Several years ago, I reviewed the pilot script for this series and found it to be mediocre. [Unfortunately that review has been lost.] Several weeks ago, I watched the pilot for this series and found that, also, to be mediocre. I wasn’t more impressed a couple days later when I struggled through the second episode. And then [because of a circumstance which strikes me as wildly implausible given my knowledge of myself—I couldn’t find ANYTHING worth reading] I queued up and began to watch the third episode… I became hooked.
Because of the vagaries surrounding my afflicted schedule, it took me almost two months to watch the whole thing. [This wasn’t because I didn’t want to engage with my culture and realize the experience of “binge” viewing, I just don’t have that much free time.] Somewhere around episode six or seven I developed the idea that the show was going to be worth reviewing… in detail. It occurred to me that the creative team behind the show had cast their fictional shadow into The Land of Art.
As is usual for me, I refused to read anyone else’s ideas about the merits or deficiencies of the show. I wanted neither confirmation nor refutation. I had to get to the end of the show first. I had to see if they fulfilled the early promise, or if they settled for [what Graham Greene would call] a mere “entertainment”. To their credit, they did not settle. Which means, I get to do my reviews.
I have since read a sampling of the critical responses to the show, and I see that I am in the overwhelming majority. [This is not surprising. One of the first rules of my blue collar aesthetics is: If a work of art is good, it will be recognized.] I will briefly summarize [and then dispatch] these responses so that when I talk about what I find interesting about this show, it won’t seem as though I was unaware of the rest.
- The acting [especially Bryan Cranston’s] is outstanding… I am not sure that I wholly agree. Mr. Cranston did an admirable job, but I did not continue to watch this show BECAUSE of his acting.
- The cinematography was delicious… Again, I don’t wholly agree. Good but not great, and definitely not an inspiration to keep hitting play on Netflix.
- The secondary characters are cardboard… This ranks as the biggest complaint against the show. I find it to be true… and trivial. If trivial is not a clear enough adjective, then try… stupid.
- The female characters are worse than cardboard… This ranks as the second biggest complaint, and it is also true. It is also trivial. [Don’t interpret that to mean that it is unimportant to write fully functioning female characters if you are a guy. It just means perfection is impossible. I will not say [and neither should you] that Othello is an inferior piece of drama simply because Desdemona is an inferior female characterization. Othello is a beautiful representation of ALL the imperfections of humanity. We are our warts.]
- The show is about actions… In other words there are no inherently good or bad people [in spite of Jesse’s claim] there are ethical choices—and nothing else. I believe this is what Mr. Gilligan says his show is about. As is my custom, I disagree. I hope to use my techniques of refabrication to convince you that I am right.
Here is my list of things that elevate Breaking Bad to the status of Art:
- The plot… And let’s be EXTREMELY clear about this. NO ONE watches Breaking Bad for the acting/directing/cinematography/writing. This show does adequately well in all these areas, but the TRUE GENIUS of this show lies in its story. Over the course of these reviews, I imagine I will spend a bunch of time dissecting exactly why the story is so good.
- Although all the things people say this show is about do contain [at least surface] truth, I believe there is a Cultural Meaning buried in its structure which even its creators missed. [If they didn’t miss it, they are being very jealous of sharing their intent with their audience]. Breaking Bad is a Myth… about… The Artist.
In perfect serialized form, I shall now leave this multi-part review…