Sunday, July 15, 2012

"Breaking Bad" vs. "Sopranos," the winner is ...

“Breaking Bad” returns for its fifth season tonight and I wish I’d never started watching “Breaking Bad.”

It would be better if I would not have gotten into it until July 2013.

Then I could feast without interruption on the whole series the way Val and I have for the past seven months. It’s swamped our lives the way nothing has since the birth of our children, Josie and the little re-run.

Really good TV and parenting have much in common: You fret over their futures, plan your lives around them, and you want to share what you love about them with everyone in your life.

We show friends pictures of our children; we send them links to stories from critics about why our favorite shows should earn their devotion.

It’s certainly been that way with “Breaking Bad,” a show that had been on our radar screen since it started winning all those Emmys after its 2008 debut.

That happens with lots of shows. You hear the buzz, buy the hype and decide to bestow an hour a week for maybe 12 weeks in the hopes it’s a keeper.

And it rarely is.

I point to “Lost,” a show with many cult-like devotees for reasons I understand. I was into it for the first two seasons then got bored with the absurd plot deviations and infuriating contrivances too numerous to name.

But it was a quality show, rich with compelling characters and stories, and I appreciated how the producers were setting the creativity bar high.

Still, experience had made me weary on January 1st when Val suggested we pop in the “Breaking Bad” season one DVD she’d picked up at the library. Here’s what I wrote about that day, my greatest TV viewing day ever, and my viewing habits.

Within 10 minutes, we were enthralled, an emotion that has only accelerated as we plowed through the first four seasons.

There’s never been a show as compelling, and that includes the now inferior “Sopranos.”

“Walter White makes Tony Soprano look like Mister Rogers.”

I’d source that line if my wife could could remember where she heard it. She’s consumed with reading everything she can about “Breaking Bad” as it resumes tonight on AMC, increasingly the best network on TV.

The more I watch “Breaking Bad,” the more impatient I get with people who, like I once did, say “The Sopranos” is the best show ever.

First of all, the Sopranos was maybe the stingiest hit show in television history. Here are the numbers: Six seasons, 86 episodes, 8 years -- an average of 10 slim hours a year. Sometimes more than 18 months would elapse between episodes. It was infuriating.

Supporters said the show was so creative they needed long lag time to allow their genius to flourish.


The most creative show in television history is “The Twilight Zone.” It was on for five seasons, produced 156 wildly diverse episodes over five years.

The accolades seemed to allow creator David Chase to feel conventional storytelling didn’t apply to him. During his endless breaks, once vital characters would disappear and others would emerge without introduction.

It was very disconcerting.

Then there was Dr. Melfi. A great plot device in the pilot, she became a real drag on the show -- especially when they built episodes around her whiny neediness.

She’d be on a colleague’s psychiatric couch weeping to her nerdy shrink (Peter Bogdanovich) about her conflicting feelings over Tony and I’d be sitting there praying Furio would bust in the room beat both of them senseless with a tire iron.

Its greatest offense, of course, was the historically insulting conclusion, one so bad it made the much-criticized finale of “Seinfeld” seem bold.

James Gandolfini recently said his reaction to reading the last page of the show’s final script was, “WTF?”

I’ve never once found myself feeling impatient or critical of any aspect of “Breaking Bad.” Every scene, every character, every plot device rivets.

We had dinner with some friends Saturday to talk about the show’s return. He’s nurtured us through the series he started watching on Day 1.

He envies the way we’ve been able to gorge on the show and tells people who’ve never seen it to wait until the show’s conclusion and stock your house like you’re preparing for a nuclear winter.

“Then just watch it from beginning to end over three days.”

His idea sounds to me like TV nirvana.

With each plot twist we’d touch base with him to rehash the grim twists, hilarious betrayals and pending menace.

We’d tell him we couldn’t see how the show could sustain its greatness.

“You wait,” he’d always say with a knowing laugh. “You just wait.”

“Breaking Bad” returns tonight.

We just can’t wait.


Jim H. said...

Hey, Chris. I saw however-many episodes back-to-back on Netflix, after watching only a couple of episodes previously. I was shocked to see that in the very first episode, I think it is, he's already killed somebody and dissolved the body into "green slime," and strangled a second guy, right? I was under the mistaken impression that he had encountered violence only after being into the "trade" for a while, and that got into it with a lot more reluctance than appears to be the case. He's way, way, darker than I realized.

Chris Rodell said...

Yes, going down. They say his high is from the power adrenaline. I love watching the show. I think you're right about the early kills, too. It came very easily to him. I think part of that was he was so downtrodden at the beginning of the show and so pissed off about his situation. Just brilliant TV.

Anonymous said...

The Sopranos is better.