I’m finally Breaking Bad. It’s about time.
Actually, I watched the first couple episodes as they debuted on AMC right after Mad Men. But then due to busyness or business or babies, I fell off the wagon. And now I’m back, baby, getting all caught up on Walt White and Co., via Netflix. I am binge watching like it’s my job in order to be able to watch the final couple of episodes of the latest – and final season – as they happen.
That will not be a problem; I’ve blown through two seasons in less than a week. Because it’s that compelling – every episode seems to end in a cliff hanger. In fact, I wonder how people were able to watch one per week – they must have been preoccupied during the off days, the show scratching at the back of their head at random moments. Sounds an awful lot like how I imagine drug addiction to feel so maybe that was the point.
The hype machine is to blame for my sudden rush of attention. Breaking Bad has been proclaimed by seemingly everyone with a blog as one of or maybe the best show in the history of television. I can’t speak to that because I’ve not seen every other series let alone most of this one. That said, there’s no question that it’s the kind of media experience that lingers, leaves me thinking about it well after moving on to another activity.
Like, am I supposed to be able to relate to Walt? Because I do. At the core, he’s a family man who barely scrapes by whether doing the right thing (teaching high school chemistry) or the wrong thing (slingin’ ice), perpetually set back by medical issues or bad luck. There are times when he seems torn between wanting to beat cancer and hoping to be defeated. Is there another television character that has so honestly brought to life those ideas, conveyed the often unspoken stresses of the college-educated, mortgage-saddled, bill-buried husband and father? We’ve all felt desperate, overwhelmed, helpless and hopeless. He’s spellbinding and in a much more Everyman way than, say, Don Draper.
Meanwhile, I could barely watch the Jesse-does-heroin scenes. Really. And not just because there were needles involved; the recoiling was more about the character. How could this misguided yet likable kid – and Aaron Paul nails the kid part from his actions to his lack of size – to me, that’s start shooting smack? That’s on another level in pretend-people behavior. My stomach started to hurt and I started muttering stuff like ‘No, Jesse, no,’ as if he was real and/or could hear me. That might be the highest praise that an amateur critic can give a show.
And these are the rewards I was hoping for when deciding to jump in the game at this stage. I’m watching the old ones, while recording the news ones rather than doing both as once as I did with The Wire. (That worked out OK, for what it’s worth, in large part due to the considerable scene shifts between seasons.) However, I’m not trying to avoid spoilers or weekly discussions on podcasts or Twitter. The universal analysis is part of what I like about the modern excellence in TV yet those conversations seem unlikely to hold up after the fact as the shows themselves. Or maybe there’s just less of a chance that I’ll go back and ingest them. Either way, the supplemental materials help simulate the old concurrent watching experience, an idea that’s fading in the social media, DVR, mobile era.
Of course, without those avenues it would be more difficult to get on the Breaking Bad bandwagon at this point – remember video stores? – as well as being less likely from a buzz standpoint. Let’s hope the tools of the day enable the creation of more shows of this caliber going forward.