I guess, and the line by line writing would need to be good.

"Breaking Bad" could be good enough, but both Meade and I picked up a sickness to it, something Hollywood about the meaninglessness of middle Americans. I feel I've seen that so many times.

By the way, years ago, I tried to watch "Lost." The first episode, when it came out. I'd read about it and predicted it would be good. But I bailed after about 22 minutes. It felt phony to me. I didn't like the actors.

So I missed all that when it became a big thing. But I was early getting in on it. Who else got in AND out so early?

jr565 said...

Younghegelian wrote:
"There's just too much meanness in the arts today that thinks it's edgy because it's mean. No, most of it is just mean, and it's wearyingly boring & predictable to see every spark of goodness crushed. We're not reading the Iliad 2400 years later because it's full of punks & rotters."
Achilles was kind of a punk actually. But I remember reading the Illiad in high school and noticing the number of characters who died in extremely violent detail. Including Hector, the guy who seemed most heroic. And then Achilles desecrated his body by dragging it around behind his chariot.
Its still a classic though.

jr565 said...

""Breaking Bad" could be good enough, but both Meade and I picked up a sickness to it, something Hollywood about the meaninglessness of middle Americans. I feel I've seen that so many times."

interesting. And I can see that to a small extent. Only, the concept is about a guy breaking bad and turning from mr. Chips to scarface. wouldn't that mean what he turns into is the sickening thing and not what he turned from
His life previously, may have been boring and mundane, but I don't think the show is meaning to indict his happy life.
Walter White may not have been happy in it, but this because he thinks he's deserving of greater things because he's Walter White..

jr565 said...

Ann Althouse wrote:
I don't watch hour-long dramas. I'm not too interested in "stories."

and this is why I think Breaking Bad is better than most other tv shows. Because its all about the story. Its episodic, but the whole thing tells a long story, where the characters actually change and have arcs. But the story has to be watched from the beginning to,end.

Granted, it will not be everyone's cup of tea as response to art is largely subjective.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

Please don't watch Breaking Bad, Ann. You are not worthy.

Julie C said...

It's interesting that you mention "Lost". We watched it the summer after it first aired, and the pilot episode was really good and got us hooked. My husband and I stayed up late for days watching the entire first season. For me, that was an example of a show that had a great pilot, and by the time the show aired its finale, I was so over the whole thing. Talk about a disappointment! And yet I had to know how it ended ...

My younger son got us started watching BB. I love Bryan Cranston, and his transformation in the show has been remarkable. He is a brilliant actor, as is Aaron Paul (Jessie).

Deadwood is one of my all time favorite shows ever. We periodically pull out the DVDs and watch it again. I'll never get tired of it.

eddie willers said...

but both Meade and I picked up a sickness to it, something Hollywood about the meaninglessness of middle Americans.

You would be wrong.

Its when he steps outside of middle America that things break bad.

Carol said...

You'll never get through a book like Les Miserables, or even Game of Thrones if you stop books after three pages

I dunno, books seem to be completely different. You can go at your own pace, no machinery necessary. I still read a lot, but my patience for TV shows has gone away, unless I'm drinking.

Saint Croix said...

I watched the pilot. It totally reminded me of The Sopranos. Well written, well acted, ugly, and ultimately kind of boring. I know we're not supposed to be bored with evil. But it is boring. Hannah Arendt was exactly right. It's banal.

I think what excites a lot of people about the show is the implicit criticism of American society. Look, a teacher had to become a meth dealer!

I reject that premise. But aside from that, I have to like the characters. I have to engage with them. And if they're too evil--and he's evil in the pilot--I disengage emotionally.

I tried to watch Dexter, got five minutes into it. A serial killer is your hero? I can't imagine a more boring, awful, repulsive time than hanging out with a serial killer. Why?

And they have to go lower and lower. They've done Mafia, they've done drug dealer, they've done serial killer. What's left? Pedophile. Once they do pedophile, they hit bottom. I would say they hit apocalypse, but it's a really boring apocalypse. It's a whimper, not a bang.

Archer is awesome, though. And Justified. And Leverage. And Sherlock. There's actually quite a bit of amazing television going on right now. Just not the stuff other people seem to like.

Smilin' Jack said...

"Breaking Bad" could be good enough, but both Meade and I picked up a sickness to it, something Hollywood about the meaninglessness of middle Americans. I feel I've seen that so many times.

I know. It's sort of like Macbeth, where you know from the opening scene it's just going to be more crap about how witches are bad and white men are selfish and materialistic. Who needs more of that propaganda? Shakespeare is so overrated.

gadfly said...

I dialed up Amazon Instant Videos a couple weeks ago to see "Breaking Bad". Three episodes in, I was done with the show, despite all the unwatched episodes kindly provided for free using Prime.

How many times can you watch a guy make meth? Awkward dialog, and you are correct Ann, the show is the evening version of the afternoon soaps.

JoyD said...

Ann said it felt toxic, and why would we choose to sit there and let those toxins flow into us? Sorry to paraphrase, I'll bet a law prof hates that, but I strongly agree with Ann. That is exactly how we felt when we got as far as the second or third episode where the bathtub containing the dissolving corpse crashes through the floor and they wade around in a puddle of red goo. Off it went, at that moment and forever. My husband and I looked at each other and said, wtf? Ann and Meade had a slightly more entertaining conversation but we were succinct.

jr565 said...

Gadfly wrote:


How many times can you watch a guy make meth? Awkward dialog, and you are correct Ann, the show is the evening version of the afternoon soaps.

justified is a great show too. But, how many times can we watch raylan givens fight crime? Or how many times can we watch lawyers be lawyers in any show about lawyers?
(And aren't lawyers really only one step above meth dealers?)
The point is, if you watch a show about something it usually shows that thing.

jeff said...

I've never seen breaking bad or mad men. I also don't think I'm better than other people because of that. I guess I'm doing it wrong.

jr565 said...

JoyD wrote:
Ann said it felt toxic, and why would we choose to sit there and let those toxins flow into us? Sorry to paraphrase, I'll bet a law prof hates that, but I strongly agree with Ann. That is exactly how we felt when we got as far as the second or third episode where the bathtub containing the dissolving corpse crashes through the floor and they wade around in a puddle of red goo. Off it went, at that moment and forever. My husband and I looked at each other and said, wtf? Ann and Meade had a slightly more entertaining conversation but we were succinct.


It's noir. Dark stuff happens in noir. And similarly dark stuff happens as far back as Shakespeare and before). In the play Titus, the main character gets revenge by killing the sons of his enemies and then serving them to her in the form of a pie.
Toxic, sure. But it's still Shakespeare.

I remember the first time I saw Jaws as a kid where Quint gets bitten by the shark and spits up blood and I thought that was the most disturbing, horrifying thing I'd seen. But it's still a good movie.

Ann Althouse said...

I finished watching the "Pilot" episode late last night, after we came back from the play.

It confirmed my understanding that Walt's breaking bad was the seizing of life that happened as he faced death.

At one point, he says "I'm alive."

It may be that in later episodes the story was changed to a desire to leave money to his family (or to get his own medical treatments), but I'm here to tell you that is NOT the story presented in the "Pilot."

It reminded me of that old Michael Douglas movie that epitomized the "angry white male" trend of whenever the hell that trend was.

Ann Althouse said...

The movie is "Falling Down."

Falling/Breaking Down/Bad

jr565 said...

Althouse wrote:
It confirmed my understanding that Walt's breaking bad was the seizing of life that happened as he faced death.

At one point, he says "I'm alive."

It may be that in later episodes the story was changed to a desire to leave money to his family (or to get his own medical treatments), but I'm here to tell you that is NOT the story presented in the "Pilot."


IT's both. He wants to provide for his family, and he also feels alive facing death.
It's also pride. It comes out that he was part of a company that went on to become a billion dollar company, based on what he thinks were his ideas, and that they cheated him out of his destiny while he went on to be a lowly teacher. So, this is his chance to create an empire, where he is the best at something.

jr565 said...

It reminded me of that old Michael Douglas movie that epitomized the "angry white male" trend of whenever the hell that trend was.


I don't know if the trend was angry white male as opposed to angry male, as opposed to angry person.
I mean, Thelma and Louise was the same premise. And they weren't males (though they were white).

Jerry said...

The first 22 minutes sets up the stereotypical life that Walter is breaking from.

You're not supposed to like it.

Ironically at minute 23, literally, Walter falls through the rabbit hole.

DCS said...

First off, I'm a huge Breaking Bad fan, but I didn't see my first episode until a year ago when I started watching on Netflix. I don't think it appeals to everyone, nor should it try to. In the same vein, I attempted to watch Mad Men and Homeland and couldn't get through the first episode of either. Something has to grab the interest of the viewer (reader) to make him care about what happens to the characters. I recall reading the first Harry Potter book because my kids were into it. I found it to be polished, well written children's literature and I didn't give a damn about the characters, so I never read any other HP book. So much of the enjoyment of literature is subjective, yet critics always want to transform it into allegedly objective standards. Mainly, that's not true.
Ann, sorry you don't love BB like I do, but I get it, I really do.

MadisonMan said...

but both Meade and I picked up a sickness to it, something Hollywood about the meaninglessness of middle Americans. I feel I've seen that so many times.

A crystal-clear explanation that rings very true to me.

I don't care to Rubberneck at highway accidents, and watching BB and other shows seems so very much like that to me.

heyboom said...

A golf buddy of mine just got into the cool clique about three weeks ago when he crammed the entirety of the series in up to tonight's finale. Now he and my other golf buddy talk about the show during the entire round with all of the requisite catch phrases (complete with that giggle that apparently only insiders can understand or share).

I hope all the fans of the show out there enjoy the finale and are fulfilled. But please don't look down your noses at folks like me who never got on board.

El Pollo Raylan said...

I thought Walt needed money because he decided to go out-of-network for his cancer treatments. This is relevant to the recent revelation that top-tier cancer treatment centers will be out-of-network for many future affordable healthcare plans.

But my point still holds -- sulfuric or hydrochloric will dissolve organic matter just as well, it'll just take a little longer. Hydrofluoric acid is not only way more expensive, but it's a bitch to store & the fumes are horribly toxic (as shown by the actors in full haz-mat when they use it).

High-density polyethylene is used to store HF. Remember the scene when Jesse is in the hardware store and Walt tells him over the phone to look for the HDPE (#2 recycle) label on the bottom of the tub? That's the kind of detail another chemist catches.

BTW, I used to correspond with Donna Nelson, U of OK) before she got "famous."

El Pollo Raylan said...

"Myth Busters" did a very good job of testing both the dissolving bathtub and the fulminated mercury (exploding meth) scenes.

El Pollo Raylan said...

We started watching "Breaking Bad" as family and are into Season 2. My favorite thing to do as an annoying chemist is to shout out the names of boldfaced element symbols as they appear in the credits -- especially the more obscure ones.