Somehow I thought I’d reach this age and not be watching so much television. Of course, at the time I’d have made an observation like that, most TV sucked. It’s hard for me to watch any network television anymore. On the way out of town yesterday we passed a filthy Chevy Trailblazer, emblazoned Wayne County Medical Examiner. The driver was a fiftysomething doughball who bore no resemblance at all to David Caruso, William L. Petersen or Gary Sinise. Where’s your Hummer? Where’s your supermodel partner? In real life, sometimes a meat wagon is just a meat wagon.
I don’t know how many of you are watching “Breaking Bad,” on AMC, but you might want to give it a try. It’s imperfect, not as sure-footed as “Mad Men,” but part of the fun of discovering something pretty good is watching it become very good, and I have high hopes for “Breaking Bad.” (Just noticed something: This is the second made-for-AMC series; do they all have to have two-word, alliterative names? Maybe I can interest them in an autobiographical series based on me.)
B2 is about Walter White (MORE ALLITERATION! And the lead in “Mad Men” is DON DRAPER! I have found the key!)… OK, about Walter White, a high-school chemistry teacher in Albuquerque who’s just turned 50 and discovered he has late-stage lung cancer, the kind where the choices are die now or suffer now and die just a little later. He has a pregnant wife, a son with cerebral palsy and no money at all; in the pilot episode he’s moonlighting at a car wash, scrubbing the tires of his own students. He wants to die without telling anyone what he’s dying of, and he wants to leave his family enough of a grubstake that they have at least a fighting chance without him. The first desire is unrealistic, and once he lets his wife in on the secret, you see why he didn’t want to tell her: She becomes almost unbearably “supportive,” and she’s already the sort of Goodwife who looks good on paper, but doesn’t work so well in real life. (On his 50th birthday, she serves him bacon and eggs arranged into a 50 on his plate, but the bacon is the vegetarian kind.)
The second desire is more achievable, considering Walter has excellent chemistry skills and the down-and-outers around Albuquerque have a deep thirst for methamphetamine. He hooks up with a former student in the trade (nickname: Captain Cook) and the two commence on a comedy of errors designed to produce glass-grade crystal meth for the masses.
The comedy-of-errors stuff is what’s imperfect about the show. Hiding and disposing of dead bodies, deception of families, squeezing chemotherapy in around work and cook sessions — this we’ve seen before. But I watch the show for the stuff I haven’t seen before, or am seeing in a new way. It’s in the way Walter chafes under his unrewarding life, in his ugly house, with his idiot students and his pillow-plumping spouse. And in the depiction of Albuquerque thug life, with its Mexican gangbangers, laundromat-haunting tweakers and absurd, hip-hop patois (did you know that New Mexico city is known as “the ABQ”?). Walter’s partner, Jesse, dresses in the oversize pants and knit watch caps sported by rappers and other bad-boy style leaders, but he looks like a toddler playing dress-up in them. But Walter’s own wardrobe of Dockers and short-sleeve shirts hardly looks like something to aspire to. When the two fall out, split up and separately decide to go straight, the only job Jesse can find is dressed as a smiling dollar bill, passing out fliers on the sidewalk outside a bank. (This show has a way of demonstrating that for some people, daily life is so banal and stupid that staying stoned all day on crystal just…makes…sense.)
Walter comes clean about his cancer, submits to chemo, and in his physical misery finds himself attending the 50th birthday party of a college classmate who got a little luckier in the business world and lives like a pasha. No soy bacon for him — his birthday presents include one of Eric Clapton’s old guitars, personally signed by God. Later, the former classmate tries to give Walter a do-nothing job, as a cover to pay for his cancer treatment. There’s something about the moment when Walter seeks out Jesse after all this and greets him with a terse, “Wanna cook?” that encapsulates the whole show — the way people get left behind in life, the way being left behind means you can’t get the good cancer drugs, the way lawbreaking can make a man feel alive in a whole new way.
I hope it gets renewed. It’s taken me years to discover Bryan Cranston, who plays Walter. I don’t want to lose him just yet.
Do we have bloggage? No, we don’t. I was at a funeral all day! But feel free to post your own. It’s work work work today for me.