Breaking Bad -- TV Review
Simply put, what Gilligan and company are crafting in many ways transcends the medium itself, producing material with an indie art house feel and a profoundly unsettling "No Country for Old Men" vibe. Moreover, star Bryan Cranston, the surprise lead actor winner at last year's Emmys, has raised his game even higher, leaving no trace of the goofball "Malcolm in the Middle" dad. This is television as God intended.
The "Breaking Bad" story line casts the brilliant Cranston as a pathetic high school chemistry teacher named Walt White who -- upon learning he's dying of lung cancer -- chucks it all to become a crystal meth chef in a mobile lab with a perpetually irritated ne'er-do-well former student, Jesse (the terrific Aaron Paul), to make enough money to provide for his family after he's gone. That family includes a pregnant all-American blonde wife (Anna Gunn) and an adolescent son afflicted with cerebral palsy (RJ Mitte).
Complicating matters further is the fact Walt's brother-in-law (a wonderfully pugnacious Dean Norris) happens to be a DEA agent. Whoops! Cranston and Paul enjoy a magnificent chemistry (no pun intended) that's at once grippingly harrowing and blackly comic, bumbling and stumbling their way through a world neither has any business being anywhere near.
If you were mesmerized by the claustrophobic look and style of a drama masterfully shot in the New Mexico desert by director of photography Michael Slovis, well, you ain't seen nothin' yet. The violence is more brutal. The mood is starker. And the suspense is pretty much off-the-scale, particularly in the breathtaking second episode, "Grilled," from writer George Mastras and directed by "Hill Street Blues" alum Charles Haid. The first two segments are greatly bolstered by a rip-roaring guest turn from Raymond Cruz of "The Closer" as a murderous psychopath of a dealer.
Cranston has tossed himself so deeply into this role it's possible to see into the very soul of his tortured alter ego. "Breaking Bad" is indeed so flat-out superb it appears to be operating at a different level than just about everybody else save AMC's own "Mad Men" and maybe a couple of shows over at FX. May it live long and prosper.
Airdate: 10-11 p.m. Sunday, March 8 (AMC)
Production: Sony Pictures Television and AMC
Executive producers: Vince Gilligan, Mark Johnson
Producers: Karen Moore, Stewart A. Lyons, Melissa Bernstein
Consulting producer: John Shiban
Co-producer: Sam Catlin
Writers: J. Roberts, George Mastras, Peter Gould, Moira Walley-Beckett
Directors: Bryan Cranston, Charles Haid, Terry McDonough
Director of photography: Michael Slovis
Production designer: Robb Wilson King
Costume designer: Kathleen Detoro
Editors: Lynne Willingham, Kelley Dixon, Skip Macdonald
Composer: Dave Porter
Casting: Sharon Bialy, Sherry Thomas, Shari Rhodes
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, RJ Mitte, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, Raymond Cruz, Tess Harper, Mark Margolis, Steven Michael Quezada