Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Breaking Bad? Hell no

I watched the pilot of Breaking Bad on the FX channel the other night and was hugely impressed. This is the story of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a just-turned-fifty high school chemistry teacher for whom life isn't so much a box of chocolates as a box of dead kittens. He's feeling old, he has to care for a disabled son and his wife is unexpectedly pregnant. They're short of money to the extent that he has to clean cars for the extra cash. Then, one fateful day, he collapses at work and is diagnosed with inoperable terminal lung cancer. This triggers a change in the otherwise dull and pedestrian science teacher. He becomes hugely stressed, prone to violent outbursts and panic attacks about how his family will survive when he's gone.

But a chance comment by his brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) - a police officer for the Drugs Enforcement Agency - inspires Walter. He realises that there are huge profits to be made from cooking and selling Crystal Meth. And he is a trained chemist. He therefore hooks up with one his ex-students, Jesse (Aaron Paul) who is now a drugs dealer and a curious partnership is formed. The action kicks off from there with the mild-mannered but nothing-to-lose chemistry teacher becoming ever more embroiled in the seedy and dangerous world of gangs and drugs. All of the performances were superb - Cranston in particular is amazing. If the rest of the series is as good, I'm in for a truly enjoyable ride.

David Bishop's blog points out that the pilot episode is available as a free download on i-tunes. My advice is ... have a look. And watch the series if you can. It showed in the USA six months ago and won two Emmys. There are only seven episodes (due to the writers' strike) but it has been picked up for a second series.

Yet again I find that I'm praising an American show when I want to be praising British shows. In the past few years we've had Lost, 24, The Sopranos, Dexter, Prison Break, Bones, Heroes, My name is Earl ... all hugely original and entertaining shows. And what do we have? With the exception of shows like Doctor Who, Jekyll, Lost in Austen, Life on Mars and, maybe, Spooks, we don't have a lot to boast about, do we? We do make some excellent gritty drama. We do make some very good, if uninspired, cop shows. But we also make far too much stuff like the shameful Primeval. This ghastly, cliche-ridden, shoddy effects show actually boasts some excellent writers but, as the saying goes, no matter how many diamonds you poke into it, a turd is just a turd. No amount of good writing or excellent performances by the cast is going to rescue it. There must be thousands of new writers out there with a billion original and exciting new ideas for TV drama. Hell, I personally know at least ten otherwise unknown writers who are bursting with extraordinary ideas. Why isn't the industry doing more to find people like them and promote them? Why are we spending vast sums of money on crap like Big Brother and Celebrity this that and the other and The Boy with Six Bollocks, when we could be feeding it into innovative quality drama?

Potentially brilliant new series are currently sitting unread and undiscovered in notepads and hard drives all over the UK just waiting for the opportunity to be given some air time. We should be seeking them out as a matter of course, rather than by way of occasional competitions. Then I'm sure we'd soon be on top of our game again.


Debby said...

Well, by george, I knew you were person of impeccable tastes. (Despite everything else.) Yeah. This means my favorite TV show is My Name is Earl.

Anonymous said...

"we've had Lost, 24, The Sopranos, Dexter, Prison Break, Bones, Heroes, My name is Earl ... all hugely original and entertaining shows".

What.No Deadwood, Six Feet Under, Carnivale, or The Shield?


Debby said...

Do you have 'Pushing up Daisies'?

Stevyn Colgan said...

Debby - I love My name is Earl but I couldn't get my head around Daisies. The narration drove me nuts.

David M - You bolster my point like a massive buttress. Had I listed every good show I'd have been all day. I had to struggle to think of good Brit shows.

Katie said...

hmm I have never heard of this show... where have I been?? Sounds quite entertaining! I will definitely take a look.

you know, all that British literature and history sure make damn good movies, though!! :)

Stevyn Colgan said...

Katie - If there's one thing we do well, it's history and literature. Okay, two things. But we seem to have lost the art of making good TV drama.