If you've ever watched Malcolm In The Middle, you've seen Bryan Cranston do a bizarre turn as a dad in Hell. In "Breaking Bad" you see his dramatic chops as a flipside version that has darkness to spare, yet also features some comedic moments that whistle past the graveyard with big lips.
He is a rather hapless high school chemistry teacher with a pregnant wife and they are clearly in love. They have a smart-mouthed son with palsy who clops around on crutches, saying some choice things. Its a plodding life, but manageable.
However, there's a hitch: he is diagnosed with advanced lung cancer and given 6-12 months to live. As he slowly comes unraveled, he finds himself cooking superior crystal meth in an RV for a student who knows where to sell it. (Cranston's DEA brother-in-law lets him ride along on a bust where the $70,000 in cash seized gives him some new ideas that are easily understood from the perspective of a man with a terminal condition, huge bills looming large and a baby on the way whom he'll barely live long enough to see.)
Its a horrific situation, yet the bulk of the cast are quirky to behold and the funny moments owe something to the rising feeling of hysteria as he coughs a little blood into a handkerchief.
Here's a scene that sums up the tone beautifully. His salesman has just smoked some of the extremely pure goods and sits looking out the window. As he runs his hands through his hair and fidgets, they cut out several frames, over 15 seconds or so, causing him to jerk to a buzzing-zapping sound at each one. That's a simple yet highly creative presentation of someone overamped on speed. He sees two thugly bikers pull up in front of the house and dismount, one with a shotgun, one with an axe. As they lumber towards the house, he throws the drugs in a duffle bag, runs from the back of the house and vaults over a wall like doom was at his heels.
Out front, you see the "bikers" turn out to be Mormons, who leave a pamphlet on the door and ride their bikes down the street.
"Breaking Bad" is one of a newer breed of weighty hybrids such as Dexter, Damages and The Riches that mix dire human circumstance with just enough humor to give you a breather… and even then, its a roller-coaster far more unsettling than anything as simple as a prat fall. The story isn't exactly 100% unique, but it walks an ugly line with style and makes it hard to watch with both eyes at some points. It has clout.
The cast is razor-sharp at every turn. Just watching them go through their paces is worthwhile, but doing it with a roundhouse script like this lets them shine. If you don't like the first episode you see, its not for you. If you are a fan of clout, you'll be hooked for the whole run.
– Review by Hellpope Huey