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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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Chris Elliott (“Eagleheart”)

Chris Elliott has comedy in his genes, courtesy of his father, Bob Elliott (of the legendary comedy team Bob & Ray), and he’s passed his abilities on to the next generation, as his daughter Abby Elliott proves week after week on “Saturday Night Live,” but, geez, enough about his dad and kid already. Surely it’s time to shine the spotlight solely on Chris Elliott himself, who first won our hearts with his decidedly unique characters on “Late Night with David Letterman,” completely blew the minds of a generation of moviegoers with his film “Cabin Boy,” and has since gone on to appear in everything from “Manhunter” to “Everybody Loves Raymond.” On April 12, his current endeavor – Adult Swim’s “Eagleheart” – returns for its second season, just over a week after the DVD release of Season One, which hit stores on Tuesday. Bullz-Eye chatted with him…okay, fine, we geeked out…about the more eccentric side of his comedy, including his seminal TV series “Get A Life,” which, as you may have read elsewhere first (although it came from this interview), is coming to DVD in a complete-series set at long last.

Bullz-Eye: First off, let me just tell you what a pleasure it is to talk to you. I’ve been a fan for many years.

Chris Elliott: Oh, well, thank you. I just don’t hear that enough. [Laughs.]

BE: In my case, it’s no exaggeration: when I was in high school, I sent off for tickets for “Late Night with David Letterman.” Granted, I had graduated by the time I actually got them, but, hey, at least I got them.

CE: Oh, my gosh. That’s pretty funny. So did you actually wait four years for tickets?

BE: No, but it was more than a year: I sent them off during my senior year, and it was well after graduation when they finally arrived.

CE: Wow, that’s pretty amazing. But it proves that you were a hardcore fan. Do you remember who was on the show when you went?

BE: Absolutely: it was Jane Pauley and Bruno Kirby. I also remember that they did Shoe Removal Races that night, with a podiatrist squaring off against a shoe salesman.

CE: Ah, yes, that was an excellent episode. [Laughs.]

BE: You were actually just on Letterman’s show a few nights ago. It sounded like you may have taken a bit of flour into your lungs.

CE: [Laughs.] I started to smell like cookies after I was under the lights for a little while. But I thought it came off all right. It’s always fun to go back there, and I hate coming back on there as myself in any form. This interview is okay because I can’t see you. [Laughs.] But I don’t like coming on and just talking as myself, so I always come on with something.

BE: The “Downton Abbey” thing was great, too.

CE: Yeah, I thought that came out great.

BE: So let’s talk “Eagleheart.” One of the most surprising things about the series, at least to me, is that you don’t actually get a writing credit on the show. Not that you don’t have some input, given that you’re a consulting producer, but…

CE: I’d say these guys have my voice down. I knew that when I met with them. They were huge fans of mine, and, honestly, I didn’t want the extra work. [Laughs.] And at the same time, y’know, they changed the pilot quite a bit to suit me, and what I do – and Adam Resnick does this, also – is sort of take a pass at the scripts when they’re done with them and change a couple of jokes here and there, and if something’s not quite in my voice, I just kind of paraphrase what I would be saying, and that sort of thing. I’m sort of at the point in my career where writers that are working in the business sort of grew up knowing about me. At least the ones that are fans of mine, anyway. And they’re really capable of writing for me. It wasn’t always that case. Early on in my career, it was pretty much Adam and me just trying to establish this voice.

BE: Of course, it makes me wonder if people sometimes come to you with something utterly off the wall, saying, “Well, ‘Cabin Boy’ was so nuts that I figured you’d be into this.’

CE: Yeah, I think I get that a lot. It’s interesting: some people put anything weird in the “weird” category and think, “Oh, Chris’ll do that because it’s so weird.” But you’re right. Certain people, like yourself, get why certain things are funny-weird as opposed to just being strange. That’s a different breed. I think I do get lumped in a lot with “he’s just off the wall, he’s crazy.”

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Breaking Bad 4.13 – Lily of the Valley

In last week’s blog, I wrote of Walt sitting poolside, “We see a man who’s spinning both his firearm and his wheels, waiting to figure out how little future he has left. When the pistol spins toward one of the potted plants, however, it’s clear that Walt has gotten an idea.” If only I’d recognized that plant as a Lily of the Valley, I could’ve been a hero among my peers. Damn my insufficient knowledge of botany! Damn it all to hell!

Ahem.

When we first see Walt this evening, he’s making a mad dash through the parking garage to remove the bomb from the underside of Gus’s car, which he promptly carries into the hospital and up to the waiting area. It’s an unabashedly slapstick moment when the magnet on the bomb sticks to the elevator door, followed by a hilarious back-and-forth between Walt and Jesse about the decision to bring the bomb with him (“What, was I supposed to leave it on his car?”), but things get serious immediately thereafter, with the ABQ police showing up and requesting an audience with Jesse about his statement. As the boys with badges walk away with Mr. Pinkman, Walt looks positively pale. Is it just from being in close proximity to the cops?

The conversation between Jesse and his new friends is predictably tense. “We’re just talking.” “So if I get tired of talking, I can get up and leave?” Sure, that’s how it always works. Jesse’s being seriously grilled over the fact that he offered up a very specific poison as what was causing Brock’s illness. His explanation? “I musta seen it on ‘House’ or something.” Awesome. Time to call Saul, but there’s so much shredding going on that his secretary can’t hear the phone when he calls…or when Walt calls, for that matter, as we discover when he busts through the bottom pane of the front door in a desperate effort to find Saul. It’s an unexpectedly hilarious scene between Walt and H.T. (as Saul dubbed her last week), particularly when Walt is initially completely oblivious to the fact that the $20K pricetag for the repairs ain’t nothing to do with repairs. Okay, so it was a little slapstick-y when Walt left the office the same way he came in, but that didn’t keep me from laughing, anyway.

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Breaking Bad 4.12 – No More Prolonging the Inevitable

To call last week’s episode of “Breaking Bad” intense is to undercut the utterly traumatizing effect it had on the show’s regular viewership. This week attempts to start off with a similar level of tension, showing a pair of vehicles pulling up outside the White house without immediately identifying them. Within seconds, however, we confirm that what we’re witnessing is the arrival of the DEA agents who’ve come to put Walt, Skyler, and Walt Jr. into protective custody.

Wait, scratch that: Walt’s not going.

“All that matters is that the rest of you are safe,” Walt tells Skyler. “And that’s why I’m not going with you. I’m the real target.” Ever the naïve one, she can’t quite grasp that being under the watchful eye of the DEA isn’t enough to keep everyone protected, but Walt knows better, just as he knows that he and his family are only being included in the DEA’s protective of Hank because Marie has demanded it.

“There’s got to be another way,” sobs Skyler.

“There isn’t,” Walt says, matter-of-factly. “There was. But now there isn’t.”

And so Walt steps outside and calls Hank, playing his brother-in-law like a fiddle with the suggestion that Marie has a history of overreacting, and assures him that somebody’s got to keep the car wash up and running. Hank isn’t thrilled, but he doesn’t sound suspicious, even when Walt’s voice cracks with emotion as he tells him to keep his head down. The look on Walt’s face as he says goodbye to his infant daughter is heartbreaking, if only because we know that, in his mind, he believes this could well be the last time he ever sees her…but, y’know, you can’t really blame the guy for thinking that, can ya?

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Breaking Bad 4.11 – Go Insane

Let’s get it out of the way now: not only was this the best episode of the season to date – which, given the competition, is a pretty damned impressive feat in and of itself – but it has instantly vaulted into the elite category known as The Best “Breaking Bad” Episodes of All Time.

This is not hyperbole. This is fact.

And with this having been said, let’s get to talking about the proceedings, shall we?

What’s going down ‘round the hospital? Oh, wait, this isn’t a hospital: these are some of Gus’s guys, a rag-tag team of doctors who were clearly prepared for the eventuality that his preventative measures might not do the trick. Unfortunately, they’re not nearly as interested in helping out poor Mike, as evidence by when Jesse says, “This man needs help,” and the lead physician replies matter-of-factly, “This man pays my salary.”

Meanwhile, back at the SuperLab, Walt’s continuing to make with the meth under the watchful eye of Gus’s right-hand man, but as Walt reminds him for what must surely be the hundredth time, “If Pinkman’s gone, I’m done.” So what’s up with Walt’s figures being off? Is he just frazzled and not paying attention? If so, you have to admit that’s a little understandable, what with everything going on in his world…like, for instance, teaming up with Hank on a stakeout of the Los Pollos Hermanos warehouse. Walt’s less than subtle when asking about the status of the cartel, but it works: Hank’s heard rumblings that a major massacre went down, big even by cartel standards. In return, Hank starts asking about the bruises on his face, once again offering him a friendly ear, but Walt stiffens and snaps, “I’m done explaining myself.”

Looks like they found time to help Mike after all. Jesse discovers just how much advance planning Gus put into the goings-on in Mexico, and it’s clear that, although he’s shocked, he has considerable respect for the man. Moments later, the man himself emerges, looking tired but on his way to recovery. Unfortunately, Mike’s still going to be laid up for a week or more, but Gus assures Jesse that he’ll send for their friend as soon as he’s well enough to travel. The lead doc smiles and prescribes water and rest to Gus, and I swear, I think this was the most human I think we’ve ever seen Gus look. I don’t know how far they go back, but it’s got to be pretty damned far. And speaking of far, it’s a hell of a stroll back to the border, and it’s even longer once Gus casually comments that Jesse can run the lab himself. Jesse understands the implications…and he does not appreciate them.

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