Rilla and I started watching Breaking Bad quite a long while ago only to have me be unable to put up with it. I get a bit overly crotchety with TV shows, truth be told. I grumble a lot. I find myself angered by perceived inconsistencies or particularly a lack of ethical clarity (though of course the clarity involved can be the clear treatment of the ambiguity of ethics and associated situations). Anyway, the key problem for me was the sheer ridiculousness of the main character, Walt, a school teacher and generally mild-mannered guy, deciding rather at random that it would be cool to start cooking and selling meth, a pretty harmful drug. The idea that the show gives (at least in the first season) is that he’s worried about money, has cancer, etc. etc. But c’mon, please. Fortunately, I have discovered a way to watch Breaking Bad without feeling angered by all this… it is connected with Luis Buñuel.
We just finished season 1 of Breaking Bad. It’s one of those “HBO Shows” (not by HBO) where you take the “normal seeming people in an abnormal situation” premise and run with it. As in, “normal person is actually a mob boss!” (The Sopranos) or “normal person actually has multiple personalities!” (The United States of Tara). Breaking Bad‘s one is “normal person actually has lung cancer and has decided to cook methamphetamine to make money for his family!”
As this things go, it’s a pretty nice premise, and there are some truly great “go science!” moments where the lead guy, a chemistry teacher, works out optimal ways to make meth or beats the bad drug dealers by using chemical reactions. The dynamic between the young drug dealer and the older chemistry teacher is, in some ways, at the centre of the show, and it’s an interesting relationship.
The show kind of collapses on the ethical/moral front, though. Not once does our hero, or anyone in particular, contemplate the morality of producing and selling a drug like methamphetamine. The show has very little to say about it in general, perhaps the odd shot of “people who take drugs”, but the characters say even less. The idea that an otherwise ordinary dude gets lung cancer and totally jettisons his moral compass is kind of beyond my suspension of disbelief. And even if it weren’t, the show’s apparent decision not to examine the moral complexities brought up by the situation is, frankly, a sin.
We recently finished watching the lone season of Nathan Barley, an absurdly good British comedy about a guy who is the epitome of cool. Somehow. The show is all about parodying popular culture heroes and trends, but also manages to make the people out there “being cool” feel very charming and well-meaning, too.
One issue with this has been a potential damaging of our ability to watch at least the more mainstream American media offerings. In particular, we recently started watching both Julie and Julia (the movie) and Breaking Bad (the TV show). Both are currently coming across as creepily empty of meaning, and it seems like that’s at least in part thanks to Nathan Barley’s general puncturing of the usual media expectations and so on (Brass Eye is also partly responsible for the same reasons).
Having seen a guy accidentally sweep a pair of scissors of a table only to have them stick, point down, into a pet cat’s head (Nathan Barley), it’s become rather difficult to take the very American ‘cancer intervention’ scene in Breaking Bad or the self-pitying histrionics of a would-be lobster killer (Julie and Julia). It makes you think, why are these people and these movies/shows taking themselves so very, very seriously?