Friday, October 4, 2013

I'm not a Master Criminal, I just have a Cold.

Howdy regular Bad Shakespearers...

Today you're having a substitute, so be nice... Erin Garland usually blogs over at the Island of Misfit Toys. Today she's blogging here, and I'm blogging there. So go ahead and read her wonderful post about Breaking Bad, then head on over to the island as  I talk about Gilmore Girls!

The time: 2004

The place: Shoppers Food Warehouse

I had just begun my first fall travel season as an admissions counselor. I was in Virginia for some high school visits and college fairs. After a few days of shaking hands with germy teenagers, I could feel a cold coming on. On my way back to the hotel from a day of visits, I stopped at Shoppers Food Warehouse to get some cold medicine. After grabbing some bottled water, Kleenex, and a Colossal Donut (it’s a state law in Virginia that you must buy a Colossal Donut every time you go to Shoppers), I made my way to the cold medicine aisle. When I got there, there were no boxes of medicine just rows and rows of cards and a large, glaring sign hanging above them:


So accusatory, so many capital letters. The sign was so odd to me – this isn’t how things worked in New Orleans. My head was already throbbing and this just made me feel worse. I picked up the card for my medicine of choice and went to the pharmacy counter. The pharmacist got my Advil Cold and then asked for my driver’s license AND made me fill out a short form that included questions about why I was buying the medicine and who would be taking it. I asked her why I had to do all of this since I didn’t have to back home. Her reply was simple, “You might use this to make crystal meth.” I must have made a horrible face at her since she went onto explain that it was a new state law (and would be across the US) that all purchases of certain OTC medicine had to be registered because the ingredients contained alcohol (cough syrup) and/or could be used to make meth. She also wouldn’t let me pay for my other purchases at the pharmacy.

I contemplated this conversation as I waited in line to pay for the rest of my stuff. Now everyone with a cold or sinus infection was a suspected meth dealer? Is this really how the world works today? It seemed harsh and somewhat accusatory. I just had a cold; I wasn’t a master criminal.

Flash forward to January 2008. The cable station AMC debuts a new show called Breaking Bad starring the dad from Malcolm in the Middle as a high school chemistry teacher who finds out that he has terminal lung cancer. Worried about how to provide for his family, he decides to start cooking and selling meth with a former student of his. He turns to a life of crime to provide for his family. And he uses science. Five seasons later, lots of people have died, bad things have happened, there’s Shakespearean level intrigue, and some damn fine writing and acting.

Here’s the thing: I don’t watch Breaking Bad. I tried to get into the show TWICE but I just couldn’t. It doesn’t really appeal to me. I’ve seen all of the first season (because I wanted so badly to get it like the rest of the world) and part of the second season. But then I just gave up. I moved onto to other shows and stuff that I did/do like. I had a hard time getting past how depressing the show was and how unlikeable almost every character is. Do I like Walter White? Do I hate him? What about his wife? Or Jesse? I thought Jesse would be killed off in season one but I guess that didn’t happen. I even hate-watch other shows like Girls so I am capable of watching a show that has mostly unlikeable characters but awesome writing. But I couldn’t do it with Breaking Bad.

Just because I don’t like the show doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate what it is – inventive, unique drama on tv. The show is considered, by many, to be one of the greatest dramas of all time and has won many Emmys and lots of critical praise. I can’t go a Sunday night without my Facebook feed being taken over temporarily by posts about the show. Bryan Cranston, who plays Walter White, is amazing. Even though I didn’t commit to the show, I can still see the awesomeness in his portrayal of Walter. And it was such a dramatic departure from Hal on Malcolm in the Middle. I don’t know that I’ll ever watch that show the same again.

Breaking Bad is significant because it’s part of the ever-growing group of creative and exciting television shows being produced by cable tv networks. This has been going on for years now – HBO, Showtime, AMC, A&E, and IFC have all added their own unique shows into this mix. I’m partial to Girls, Treme, Top of the Lake, and Hell On Wheels and have casually watched other shows like The Wire and OZ. Their network counterparts have a hard time keeping up and usually don’t do as well when they do come up with something more interesting that the bland sitcoms and soapy dramas that seem to dominate tv these days (Parks and Rec excluded). Or when a network does have an inventive show, it gets taken away from us too soon (I’m talking to you Fox and you ABC Family – you know what you did with Firefly and Bunheads). Shows like Breaking Bad give me hope – hope that the entertainment industry isn’t totally bankrupt of creativity and focused on feeding us recycled plots and characters. It’s important to keep watching and talking about shows like this even if you don’t like them personally.

My favorite AMC show is Hell on Wheels now in its third season. It’s a show about post-Civil War America and focuses on westward expansion through the building of the transcontinental railroad. It’s smart and interesting and the characters aren’t always likeable either. For the history nerd in me, it’s an interesting look at the idea of American invention. So much of what the characters are dealing with are still things we deal with today as we think about society, culture, and politics. One could make the same argument about Breaking Bad. It’s definitely a window into a part of society that most of us don’t think much about.

Unless we have a cold and have to buy cold medicine. Then Walter White is all I think about.
For all my fellow non-Breaking Bad brethren out there, here’s a little funny from our friends at Buzzfeed.

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