×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Breaking Bad

The liberating power of a fatal diagnosis underlies the movie "The Bucket List" and, to a less ostentatious degree, this AMC series -- offering a breakout role to Bryan Cranston, while not quite reaching the lofty heights the channel scaled with the brilliant period drama "Mad Men."

With:
Walt White - Bryan Cranston Skyler White - Anna Gunn Jesse Pinkman - Aaron Paul Hank Schrader - Dean Norris Marie Schrader - Betsy Brandt Walter White Jr. - RJ Mitte

The liberating power of a fatal diagnosis underlies the movie “The Bucket List” and, to a less ostentatious degree, this AMC series — offering a breakout role to Bryan Cranston, while not quite reaching the lofty heights the channel scaled with the brilliant period drama “Mad Men.” Series creator Vince Gilligan brings a quirky sensibility to the pilot, and the show grows increasingly rich and absorbing in the second and third hours. Whether “Breaking Bad” can ignite to become more than TV’s version of a little-seen indie film, however, could be an elusive formula.

A gutsy bit of casting after his broadly comic (and frequently hilarious) work on “Malcolm in the Middle,” Cranston plays Walt White, a chemistry teacher who moonlights at the local car wash. A painfully ordinary guy, he has a semi-detached wife (Anna Gunn, last seen in “Deadwood”) who taps away on the computer during what passes for sex between them, and a physically challenged son (RJ Mitte) who endures teasing from other kids.

Full of inner turmoil, Walt’s worldview shifts when the hacking cough that won’t go away turns out to be much worse than a persistent cold. Suddenly faced with mortality, his clenched demeanor begins changing — highlighted by Walt’s decision to cook crystal meth in conjunction with a former student, Jesse (Aaron Paul), introducing him to an assortment of unsavory characters.

It’s a brave, balls-to-the-wall performance by Cranston — almost literally, given the indelible image of him baking the drugs in his tight-white briefs, not wanting to leave the lingering chemical smell on his everyday clothes.

Three episodes in — pursuing a story arc that evolves impressively and incorporates an engrossing moral dilemma — “Breaking Bad” consistently keeps the audience off balance, oscillating between life-or-death scenarios and dark comedy fueled by Jesse’s limited grasp of chemistry. The aptly named Walt, meanwhile, emerges as a modern-day Walter Mitty — a portrait of middle-aged angst and repression, albeit here emboldened by the dawning realization he has little left to lose.

Yet as polished as “Breaking Bad” is, in terms of long-term potential (or however long Walt has), it’s the sort of front-loaded affair that invites skepticism as to whether the idiosyncratic tone can be maintained. The original order is for seven episodes, and in some respects the project might work best as a limited series — especially if the plot turns on Walt’s adventures in drug dealing, which risks coming across less as one man’s existential crisis than a genre-twisting companion to “Weeds.” (Although the content doesn’t extend quite into that show’s pay cable neighborhood, AMC pushes close to FX standards with its liberal allowances of language and drug use.)

Granted, these reservations are partly a tribute to “Breaking Bad’s” ambition, and at the least it’s a worthy addition to the recent bar-raising run by cable dramas — of which “Mad Men” marked a surprising standard-bearer, establishing AMC as a credible option.

For all that, it’s difficult to count this series as an unqualified breakthrough just yet. Then again, as Walt can testify about dealing with volatile ingredients, sometimes the gutsiest strategy is simply to toss them together and see what happens.

Breaking Bad

AMC, Sun. Jan. 20, 10 p.m.

Production: Filmed in New Mexico by High Bridge and Gran Via Prods. cq in association with Sony Pictures Television. Executive producers, Vince Gilligan, Mark Johnson; producers, Karen Moore, Patty Lin; writer-director, Gilligan.

Crew: Camera, John Toll; editor, Lynne Willingham; music, Dave Porter; production designer, Robb Wilson King; casting, Sharon Bialy, Sherry Thomas. Running Time: 60 MIN.

With: Walt White - Bryan Cranston Skyler White - Anna Gunn Jesse Pinkman - Aaron Paul Hank Schrader - Dean Norris Marie Schrader - Betsy Brandt Walter White Jr. - RJ Mitte

More Film

  • Vanessa Kirby poses for photographers at

    Vanessa Kirby to Star in Drama 'Pieces of a Woman' (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Hobbs & Shaw” actress Vanessa Kirby is in negotiations to star in the Bron Studios pic “Pieces of a Woman,” sources tell Variety. Kornél Mundruczó will direct with Kata Wéber penning the script. Reps for Kirby could not be reached for comment. Specific plot details are being kept under wraps, but it is known that [...]

  • Suki WaterhouseSave the Children Centennial Celebration,

    Dark Castle, HanWay, Ingenious Team on 'Séance' From 'Blair Witch' Scribe Simon Barrett

    Dark Castle Entertainment, HanWay Films and Ingenious Media have partnered on horror film “Séance,” directed by “Blair Witch” scribe Simon Barrett. Set in an all-girls boarding school haunted by a vengeful spirit, the film stars Suki Waterhouse (“Assassination Nation,” “The Bad Batch”) as Camille, a young woman who arrives at the Fairfield Academy following one [...]

  • The Black List

    The Black List Reveals India Plans

    The Black List, an online yearly survey that features Hollywood’s most popular unpublished screenplays, is all set to make an imprint in India. The survey’s founder Franklin Leonard revealed this during a masterclass at the ongoing Mumbai film festival, where he is also serving as the head of the India Gold competition jury. “One of [...]

  • China Pavilion at TIFFCOM 2019

    'Still Life' Remake Heads for Japan-China Fund Backing

    A Japanese-language remake of British drama “Still Life” could be the first film to flow from a fund created to support Chinese-Japanese joint productions. The fund is operated by WeF Cultural Investment Media, a company founded earlier this year with the backing of government bodies in Beijing and Qingdao — the Chinese coastal city which [...]

  • Kanye West

    Kanye West to Preview ‘Jesus Is King’ Album and Film in Los Angeles on Wednesday

    On the heels of Monday’s announcement that Kanye West’s delayed “Jesus Is King” album will be released on Friday along with a companion IMAX film, the rapper will preview both projects at the Forum in Los Angeles on Wednesday, it was announced this morning. Tickets for the “Jesus Is King Album & Film Experience” will be [...]

  • Isabelle HuppertIsabelle Huppert Life Achievement Award,

    The Arcs Festival Taps Isabelle Huppert to Head The Talent Village For Young Helmers

    Guillaume Nicloux, the French director of “Valley of Love,” is set to preside over the jury of the Arcs Film Festival, while the iconic French actress Isabelle Huppert (“Elle”) will be the patron of the second edition of the Talent Village. Created last year, the Talent Village is a development workshop and platform for emerging [...]

  • Isaac Perlmutter Disney Marvel

    Does Kevin Feige's Marvel Promotion Mean Ike Perlmutter's Endgame?

    Last week’s move giving Kevin Feige charge of Marvel’s television, animation and print editorial operations should come as no surprise. As the architect of the company’s enormous film success, Feige arguably has the most enviable track record of any contemporary entertainment executive. Extending his creative control over more of the Marvel universe seems like a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content