Tag Archives: AMC

Breaking Bad – “Crawl Space”

“Crawl Space”

September 25th, 2011

This isn’t going to make much sense, but when things get particularly busy it’s the good shows that suffer.

I am aware that this sounds odd, and do lament that I’ve been sitting on the sidelines for the past two weeks when it comes to Breaking Bad, but the reality is that I’m less likely to write about something when it’s delivering on this kind of level. Without screeners, I’m not able to watch things in advance, and my early week schedule is such that any sort of extended breakdown of the episode just isn’t feasible in the way it was during the summer. Even as I write this, I’ve got lesson plans to work on, names to learn (I made promises!), and reading to get a jump on, and so it becomes much easier to just hand you all off to Alan or Noel (whose reviews were posted as soon as the episode concluded) who I am quite certain share my opinion that “Crawl Space” was a pretty great episode of Breaking Bad.

While I remain a strong believer in the value of post-air analysis, I’ll admit there are points where our coverage of “prestige” dramas like Breaking Bad becomes a bit hivemind-y. It’s possible we might focus on different things, or make slightly different observations, or offer different theories for where things go from here. Similarly, we might write more or less, and include more recap or less recap depending on our proclivities on that subject. However, at the end of the day, we’re all basically saying that Breaking Bad’s fourth season has been particularly strong, and that “Crawl Space” benefits from having brought numerous storylines together in a blissful bit of horror as Walt manically laughs while his life falls apart around him, a capper to what was a truly impressive performance from Bryan Cranston.

If I had time, I’d love to explore the inner-workings of this episode more closely, diving into smaller details or analyzing character arcs as compared with earlier seasons, but the problem is that I don’t have time to do it. Really, I don’t have time to do Breaking Bad justice, which is why I haven’t written reviews for the past two weeks and why I don’t have as much to say about “Crawl Space” as I might like to. The great shows are the ones you watch even when you should probably be doing something else, but they’re also the ones that you’re less likely to write about when you know that everyone else is more or less saying the same things.

However, at the risk of being repetitive, here’s a few hundred – okay, it ended up being more like a thousand – more words about the stellar “Crawl Space.”

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Breaking Bad – “Hermanos”

“Hermanos”

September 4th, 2011

There are some definite echoes to be found in the paths of Zjelko Ivanek and Giancarlo Esposito when it comes to their Emmy Award ambitions.

Both actors were regulars on series in which they played minor roles on a weekly basis (Ivanek on FX’s Damages), and both became the focus of episodes later in the season where their characters were fleshed out through flashback. And, both were strong enough in those episodes that they were labeled as Emmy contenders; while we will have to wait twelve months to see if Esposito will have any success in this area, Ivanek stole the Emmy out from his co-star Ted Danson (and a lot of other contenders) in 2008.

The difference, I would argue, is that Ivanek’s episode is meant to be shocking. We knew nothing about Ivanek’s Ray Fiske (a name I wouldn’t remembered without the help of Wikipedia) before that episode, and hadn’t really been given any reason to care about the character beyond considering him as a legal opponent. And so when we started delving into his past, including his homosexuality and his self-destruction related to an unrequited love, it was meant to throw the viewer off-guard. Fiske’s arc in the episode is a statement, a singular one in fact, and it was the “shock” of it all that made it resonate in subsequent episodes and with Emmy voters.

By comparison, Gus Fring has been an enigma from the minute he was introduced. The show has always kept a certain distance from Gus, always resisting showing us his perspective on events, and in the process it has created a large number of mysteries. Whereas Ray Fiske was a character taken from obscurity to a sudden point of interest, Gus has always been a character begging for an origin story, or in the case of “Hermanos” an origin story mixed in with another escalation in the season’s focus on perspective (this time focused more closely on the narrative). As a result, it comes with a great deal of anticipation but also a great deal of expectation, and raises another question entirely: is it worse to have too many questions or too many answers?

Or, of course, you could just split the difference and embrace them both equally, as “Hermanos” achieves quite admirably.

[Heads up: while I tiptoed around it above, I’m going to spoil Damages Season One here, so skip past the next paragraph if you’ve still got those DVDs sitting around. I’ll drop in another warning when it’s done.]

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Breaking Bad – “Problem Dog”

“Problem Dog”

August 28th, 2011

“I never wanted any of this.”

We’re reaching the point in the year where my schedule is going to make covering Breaking Bad weekly a bit challenging, but we’re also reaching the point where I honestly don’t know how much I have left to say.

Now, I could technically write 2500 words talking about what happened in “Problem Dog,” given that the show continues to build on its mythology of tension and self-destruction. However, I’m finding that the show doesn’t really need to be “explained” or even “analyzed” at this point in its fourth season, with the focus instead being on experience. It’s something the show has been doing from the beginning, really, but the fourth season has been particularly built around the audience either sitting back to enjoy the spectacle (as was the case in Hank’s big scene this week) or on the edge of our seats full engrossed in the characters’ plight (as with Jesse at pretty much every point this season).

I’ve stopped taking notes while I watch the show, in part because anything I write down is just as likely to spring from my brain an hour later as I sit down to write a review, and in part because it feels counter-productive. I’m hopeful that I can keep writing about the show in future weeks, but chances are my responses will be a little more free-flowing, and a bit less detailed, given the position the show is in right now.

Which is a damn fine position, just so we’re clear.

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Breaking Bad – “Cornered”

“Cornered”

August 21st, 2011

Admittedly, I am once again delayed in getting to Breaking Bad by another commitment (this time covering The Glee Project finale over at The A.V. Club), but I also think it’s another episode where an extra-long treatise feels sort of unnecessary.

“Cornered” is another straightforward hour for the show, getting right to the point thematically and having the characters more or less follow suit. Walt, in particular, has been an open book in recent weeks, at least to an audience that has been watching the show all along. It’s not quite a cry for help, as Skyler diagnoses it early in the episode, but I do think that it’s an obvious sign that Walt’s worst neuroses are rising to the surface.

And that Walt and Jesse are as much alike as ever before.

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Breaking Bad – “Shotgun”

“Shotgun”

August 14th, 2011

It was late this evening before I got to tonight’s Breaking Bad, as a result of filling in on Entourage at The A.V. Club, but when I finished watching “Shotgun” I found myself at a loss. Perhaps it was simply that I knew my review would be less than timely (especially with most critics still working with screeners), but it also seems like “Shotgun” pretty much lays its cards on the table.

It’s a rare instance where we see both the cause and the effect, and where character actions are contextualized in almost every instance. While the show doesn’t outright spell everything out for us, there are enough moments of clarity within an often impressionistic hour of television for us to be pretty confident in where things are headed from this point forward.

And while there’s something a bit strange about that, I can’t deny that it remained a satisfying stage in the season’s development.

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Breaking Bad – “Bullet Points”

“Bullet Points”

August 7th, 2011

“Walter H. White – a man of hidden talents.”

When I reviewed the premiere a few weeks ago, I discussed whether or not the show’s flashback opening rendered the episode a “wee bit too writerly.” Obviously, considering that I used the phrase “wee bit,” I didn’t consider it a serious problem, but it is something that Breaking Bad can engage in on occasion.

“Bullet Points” is filled with writerly moments. It’s an episode in which the show’s characters literally script out their actions, and where elements of performance and theater are put front and center. There is nothing more writerly than meta-storytelling, and Moira Walley-Beckett’s script certainly doesn’t hide the fact that it’s gesturing back to previous seasons in a major way.

It’s also blisteringly funny, suspenseful without necessarily relying on major plot developments, and offers a great deal of insight into how these characters confront their demons: some of them bury them, some of them obsess over them, and all of them are in desperate need of someone to talk to.

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Breaking Bad – “Open House”

“Open House”

July 31st, 2011

“Anything we should talk about?”

There was a lot of internet chatter last week about how “Thirty-Eight Snub” was a ‘slow’ episode of Breaking Bad, a complaint that I don’t entirely understand. No, last week’s episode wasn’t as exciting as the premiere, but that was sort of the point: as Walt and Jesse face the post-“Box Cutter” era in their own ways, the gravity of their situation begins to wear them down. For Walt it drives him to purchase a gun and confront Mike, while for Jesse it drives him to make life one giant party so he never has to be alone to let the guilt over Gale’s death wash over him. However ‘slow’ the episode might be, that break was necessary to focus on how these characters are going about their normal lives after what they went through.

Now, I’m more open to arguments that “Open House” is a slow episode, although I would still contend this isn’t a huge problem. It does suffer, though, by uncomfortably extending the themes of last week’s episode another week, expanding the agency of both Marie and Skyler within the ongoing storylines. Some of this ends up feeling a bit same-y, especially with Jesse, but it wasn’t necessarily unnecessary. As an exploration of the show’s female characters, “Open House” continued to build on key ideas that run throughout the series, getting through some important procedure necessary for the show to move on to the next stage of its seasonal development.

Which might, yes, be a little less slow.

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Breaking Bad – “Thirty-Eight Snub”

“Thirty-Eight Snub”

July 24th, 2011

“It’s like nothing but good days ahead.”

Walt remarks near the end of “Thirty-Eight Snub” that it’s been a hell of a last couple of weeks, which is certainly true: in fact, the sheer dramatic weight of the entire third season hangs in the air throughout this episode, the first one where the show feels stops to take a breath.

That breath doesn’t contain a great deal of surprise, much as last week’s resolution to the season three cliffhanger went about as one might expect. Based on what we saw at the end of last week’s episode, Jesse and Walt respond about as one would expect to their attempts at returning to something of a normal life, but just like last week’s episode the predictable remains compelling. There is so much baggage within these characters and within this show as a whole that the pathos is enough to carry even storylines that call attention to their true purpose. That line above is way too on-the-nose in laying out the theme of Jesse’s portion of the episode, for example, but it only serves to reinforce instead of undoing the work that was done.

Free from the “suspense” of last week’s outing, “Thirty-Eight Snub” instead just throws the show’s fantastic actors into tense situations and asks them to play out life as they would know it. It’s striking, it’s evocative, and it’s a whole lot of momentum for an episode that actively evades any major showdowns.

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Season Premiere: Breaking Bad – “Box Cutter”

“Box Cutter”

July 17th, 2011

It has been over thirteen months since Breaking Bad finished its third season, which isn’t something that happens all that often. Of course, AMC will be dealing with this issue twice in one year when Mad Men returns early next year, but that show didn’t leave on an arresting cliffhanger. “Full Measure” was a thrilling hour of television, creating suspense through uncertainty as opposed to mystery. We know what happened, and the sequence of events that allowed it to happen were delineated without any sudden twists or turns, but the finale left us with a sense of disbelief: we were haunted by that final image more than we were shocked by it, and we desired its conclusion less to have something resolved and more to see something begin.

“Box Cutter” picks up where “Full Measure” left off, although not immediately. The episode is very interested in the dramatic power of delay, lingering in those moments of waiting for the other shoe to fall. It doesn’t seek to surprise us so much as it seeks to make us reconsider: it knows we spent a year thinking about the various possibilities, so it lays out a likely scenario and then basically sits back and lets our own anxiety drive this story forward. The result is bracing in its minimalism if a wee bit writerly, further cementing Breaking Bad’s reputation as one of the most distinctive dramas on television.

And, yes, one of its finest as well.

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Hiding Behind the Brand: How The Killing Threatens the Future of AMC

I haven’t seen the first season finale of AMC’s The Killing.

In fact, I haven’t seen the last five episodes of the show’s first season – I fell behind a few weeks ago, struggled to find the motivation to continue, and then traveled away from my DVR before I could get around to catching up.

Accordingly, this is not a piece about the emerging debate regarding the show’s first season finale, which has sharply divided the show’s viewers (and created some extremely strong reactions from some television critics, with Maureen Ryan’s being the most pointed). While it is quite possible that I will some day watch those final five episodes of the season, and that I will have an opinion regarding the show’s finale (which I’ve willfully spoiled for myself) at that time, this piece is not about the finale.

What I’m interested in is the way that this response reflects on larger questions of brand identity that are unquestionably caught up in this response to The Killing. This weekend, I read a piece on AMC’s growing dominance at the Emmy Awards at The Hollywood Reporter in which Sud was quoted quite extensively as she waxed poetic on the freedom of the AMC model. Her first quote was perhaps the one that stuck out most, as she notes that the AMC approach is perhaps best defined by the following: “Always assume that your audience is smarter than you are.”

Given how often I felt The Killing insulted my intelligence as a viewer, this quote struck me as odd. And then I read the rest of her quotes in the article, and discovered the same issue: when she was only spouting a series of platitudes regarding the genius of the AMC brand that we hear from other writers (including a Breaking Bad writer in the same piece), I could take none of them at face value given the fact that The Killing has done little to earn them. In a climate in which The Killing has squandered nearly all of its critical goodwill, Sud’s comments were charmlessly naive, and this was before she made many similar comments in defense of the season finale.

I have nothing against Sud personally, and I think she is entitled to her opinion that her show wasn’t a failure. However, so long as her defense of the show is being framed in the same terms of the AMC brand, the network has a serious problem on their hands. This is a network that feeds off of critical attention, and that has been very protective of its brand identity, but it now finds itself becoming represented by a showrunner who has none of the credentials or the evidence to back up her rhetoric.

It’s a scenario that risks turning AMC into just another brand hiding behind rhetorical statements of superiority, and which should be creating some big questions within the network’s executive structure as they head into an important period for their future development.

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