When Being Bad is Good…

AMC doesn’t seem to know how to pick good films, and they sure know how to ruin great ones.  God help us if their choices really are American movie classics.  On the other hand, they know how to spot a good television series when they see one.  Most everyone knows about the critically acclaimed drama, Mad Men, but perhaps some folks aren’t as familiar with AMC’s second great series, Breaking Bad, which began its second season last night.

The first season of Breaking Bad (now available on DVD) presents Walt White (Bryan Cranston), a high school chemistry teacher with a wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), and a son with cerebral palsy, Walt, Jr. (R. J. Mitte).  Once a promising chemist with a financially bright future, Walt chose the less lucrative path of education.  To make matter worse, he is hit with the tragic news that he, a non-smoker, has lung cancer.  In order to provide for his family’s future, he puts his chemical talents to use and begins cooking crystal meth with a former student turned small time drug dealer, Jesse (Aaron Paul).  The first season follows Walt’s crisis and ultimate decision to enter the drug underworld in the small New Mexico town where he lives.

The second season opens right where the first season left off, in every respect.  Walt and Jesse have become entangled with Tuco (Raymond Cruz), a crazed gangster and drug lord.  Apparently Walt knows his chemistry, because Tuco is blown away by his recipe and agrees to deal with him.  Walt realizes that he needs to make around eleven sales to Tuco in order to save up enough money for his family.  Unfortunately, he and Jesse might not make it to the second deal.  The first episode closes on a cliff hanger worthy of a season finale.

Breaking Bad takes the whole “what would you do if…” ethical scenario, answers it in the first few episodes, and spends the rest of the time following Walt’s decision in non-judgmental fashion.  The highlight of the series then becomes Cranston’s award-winning performance as a man caught in the on-going moral, legal, logistical crises of the decision he has made.  Now bald from chemo, Walt wears a flat brimmed hat and sunglasses which give him the appearance of an ordinary thug, which we all know he is not.  His time in the “lab,” takes him away from his unexpectedly pregnant wife and son who blame his absence on the emotional trauma that he undergoes from being diagnosed with cancer.  How long will Walt be able to keep his new identity from Skyler and Walt Jr.?

With so many television series that have plots that seem to be all over the place, some good (Lost) and others not-so-good (Heroes), it is clear that the writers of Breaking Bad know from whence they’ve come, where they are, and where they’re going.  There’s not a wasted minute in any episode, and even the smallest event or passing line helps weave a tight narrative that, right now, has an extremely dark future.

Breaking Bad airs on Sunday nights at 10 pm on AMC.  Be bad and catch the first season on DVD