The highly anticipated final eight episodes of the critically acclaimed television sensation Breaking Bad will begin airing this Sunday, and we'll be recapping them here. But there's a twist: your recappers have never watched the show before. So before they get introduced to the show, let's meet the newbies — Esther Zuckerman and Philip Bump — as they explain what they do and don't know about the show.
I say with embarrassment that I do not watch Breaking Bad. Why am I embarrassed? Well, I write about TV for this publication and I consider myself pretty connected in the pop culture conversation. Why don't I watch? Well, simply the dark, dusty, New Mexican world of Walter White and his meth empire was one I never wanted to enter for any extended period of time. Call me chicken, call me shallow, but it's as simple as that. I was willing to spend time with Don Draper's philandering and Nucky Thompson's murderous prohibition enterprise, but something about Breaking Bad—maybe it was the horribleness of meth itself and the stories I've read surrounding the drug—just never appealed to me.
Now, in my defense, when the show began in the early days of 2008, I was a senior in high school more concerned with what was happening with Serena and Blair on Gossip Girl than the merits of prestige television. But as I picked up shows like Mad Men, starting to watch Breaking Bad never crossed my mind. Maybe it was because perhaps those early episodes just weren't as good as everyone would like to remember. A number of television writers recalled their early issues with the show on Twitter yesterday. As and Huffington Post critic Maureen Ryan tweeted, "I had issues thru out S1 S2. gave up after S2 but got back on board. Imo show wasn't what it is now in earlier days."
I think it finally hit me sometime in 2011 or 2012 that this was a show people thought had claim on the title of The Best Show of All Time. I read the think pieces. I heard the debates. (Are criticisms of Skyler sexist?) I knew the characters and the actors. (Hey, that Aaron Paul fellow is kind of adorable!) I learned the show's buzzwords (Heisenberg, Jane's death, Walt Whitman) But I still couldn't bring myself to watch. Who knows why? Maybe it was because I spent an entire year watching only Buffy. Maybe it's because, dammit, it didn't interest me that much.
So here's what I've seen: a couple of weeks ago, I watched the pilot. I considered pushing forward, but rushing to watch all four and half seasons before the new episodes start on Sunday seemed like a chore. I caught up with something less intimidating instead: Doctor Who.
I have also never seen Breaking Bad. As with Mad Men (which I have never seen), I became aware that this series existed by virtue of bus stop / phone booth ads around New York City. Oh, that's the guy from Malcolm in the Middle. And then people started talking about it, and so on, and here we are. When our editor suggested we write about the show, I told him I couldn't because I didn't have HBO.
My knowledge level is very low, but this is what I've picked up over five years:
- The guy from Malcolm in the Middle is named "Walter White" on Breaking Bad.
- The show uses periodic-table-style treatments of the "Br" and the "Ba" in the show's title. I know this because 1) the ads continue to be omnipresent and 2) I used to be a designer so I noticed that before I noticed that it was the Malcolm in the Middle guy. And I am pretty sure I then tried to remember what elements were represented by "Br" and "Ba." (Not Boron. Bromine?)
- The show deals with making meth. (Does meth contain bromine? Seems unlikely.)
- I believe the show is about making meth because someone on it had cancer and needed money for treatment. I know this because I write about politics a lot and someone made some joke about how the plot wouldn't work in countries with socialized medicine. I am too lazy to look up who made that joke first, but it seemed to go over well.
- There is a younger guy, too. No idea what his name is.
- I am not aware of a love interest, but I find it impossible to believe a television show can be made in this age without one.
- It is set in Albuquerque or near there or maybe filmed near there, because the show put up a billboard thanking the city for its support and people seemed to appreciate that, too.
- At some point I assume they wear those yellow hazmat suits, since that's how the two guys appear in some of the ads.
That is it.
I have only ever seen one segment of the show, and that snippet was only because someone created some spoof thing in which a clip from Breaking Bad was edited to look like a scene from some other show I haven't seen. In that clip, Walter White pulls into a driveway. The young guy is there. I think one smiles at the other. Maybe it was a spoof of a Mentos ad or something? I don't know why I watched that.
Anyway, now I know that the show is on AMC and it starts at
10 p.m. on Sunday. (Update: Ha ha, it's on at 9, apparently.) One of the reasons I have never seen Breaking Bad is that two people live in our apartment, one of whom is deeply committed to Bravo programming and the other of whom is perfectly fine reading Twitter with Bravo shows airing in the background. So I hope that this new show, one not predicated on the horrible broken psyches of the credit-maxed residents of New Jersey, will open sweeping new vistas of cultural revelation. And I hope it doesn't lose anything when watched on an iPad in the other room.
Photo: The guys on Breaking Bad, apparently. (AP)