When you’re an easily-amused TV critic, every day is filled with wonderful surprises which range from the arrival of an advance screener of an episode of one of your favorite shows to the opportunity to interview one of your favorite actors. Once in awhile, though, something arrives via E-mail which blows your mind completely…and, in this case, it was a personal letter from Bryan Cranston, who plays Walter White on AMC’s “Breaking Bad.”
Okay, maybe it wasn’t that personal a letter. It was sent to everyone in the Television Critics Association, so it kicked off with “Dear TCA Member” rather than a cheerily specific “Hi, Will!” Still, it’s not that big an organization (there are only a few hundred folks within its ranks), so it’s not like this was the TV critic equivalent of getting a piece of mail addressed to Current Occupant. Besides, once I read the letter, any issues that I may have had with the lack of personalization had evaporated like excess meth.
It went a little something like this…
Dear TCA Member:
First of all, this letter is long overdue. I’ve wanted to thank you for honoring me with the greatly coveted award of best actor in a drama series back when it was still fresh. My apologies. I was deeply appreciative. Someday I’ll be able to tell my grandkids that I once beat out the fabulous Glenn Close. They’ll look at me with wonder in their eyes and ask, “Who’s he?”
I thought of how regretful it was that I was unable to thank you all personally…and then it hit me: why can’t I?
I would like to personally invite you to visit the “Breaking Bad” set in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In the next few weeks we will be shooting the finale of what promises to be a powerful new season. Vince Gilligan himself will be directing. We would love the opportunity to welcome you to the world of “Breaking Bad,” meet and hang out with the cast and our amazing crew, take pictures on our sets, receive some sweet swag, and enjoy the outstanding Tex-Mex cuisine New Mexico has to offer.
I really hope you take us up on this – but if you can’t break away for a visit, I hope this letter will at least convey the depth of my gratitude.
Maybe someday you’ll be able to tell your grandkids that you once visited Bryan Cranston in New Mexico. Your grandchildren would look to you with wonder in their eyes and ask: “Who the hell is Byron Crabstone?”
Hope to see you in the ‘Land of Enchantment.’
Thank you, and may your 2010 be a prosperous and healthy one.
Needless to say, it was an offer that I could not refuse. Nor, for that matter, could Bullz-Eye’s illustrious editor-in-chief, Jamey Codding, who…well, he has used the phrase “tagged along” when referring to his attendance on the trip, but as the single biggest “Breaking Bad” fan amongst the Bullz-Eye staff, it’s fair to say that he more than held his own during the course of the trip when it came to quizzing the cast and crew about the intricacies of the show. We’ll be offering you a lengthier look into our little adventure as we inch ever closer to the premiere of the series’ third season, which kicks off on March 21st, but there are some thing things that, by law, we can’t discuss until the season finale. No, seriously, we signed some papers. It’s all very official. I mean, you wouldn’t want us to end up behind bars, would you?
We didn’t think so.
In the meantime, though, we thought we’d at least offer up a brief glimpse into what we experienced during our short but über-sweet trip.
Day 1: Jamey landed in Albuquerque at approximately 9 PM and waited for me to arrive. And waited. And waited some more. That’s because my sorry ass was stuck in Atlanta, GA, which was suffering through a series of torrential rainstorms that were causing no end of flight delays and gate changes. I arrived in Atlanta from Norfolk at around 2 PM, and although I was supposed to have been in the air by 5 PM, it ended up taking me until almost 10 to get airborne. In my last hour there, I switched gates four times and terminals twice. It was a loathsome experience, and by the time I finally ended up making it to Albuquerque, it was almost 11:30 PM…or, by my east coast mind’s reckoning, almost 1:30 AM.
Thankfully, Jamey had kept himself occupied by watching Season 1 of “Eastbound and Down” on his iPhone, but although we’d originally had plans to go have dinner and drinks when I arrived, I was so exhausted that we just ended up grabbing the rental car and going straight to AMC’s hotel of choice – the Hotel Andaluz – to crash for the night.
Day 2: Day 1 may have been an excruciating pain in the ass, but Day 2 made up for everything I’d experienced in Atlanta…and then some. We kicked off the morning by visiting an Albuquerque institution, the Frontier Restaurant, for what both Jamey and I agreed was the single best western omelet that either of us had ever experienced. (Their sweet roll ain’t half bad, either.) From there, it was off to Albuquerque Studios, where – after feeling like big shots when we were waved through the gate by the attendant – we found…no one. Okay, that’s not entirely true, but we’d been told to meet there to watch Bryan and Anna Gunn, who plays Walter’s long-suffering wife, Skyler, shoot a scene for the season finale, and it turned out that the day’s plans had changed considerably. Instead, we learned that they were shooting on location rather than at the studio, so off we went…but not before getting a picture in front of the show’s signature vehicle: the bullet-ridden RV.
When we arrived, we were joined by another journalist, Brian Wallace of Yahoo! TV, and the three of us were greeted by everyone – actors, producers, directors, crew, folks from AMC, folks from the studio – like we were old friends that they’d just somehow never actually gotten around to meeting before. Now, I realize that the intent of a visit like this was both to thank the people who’d been good to the show over the years and to help sway them to continue preaching the gospel of “Breaking Bad” into Season 3, but this didn’t smack of false sincerity…and, y’know, nor should it. I mean, seriously, raise your hand if you were skeptical about the premise of the show when you first heard about it (a meek science teacher with a handicapped son and a pregnant wife learns that he’s got cancer and, in order to provide for his family’s future well-being, turns to manufacturing meth) but ended up giving it a shot because of all of the rave reviews. I’m not trying to take personal credit or anything, but if you’re looking for a poster boy for shows that have picked up viewers because of critical acclaim, “Breaking Bad” is it. Everyone associated with the show is thrilled with the love that critics have given the series, so I honestly believe that they were thrilled to meet us.
So how else did they show us that?
After watching Bryan and Anna film their scene, we headed back to Albuquerque Studios, where we were given a tour of the sets for the show by co-producer Stewart Lyons, who – in a slightly chagrined tone – had to admit that they’d actually started taking down a couple of the sets, due to the fact that they were in the final stages of filming the 3rd season finale…like, to the point where there was literally only one or possibly two days of shooting left. Still, we got to see a lot of cool stuff, including the inside of the White house, Saul Goodman’s office (though, alas, Bob Odenkirk had already completed his work for the season and headed home), and a new set which was so completely mindblowing that, when we eventually can tell you about it, you’ll absolutely understand why we aren’t able to tell you about it right now. All I’ll say is that it left both Jamey and I with our jaws on the floor, not just because of what it means to the show, but also because it was such a gorgeous piece of construction.
From there, it was off to watch Jonathan Banks film a scene. If you’re a fan, then you’ll remember him from the Season 2 finale: he plays Mike, the “cleaner” friend of Saul’s who takes care of the nasty situation left behind by Jane’s unfortunate demise and later escorts Walt to where Jesse (Aaron Paul) is holed up. Again, I can’t speak to what was going on, but I can say that the show’s craft services tables are exquisite. Afterwards, we headed over to have a late lunch with the cast and crew as a whole, but our focus was on Mr. Gilligan, who kindly sat down with us and chatted for the better part of an hour about all things “Breaking Bad.” He never gave away any secrets that we hadn’t already been privy to from visiting the sets and watching the scenes being filmed, but he was willing to listen – and was possibly very amused by – the various theories we posited about how certain things in Season 3 might play out. (That tolerance comes from his Virginia upbringing, no doubt.) Post-lunch, it was time to watch Bryan film another scene, but since it was a night scene, he came over and shot the shit with us for the better part of 30 minutes while waiting for the sun to go down. He’s a great guy, that Bryan. And he would only get more great as the evening progressed.
Cut to the Church Street Cafe in Old Town Albuquerque a few hours later. It’s me, Jamey, Brian from Yahoo! TV, and AMC publicist Olivia Dupuis on one side of the table, and Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul on the other. We’re surrounded by all the Mexican food we can stand and all the margaritas we can drink. Bryan has been playing up the margaritas all day long, telling us how wonderful they are and how they have no bite because they’re made with agave wine instead of tequila. He is, of course, completely right: they’re delicious, and they go down way too smoothly. He’s also making sure that everyone’s glass is full at all times…particularly Aaron’s, which he consistently fills to well beyond capacity, sending ice all over the table and into his lap. (The second time he did it, I don’t think Aaron thought it was nearly as funny as we did, but Bryan shrugged apologetically and said, “Hey, it’s a bit now!”) We spent the better part of two hours with them, enjoying casual conversation over dinner – I can absolutely recommend the tamale platter – before easing into sopaipillas and a great deal of “Breaking Bad” talk. We end the evening by taking pictures, shaking hands, and thanking everyone for about as great a day as Jamey and I…and, I dare say, Brian, too…could have hoped for. And if you doubt that I had a blast, then you need look no further than this photo:
Day 3: Far, far too early, I depart from the Hotel Andaluz and fly home to Virginia, with Jamey departing for Ohio (by way of Arizona) a few hours later. Thankfully, I have no problems going through Atlanta during my return, but it’s fair to say that, even if I had, I could’ve coasted through them by concentrating on all of the kick-ass memories from the day before. I left Albuquerque without getting too many spoilers, but I learned more than enough to find myself chomping at the bit for “Breaking Bad” to return on March 21st.
Actually, make that April 4th. Yes, it returns on March 21st, but I’ve already seen the first two episodes.
Yeah, I know. I suck. But trust me, it’ll be worth the wait. And if you’re not jazzed about the impending return of “Breaking Bad” yet, just keep reading Bullz-Eye.com, because as we grow ever closer to the season premiere, we’ll be rolling out more coverage of our trip, including our conversations with Vince, Bryan, and Aaron, more details from our tour of the set, and a couple of additional conversations with cast members that were held during my trip to the TCA press tour.
Overkill? Oh, hell, no. “Breaking Bad” is brilliant, and we’re here to give it all the promotion we can. We’ve been proudly pimping this show since the beginning, long before this highly elaborate thank-you from AMC. If you think we’re about to stop now, you must be high.