“Breaking Bad’s” protracted victory lap was inevitably going to include a complete-boxed-set Blu-Ray release, but the producers have sweetened the deal with the requisite extras — including a 2 hour, 15 minute documentary, “No Half Measures: Creating the Final Season of Breaking Bad,” providing an extensive behind-the-scenes look at the production. Inasmuch as the AMC drama will be taught in television classes for years to come, consider this an early round of homework for the academic set, as well as an opportunity to see the cast and crew bid their tearful farewells.
Of course, hearing actors, producers and crew talk about what a great job this was seems like a sort of no-brainer, and the camaraderie on the set — while often fun to watch in this fly-on-the-wall fashion — only goes so far in explaining the show’s success. After all, a lot of lousy series have playful banter and jocularity around the craft-services table, too.
Still, for those who took the entire journey — beginning, as the crew recalls, back when the ratings were nothing to write home about — there is something wonderfully warm about watching the actors shoot their final scenes; seeing a cameraman tear up as the character of Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston, bids farewell to his baby daughter; or being allowed into Cranston’s Albuquerque house, watching him and Aaron Paul read the final script together, looking as emotionally spent as the episode would eventually leave about 10 million viewers.
“No Half Measures” methodically explores every part of the production process — from the writers’ room to post production — to a brief section on the development of the series. In a disarming moment of honesty for a studio exec, Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton admits when first informed of the idea — middle-aged failure gets terminal cancer diagnosis, begins cooking crystal meth to provide for his family — his response was, “That is the craziest and worst idea for a television show I have ever heard,” basically telling TV programming presidents Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg that if they wanted to proceed, hey, it’s your careers.
Cranston, Paul notes, “behaves very immaturely on the set,” and there are some very funny moments courtesy of Cranston and Dean Norris. (Cranston quips that with his new gig on CBS’ “Under the Dome,” Norris’ inadequacies will be displayed to millions of new viewers.)
Yet while this “Breaking Bad” doc offers a perhaps-too-thorough window into how a TV series gets made — and in this case, gets finished — deriving the magic equation, the creative spark that produces a one-for-the-ages show such as this one remains elusive. Part of that has to do with series creator Vince Gilligan, who comes across as so gracious and down-to-Earth in discussing the program it doesn’t readily communicate how insanely unpredictable it was, and how the creative team kept writing itself into impossible corners, only to find a not-readily-apparent way out.
Clearly a bit emotional as the show winds down, Gilligan is shown saying he considers himself “a shareholder, not an owner,” citing all the contributions from “Breaking Bad’s” extended family.
“No Half Measures” gives that family a chance to indulge in one last, well-deserved curtain call — a process filled with warmth and gratitude, just in time for Thanksgiving. As for the why of it all, or those who might be looking for clues regarding how to cook up their own TV moneymaker, much like Walter White’s blue meth, that appears to boil down to plain old chemistry — the kind even a brainy high-school teacher turned meth cook would have a hard time explaining.