Breaking Bad 5.11 – “Confessions”

As happy as I am that Vince Gilligan has been given the opportunity to take “Breaking Bad” to its conclusion on his own terms, allowing him to end it now rather than a season or two down the road, each new episode of this final batch continues to further cement just what a tremendous, gaping hole is going to be left in my television viewing habits when the series is gone for good.

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I’m not trying to paraphrase the immortal Stiff Records slogan here—there are plenty of series beyond “Breaking Bad” that most certainly are worth a fuck—but no other show on television has ever…and I mean ever…grabbed me the collar the way this one does, making me so profoundly love and so deeply loathe its characters, often shifting between the two extremes within the same scene.

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Breaking Bad 5.10 – “Buried”

(CAVEAT: Portions of this review originally appeared in the AntennaFree.TV piece, ‘Breaking Bad’ Critics’ Thread: Secrets are Unearthed in ‘Buried’, which also features reflections from Joel Keller, Mike Moody, and Mekeisha Madden Toby, all of whom are pretty damned fine writers in their own right.)

When this week’s episode of ‘Breaking Bad’ kicked off, the only thing that was running through my mind was a comment I read somewhere last week: “Join us next time on ‘Breaking Bad’ when Walt breaks the uncomfortable silence and asks, ‘So, Hank, you, uh, gonna open the garage door?’” Before we reached that point, though, we had a quick pre-credits look at what happened in the wake of Jesse’s free-money spree. Last week, I wrote, “It’s only a matter of time before someone identifies the car and says, ‘Let’s see if he’s got any more,’” but that’s not exactly what happened, although someone did end up following the trail back to where it began.

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I was completely convinced we were going to follow the old man on his path of picking up packets of bills until he met up with someone else who was following the money trail from the other end, at which point things would go terribly wrong…but, no, the trail instead led straight to Jesse, literally going in circles on the playground merry-go-round. It’s a great overheard shot, and knowing this show, the whole going-in-circles thing is probably meant as a metaphor, since he’s clearly wracked with guilt and has no idea what the hell he’s supposed to do. We don’t actually see what happens after the old man stumbles upon him, but he clearly ends up in police custody at some point. (I’m just hoping the old guy ends up keeping a decent amount of cash for himself.)

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Breaking Bad 5.9 – “Blood Money”

“Breaking Bad” has always had a way with an opening shot, and the first image of the series’ final eight episodes is no exception, offering a slow, gradual pull-out from a bunch of skate rats to reveal that their choice of locate is the decidedly empty and apparently long-dormant White house. Moments later, when a heavily haired Walter White pulls up, it’s clarified that we’re back in the timeline established in the early moments of the first half of Season Five, when Walt purchased some serious firepower from his now-regular weapons guy (played by Jim Beaver). And, oh, what a dark timeline it must be, based not only on Walt’s haggard look, but on the graffiti he finds when he’s forced to break into his own house. If things are destined to reach a point where the world at large has not only identified him as Heisenberg but, indeed, has had his identify spray-painted across his living room wall…well, let’s just say these are going to be the longest eight episodes viewers have seen in a very long time.

Wandering through the wreckage that once was his house, Walt manages to confirm that, despite all the carnage surrounding him, one of his hiding places has remained secure: underneath the electrical outlet. I couldn’t quite see what he retrieved – was it the vial of ricin? – but I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough…much as we’ll find out exactly what the hell happened to make his poor neighbor Carol react in such a horrified fashion to the mere sight of Walt. Clearly, it’s no fun living next door to Heisenberg.

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Post-credits, it’s back into Walt’s bedroom, except we’ve flashed back to where we were when we last left “Breaking Bad.” It’s impossible to get completely inside Hank’s head, but we come pretty damned close with the help of director…Bryan Cranston? True. The man’s come a long way behind the camera, clearly learning as much as possible from the folks who’ve helmed past episodes of the series, because he nails the panic, anxiety, and horror in Hank’s gradual realization of what his brother-in-law has been doing for the past five seasons.

As Hank and Marie drive away from the White house, Walt, Skyler, Junior, and Holly look like the perfect little family, don’t they? But then, the whole “appearances can be deceiving” has been Walt’s stock and trade since the beginning of his meth-making operation, and one could argue that the same premise applies to Hank as well. He started out as a loudmouth blowhard who seemed more like a former high school quarterback who kept his ego intact when he entered the work force, but we’ve seen several different sides of the guy now, and it’s never been more evident than it is in this episode that he’s a great goddamned detective. It’s hard to say that he’s applying Occam’s razor here, since the idea of Walt being the mastermind behind a major meth operation is the simplest explanation, but it’s a thing of both beauty and sadness to watch him work out everything that Walt’s been responsible for. It’s clear that he still doesn’t fully accept it ‘til the very end of the episode, but when that chilling exchange in the garage takes place…

Oh, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

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The Light from the TV Shows: Failed Pilots with All-Star Casts

As the new TV season rolls out, let’s take a look back at a few series that never actually made it on the air. Not that there aren’t plenty such series every single year, but sometimes you look back and wonder, “How could a show with all of these talented people not get on the schedule?” Not that we have an answer to that question, you understand, but at least we can all be mystified and annoyed together.

Next! (2001)

Starring: Bob Odenkirk, Fred Armisen, Zach Galifianakis, Brian Posehn, Nick Swardson
What you missed out on: After Bob Odenkirk and David Cross decided to put a bullet in their HBO sketch comedy series, “Mr. Show” (that’s right, it was their decision, not the network’s), the guys attempted to go their separate ways, with Odenkirk setting up shop at Fox with a pilot for a new sketch comedy series. If you think the above names are impressive, consider that several other “Mr. Show” alumni were in tow as well, including Jerry Minor, Jay Johnston, and Jill Talley, with Patton Oswalt also participating in some capacity or other. And, yes, if you’re wondering, Cross made an appearance in the pilot, too. So what happened? Apparently, Fox basically flipped a coin to decide which new sketch comedy series they’d add to their lineup, and “Cedric the Entertainer Presents” won the toss. Oh, what might’ve been…

North Hollywood (2001)

Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Poehler, Kevin Hart, and Judge Reinhold as himself
What you missed out on: Judd Apatow has never been ashamed to admit that the only reason that this pilot ever came into existence is that Fox refused to let him cast Jason Segel as his lead in the short-lived but highly-regarded “Undeclared,” but you can’t say he didn’t do his best to surround Segel with top-notch talent. Segel, Amy Poehler, and Kevin Hart played roommates, with Segel a struggling actor, Hart a struggling actor/comedian, and Poehler serving as Judge Reinhold’s personal assistant. There’s a more detailed look at the pilot here, but the long and the short of it is that, although Apatow admits that he really didn’t know if there was a decent series to be had in “North Hollywood,” he thinks the pilot’s pretty decent, but its tone didn’t match the sitcoms filling ABC’s lineup at the time, so they took a pass on it.

Saddle Rash (2002)


Starring: H. Jon Benjamin, Sarah Silverman, Todd Barry, Mitch Hedberg
What you missed out on: Created by Loren Bouchard, best known to animation fans as one of the creative forces behind “Home Movies,” “Saddle Rash” seemed to have all the elements necessary for a successful Adult Swim series, so why didn’t it make it beyond the pilot stage? Was it that westerns weren’t exactly in vogue at the time? Was there some sort of stigma attached to the project because they brought in country artists to continued voice work (including Waylon Jennings as a very special guest in the pilot)? Whatever the case, the pilot got aired – no doubt mostly because Adult Swim has a tendency to air just about every pilot it orders, whether it actually ends up going to series or not – but that was the end of the trail for the series.

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The Light from the TV Shows: “Breaking Bad” is about to do some more bad-breaking

If you’ve frequented any pop-culture website or picked up an entertainment-themed publication at any point in the past week or so, it’s highly unlikely that you’re ignorant of the impending return of AMC’s “Breaking Bad.” I’m not saying you’re necessarily a fan, but you’d be hard pressed to be unaware of the fact that the show’s coming back, since every TV critic and their brother wants to make sure they get in a story or three about the fact that this is the last season of the show…except it really isn’t, now that they’ve decided to split the 16-episode final season into two eight-episode seasons instead. But, hey, po-tay-to, po-tah-to, a story’s a story’s, whether it’s 100% accurate or not, am I right?

Regrettably, it’s unlikely that I’m going to be blogging each and every episode of this season I have over the course of the past couple of years, but that’s not to say that I won’t still be offering up the occasional piece about the show. I mean, after all, I meant it when I said – repeatedly – that it’s the best show on television, so I’m rarely without something to say about it. Indeed, having been fortunate enough to check out a screener of the Season 5 premiere, I thought I’d devote this week’s column to desperately avoiding saying too much about what goes on while still giving you as many reasons as possible to make you want to tune in.

But first, AMC’s official look at what’s ahead:

Now that you’ve watched that, prepare yourself for a list of 20 things that you probably won’t want to read if you want to go into the episode being as surprised as possible. Trust me, though: although arguably all 20 things qualify as spoilers on some level, I really haven’t told you much of anything…which you’ll realize after you’ve watched the Season 5 premiere on Sunday night. Once you have, I hope you’ll check back in. I’m curious to know what you think.

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