My wife and I finished the first season of the television series Breaking Bad last night; all seven episodes. Not nearly enough. Breaking Bad is the best episodic program I've seen on television in the last few years. It is the story of Walt White, a father, husband, and public school science teacher. In the opening episode he is diagnosed with lung cancer and the rest of the story--the season--chronicles Walt's attempts to leave his family something.
Walt's wife is pregnant and his son is handicapped. He left a successful career as a research scientist to teach and he doesn't have much except a crummy old Pontiac Aztec and an unfulfilling job. He doesn't have money, respect, or any other damn thing. He doesn't care what happens to him, but he is terrified at what will happen to his family after he dies.
Breaking Bad is a wonderful mix of comedy and drama. Walt is perfectly portrayed as the aggrieved protagonist by Bryan Cranston. He unveils a character who is much more than a victim. He is a man who has played by the rules his entire life and now, when the unfairness of everything crashes down, he chooses to do something about it.
What really makes Walt and the show work is that Walt discovers he likes taking control of his destiny. He finds it empowering and very fulfilling, which creates an interesting tension between law and order and survival. A tension that tightens with each act and episode.
The journey is painful, embarrassing and voyeuristic. The audience is part of the family and the often uncomfortable scenes of a family dealing with death are chilling and dry, but the death and depression are accompanied by a desperate and dark humor that soften the edges just enough. Breaking Bad is simply awesome, and it very nearly makes me want to order cable.