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Tag: Breaking Bad

Lists the Season: TV edition 2013

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It’s that wonderful time of the year again; when we organize our lives into easily readable bullet-ed points rating our experiences from good to bad. Who doesn’t love lists? Many of you reading this right now probably have a few lists on the go as we speak: presents to buy, food to make, movies to watch etc.. Last year I listed my favourite Christmas tunes. This year I contemplated listing movies, but since I only saw 12 Years a Slave and Blue Jasmine it would make for a  very short one. Both films are excellent by the way.

What I lacked in movie watching, I more than made up for in TV consumption. They say we are in the ‘new golden age’ of television. So much so, that it is hypothesized that TV entertainment may have enriched our standard of living. To add on to that, one seriously flawed outlook implies that no one can truly be considered poor when they are surrounded by so much rich distraction. Wow, who knew  TV wasn’t just  teaching us what to do in the case of a zombie apocalypse or how to be a functioning alcoholic at work but also trying to eliminate poverty? God bless us, every single one.

2013 was definitely a spoil of riches when it comes to TV entertainment. We had to say good-bye to some beloved characters and some not so beloved, as well as were introduced to a whole bevy of new ones. (Attention there may be Spoilers.)

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 10. Orange is the New Black garnered a lot of praise when it came out. It is a show I like but don’t love. It never graduated to binge watching. We would watch an episode or two and then forget about it for awhile. The high point for me is Tayrnn Manning’s portrayal of Tiffany Doggett. She does crazy well.

9. Treme / Boardwalk Empire HBO does TV well. I came up with a tie for number 9. Both shows are wonderful pastiches of unique times and places. Their settings are their protagonists, with many story lines running parallel to one another, sometimes never crossing and other times unexpectedly intersecting. Music is a key feature for both shows, delivering gems every episode.

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8. Broadchurch explores the fallout of a young boy’s murder on the inhabitants of a small seaside town. It is a classic who-done-it with multiple suspects and dead ends. They are remaking it for american TV, I just hope they get the emotional weight right.

7. Day of the Doctor The latest season of Dr. Who may not have been its strongest but all was forgiven with this year’s 50th anniversary special.

6. American Horror Story: Coven This season may not even be over yet but it has already made the list. It is experiencing its highest ratings ever and people are thoroughly hooked. On a show that out crazies itself every week I got two words: mellon baller. Yikes.

5. Shameless never gets enough love. William H Macy is in a word: without shame.

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4. House of Cards was definitely binge worthy. Kevin Spacey makes being bad look so good but it’s Robin Wright who can turn your heart to ice. I’m a little nervous after viewing the trailer for season 2. Francis looks like he is teetering into the dangerous and cartoonish ‘The Devil’s Advocate’s’  depiction of evil. Putting out candles with your fingers is never a good sign.

3. Game of Thrones  Two words: Red Wedding.

2. Mad MenFive wordsThe Desolation of Don Draper. 

TV Breaking Bad Gallery

1. Breaking Bad has gone on now to live in the Pantheon of all time greatest TV shows with The Sopranos and The Wire. Absolutely tremendous ride and one of the reasons we call it ‘the new golden age’.

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Clever Monkey

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In the Chilean rain forest lives a species of coniferous tree  called Araucaria araucana, it is more commonly known as a Monkey Puzzle tree. It received this peculiar moniker due to its sharp scale like leaves and twisted limbs that would present a challenge for any fool who would attempt to climb it.

People and monkeys alike, are very attracted to all things puzzling, and in our enlightened electronic age we certainly have no shortage of fools who are willing to cut their hands on all manner of topics, including at this time the phenomenal puzzle that is Breaking Bad. As the show approaches its final two episodes, the internet is ablaze with  theories, comments, praise and especially analysis and interpretations.

It seems that people are in shock, both from the events of the show and the finality of it coming to an end. We have become a TV nation of addicts and are already going through withdrawal as we see our supply dry up. We are already making alternative plans to fill the void; courting other eligible suitors to start a whole new love affair with. You hear people casually mention at parties, “Have you seen Broadchurch, House of Cards or Luther?” You’re always on the look out for the new fix, but you don’t want to get burned again. You’re still bitter from the fizzled passion of Dexter. “Dammit, how long until Game of Thrones is back?” American Horror Story season 3 may momentarily ease your shakes and you just found out that they are turning the final season of Mad Men into another two year long goodbye, but the affection you have for Walt and Jesse is special: tattoo special. You never thought you could love another show this much, not after the hole you were left with by the Sopranos, The Wire and Six Feet Under. Breaking Bad restored our faith that it could be that good again and for some, even better.

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(slight spoilers ahead)

The monkey cage that is the internet has already thrown out phrases like “Better than… or Best Show of All Time.” It is true Vince Gilligan has created a five part character study that has slowly sunk its hooks in and not let go from the first season  onwards. It is really hard to find a single misstep. Everything works; from the cast, to the setting, to the premise to the intrigue. It is rare nowadays, to have a show that can genuinely create tension for a desensitized ‘seen it all before’ audience and constantly keep them guessing and surprised. A quick simple example of this would be; the shot in S5 ep. 14 where Skyler is looking at the kitchen counter and choosing between the phone and the knife. The beauty of this show is that it constantly lets the audience into the characters’ heads to weigh the decisions they are making. We get to watch as the problems arise, assess their possible options and more often then not be shocked at the outcomes. The ethical waters are constantly being muddied. The audience has to question its own belief system to reject or have empathy for the characters. We can be sickened by the actions but have to appreciate the logic surrounding their circumstances.  We as an audience are encouraged to participate in the puzzle.

In order to solve any puzzle you must first be sure you have all the pieces. There have been a lot of busy monkeys out there combing through every show/scene/shot to assemble the most complete box they possibly can. Perhaps it’s the withdrawal symptoms surfacing, but in many cases people may have started to lose perspective on the whole thing. The monkeys are rattling their cages and flinging their sh*t at one another vying for monkey superiority. A  recent article by  a TV critic over at New York magazine’s  Vulture really laid into other people’s analysis of our beloved show. Vulture generally does TV very well, their recaps are some of the best on the net, but this particular piece may have been a little too close to its subject.

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Using a smart show to make yourself appear smart by association seems to be a negative side effect of our comment on everything society.  ‘Look how smart I am, I figured out that Walt was trying to get Skyler off the hook with his tirade on the phone’ etc.. We definitely need thoughtful analysis of our art to help deepen its appreciation and revel in its nuances but this is neither a race nor a contest. How we watch TV is more telling than what we watch. We can only relate to anything by comparing it to our own experience. Not everybody is going to arrive at the same page and that’s a really good thing. Art should be liquid and be able to fill a thousand spaces in a thousand ways. Breaking Bad is one of the great shows because it allows you to spin your own moral compass and doesn’t present any one clear cut way to look at it.

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In two weeks time I’ll definitely be a little sad that the opus of Walter White will have come to a close. The internet will be clogged with failed predictions, I told you so’s and analytical fallout that will continue well into the winter. Eventually the cleverest monkey will come forward to receive their Breaking Bad crown  and the rest of the world will be lamenting that they are again back on the market.

 

Related articles:

State of Television

First Last for Everything

The State of Television

lipIn a post Oprah world, the highest paid TV star on the planet is Judge Judy. She makes approximately 45 million dollars a year with nearly 10 million people tuning into her show daily. Conversely, the season premiere of the critically adored Mad Men attracted 3.3 million viewers and the season finale of Shameless only attracted 1.8 million viewers. The numbers aren’t even close but you wouldn’t know it by the obsessive nature of the internet. Talking and commenting about ‘so called good TV’ has become a cottage industry onto itself, with Mad Men (at this moment) leading the pack.

mad-men-elisabeth-moss-season-6-amcThe glut of words devoted to every episode of this series is astounding. People take the opportunity to cut their writing teeth on the  blogger’s bread and butter: the TV recap. All TV recaps are not created equal. Some take the straight up just recount of what transpired in any given episode; kinda like an old Donahue transcript without all the yelling. Other TV recaps take the time to try and uncover all the tiny minutia of symbolic meaning that may be hidden under the surface. My favourite, when done well are the recaps that inject keen social satire and convey a fondness for their subject matter. Oh how I miss the Gossip Girl recaps on Vulture –they were hilarious and made watching the show more fun.  The blogosphere and social media are the new water-cooler. At times it feels like more people blog and tweet about Mad Men than actually watch the show. In the past, I’ve also added to this ever growing content: here and here, but I think I’ll leave it at: the show is fantastic so you should watch it. Enough has been written about it already.

408_2_0_prm-s3in2013cp_1024x640A show that doesn’t get enough love in my opinion would be the US version of Shameless. In a word:it is without shame. It will make you laugh and break your heart in equal measures. William H. Macy is absolutely fearless and the rest of the cast is equally as brilliant.

On one end of the spectrum, television is going through a renaissance at the moment producing some of the greatest programs in its entire history. Along with Mad Men and Shameless there are shows like Breaking Bad, Girls and Homeland that have people not only watching but appreciating the small screen.  All genres are being covered from the enthralling fantasy of Game of Thrones to the horror of American Horror Story and The Walking Dead. The king of TV genres is in a bit of a slump at the moment compared to a decade or two ago, but if shows like Louie and Arrested Development keep being made perhaps the television sitcom will make a comeback.The serial is thriving; and now that we have been spoiled in a post Sopranos TV landscape our expectations are high.

tumblr_lo2y2he2aH1qe5fk4o1_500If our appetite for a good story right now is at an all time high so is our lust for visual titillation. Home improvement shows have been replaced with nothing short of real estate porn. Million Dollar Rooms and Selling New York would make Robin Leach blush. We’ve become fascinated with the spending habits of the 1%. With the world’s economy on the mat we divert our attention by seeing how the other half live. On the complete opposite end of this spectrum, apparently we also like to pull open the trailer door to see who’s home.

myrtle-manorThere is another renaissance happening on TV at the moment and it’s the Hillbilly renaissance. Shows like Honey Boo Boo, Swamp People, Duck Dynasty, Deep South Paranormal and Myrtle Manor are popping up everywhere. I remember when TLC actually stood for the learning channel. Perhaps they shortened it for the same reasons Kentucky Fried Chicken shortened to KFC: to distance themselves from the word fried. ‘Fried’ became a dirty word for a while. Is learning the new fried? I don’t think learning is discouraged but only being repackaged; Pawn Stars and Storage Wars are the Antiques Roadshow for the dune buggy sect. We want to learn but don’t ask us to think. Just cut straight to the answer.

11773442-largeThe answer that a lot of us want to knows is: where should I eat? Food porn makes real estate porn look like the Disney Channel compared to real porn. All that is missing is the seventies soundtrack. They even film it like real porn with the satisfied first bite money shot. Fried is no longer a dirty word. There are many food show hosts out there but I would have to say the best of the bunch would have to be Anthony Bourdain. He is articulate, funny and most importantly knows his stuff. He is also a bit of a walking contradiction; the elitist every man who is equal parts cynical and optimistic. His shows combine food with travel and provide a knowledgeable guide for both.

The dichotomy of Television is at an all time high. For every show there is a completely opposite show waiting to compliment it. We exploit our rich and our poor in equal measures. It probably won’t ever get any better than it is right now but I’m pretty sure it can get a whole lot worse and I’m the sucker who will watch it all.

Summer Questions

The summer is winding down, but a few lingering questions remain.

Just One More: TV on DVD

This scene from Portlandia  says it all. How many of us have our own version of The Lost Weekend under our belts? Not in a Don Birnam wrestling with the bottle kind of way but with something perhaps just as insidious. Before you know it, the weekend is gone and you’re wearing the same clothes. It always starts out so innocently; with a casual phrase like: “I heard this was good” or “You haven’t seen this!” or the deadly “It takes a while to get into but….”. Then the package arrives, usually from a friend who has disguised it in an unassuming plastic bag. Sometimes it can sit in your front hallway for days almost forgotten until you catch it out of the periphery of your eye. By then it’s too late.

It’s ten times worse if you have a partner in crime. You come up with multiple reasons to convince your couch buddy that what you are doing is for the greater good. The enabling can easily last into the wee hours of the night, with multiple rules and stipulations quickly made and then broken and then made again. Everyone is looking for someone to whisper these words we desperately want to hear “It’s ok to have another one.” TV dieting easily gets thrown out the window.  We can’t help ourselves.  TV has changed. C.H.I.P. S has been replaced by The Wire.

The way TV is delivered and written has changed drastically too. Not only is our access to entire television series readily available but TV is no longer a slave to the  rerun. The original idea of the rerun prevented longer story arcs and plot-lines. Each show had to serve as its own self contained play from beginning to end. A story-line couldn’t be carried over several episodes because reruns aren’t necessarily aired in their original order. Shuffling the order of the episodes could confuse the viewer and jumble up the story. Specialty channels weren’t tied to the concept of the rerun and could develop their television episodes like chapters in a book. This changed everything.

A good story slowly builds up, revealing itself event by event and detail by detail while keeping the entirety of itself in the background. This is how we get sucked in. This is how an hour turns into a marathon. A series reveals enough of itself at a time to keep us wanting more. If you are watching along as they are originally being aired, the week wait can be tedious. If the shows also include commercial breaks, that’s almost too much to bare. The alternative of waiting for the entire season or series to be released on DVD requires a little patience and the not to be undermined skill of avoiding spoilers. I know the internet is easier and quicker but I like the idea of supporting what you like. The beautiful thing is you can get on board to any show long after the show has finished.

For me it all started with Buffy The Vampire Killer. Originally I had absolutely no desire to watch this program. The idea didn’t appeal to me and what I had seen seemed forgettable. Then a friend I shared a lot of the same tastes with recommended it. The DVDs were found and I started my skeptical reexamination of my friend’s television viewing habits and then before I knew it, boom I was hooked.  Around this same time The Sopranos was entering its third season.  I quickly grabbed up the first two seasons and not only was I hooked, I was enthralled. TV was an entirely different creature then when I was growing up. Series creators had the time over a entire season to develop rich complex characters. Six Feet Under, The British Office, Battlestar Galactica, Mad Men,The Wire and many others have all followed since.

Now it is I who shows up with the unassuming plastic bag. “You haven’t seen Breaking Bad?”

“Here’s season one to get you started and oh….you probably shouldn’t  make any other plans for the weekend.”