STUDIO:  Sony Pictures
MSRP: $39.95
RUNNING TIME: 346 Minutes
-    Audio Commentary on Pilot Episode
-     Making of Breaking Bad
-    Screen Tests
-    Deleted Scenes
-    Audio Commentary on “Crazy Handful of Nothin’
-    Vince Gilligan’s Photo Gallery
-    Inside Breaking Bad
-    AMC Shootout

The Pitch

Better living through chemistry: Tom on Breaking Bad Season One.

Even the tasteful placement of a throw pillow didn’t help to disguise the excitement felt whenever talk centered around the films of Jason Patric.

The Humans

Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, RJ Mitte

“Will you take the Len Bias challenge?”

The Nutshell

Take a little bit from column Weeds and a little bit from column Sopranos and you’ve got the basis for Breaking Bad: Walter White (Cranston) is a shell of his former self, previously having been a scientist in the running for the Nobel Prize and currently teaching chemistry to a bunch of self-absorbed teenagers who could give a shit less about how volatile elements can be when combined. Struggling to make ends meet for his family, he gets the bonus news that he’s been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Looking the end of his life in the face and knowing that he won’t be able to take care of his family from beyond the grave, Walter makes a startling decision: he will use his scientific prowess to cook meth along with former student Jesse (Paul) in order to raise enough money to ensure their future post-Walter. However, Walter has no idea what he’s getting into, from tweaked-out drug lords to trigger-happy drug dealers to his DEA Agent brother-in-law and soon learns just how high the stakes are when one ‘breaks bad’.

The rough economy forced Angus Scrimm to turn tricks just to buy fancy clothes for his balls.

The Lowdown

In an era where the phrase “It’s not TV, it’s HBO” has successfully been inverted it should come as no surprise when a show as expertly crafted as Breaking Bad comes along. And while it’s old news that the high-scale pay-cable channels are no longer the gatekeepers of fantastically made adult television programming, whenever something as of high a quality as this hits the scene it certainly merits recognition. For whatever slight flaws Breaking Bad might have, they’re massively outnumbered by its writing, stellar direction and absolutely impeccable casting.

There’s a great deal of formality involved in any given Amy Winehouse urine sample extraction.

The latter is especially where this show thrives and any compliment about the work done by this cast has to begin and end with Bryan Cranston. Simply put he is the heart and soul of this program and delivers an utterly compelling tour de force performance through each episode that keeps you watching, riveted wondering where his character will go to next. It’s an emotionally and physically transformative season of work from Cranston whose character runs the emotional gamut from the beginning of the series to the final episode. Perhaps the defining sequence of the first season for him is in the ‘intervention’ scene in episode five where he tries to explain his reluctance to undergo extensive chemotherapy for the cancer in his body. It’s a defining moment for the actor and one of many reasons throughout the season that earned him his richly deserved best actor Emmy. However, he’s ably backed by an entire cast that fit their characters perfectly and tear into each role with relish.  Specifically, the show gets unbelievable mileage out of the chemistry between Cranston’s Walter White and Aaron Paul’s former student-turned meth dealer Jesse Pinkman. They’re your prototypical sort of odd couple, but just about every scene between them is electric. If Cranston is the show’s heart, then when he’s coupled with Paul they form the circulatory system, and the rest of the cast are vital organs*.

“….they’re reporting that I’m tapped to play somebody called Superpro…”

It greatly helps matters that the show’s storytelling abilities are on par with that of its actors. While I wouldn’t say that the show has its own carefully designed visual language, camera placement and movement is dynamic throughout season one giving the show the epic and intimate moments it needs whenever called upon. Beyond a few early hiccups where the plotting is a little too on the nose (having the asshole student in class show up at Walter’s car wash is a little too obvious for a show as deftly written as this one) the writing is uniformly excellent and oftentimes surprising (the episode that delves into Jesse’s previous home life is full of character-based surprises). The story seems to expand organically from the initial decision Walter makes and you see a lot of little bits and pieces start to coalesce and fall into place as the show progresses. It’s a testament to the show runners that you can see that Walter is fucked no matter what choices he makes as the show moves along, but you really have no idea in what way he’ll be fucked. This is fascinating, character-driven television that should be appointment viewing.

Amongst the only complaints that I could levy against the show is that season one doesn’t really tell a self-contained story. Instead, it’s satisfied to get all of its plates up and spinning and leave you at a point where you feel the story is really just starting to begin for Walter White and friends. And while that isn’t really a slight on Bad’s part considering the storytelling has been so confident up to this point that you can’t imagine them dropping the ball in subsequent seasons, it is a little frustrating to have absolutely no closure by season’s end. A minor qualm for what is easily one of the television’s best programs out of the gate. Good on AMC for getting out of the ‘pretending Jumanji and Dragonheart are movie classics’ market and getting into the compelling serialized television market.

“We replaced this gay couple’s Tivo’ed episode of Life on the D-List with the trailer for All About Steve, let’s see what happens..”

The Package

The cover art captures the show’s iconic opening image and highlights the performer who is front and center so I’ll give it a pass. The audio commentaries for the pilot and episode six are a fun addition to the set but with what seems like all of the cast and creators in the room at once they’re a little too busy for anything other than a manic vibe. Also included are some small deleted scenes that are often just trims as well as some screen tests. It’d be nice to see these more often on DVD’s as they give a nice bit of insight into what the actor brought to the role from the get-go that got them the job. The making of featurette and mini Inside Breaking Bad featurettes are all rather fluffy, and the AMC Shootout and photo gallery are worth a passing glance but don’t add substantially the experience**. Still, it’s a nice smattering of goodies to accompany what is a fantastic new television show. High recommendation.

9.0 out of 10

*Dean Norris: clearly the pancreas.
**Unless you’re speaking of The Peter Bart Experience.