30 Pilots in 30 Days: Breaking Bad

Had I seen it before: Yes! I’ve seen all of Season 1 and the beginning of Season 2 but I never quite got to that breaking point where you can’t stop watching. Yes, that pun was intended AF.

What IMDb says: A high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer turns to manufacturing and selling methamphetamine in order to secure his family’s future.

Why I picked it: I mean. . . have you heard writers talk about Breaking Bad? TV writers don’t shut up about Breaking Bad the way that normal people don’t shut up about Game of Thrones. Their only preferred topic of conversation is that mystical thing called “structure.”

Besides the fact that it is widely considered to be one of the best written pilots of the last decade, I also have to mention that Breaking Bad has the best logline of my list. It’s about a chemistry teacher with cancer who starts cooking meth. I repeat: It’s about a chemistry teacher. With cancer. Who starts cooking meth. If you can hear that premise and not feel any intrigue, you have no sense of adventure.

What I liked: Breaking Bad does a shocking amount of character development over the course of one hour. While pretty much any good tv protagonist is going to change and grow over the course of the show’s run (at least in a drama) I’m not sure there’s any other pilot I’ve seen where your protagonist transforms this much while remaining believable.

Here, we have a chemistry teacher. We get the impression that his life is boring, but he also doesn’t hate his life. At the very least, we believe he has a genuine passion for chemistry even if teaching high school isn’t particularly riveting. His life isn’t interesting, but he seems content with it. The pilot takes enough time to establish his normal day-to-day life to convey all this, but the cancer diagnosis still comes in early enough to draw and maintain our interest and almost immediately we realize how discontent Walter really is.

We see how the diagnosis makes Walter a more outspoken, impulsive person. He stands up to bullies making fun of his son. He screams “wipe down this” at one of his bosses while grabbing his crotch. The cancer diagnosis serves as more than just a catalyst to turn him into a meth dealer, it fundamentally changes him as a person, and we see that in ways unrelated to meth.

Can we also talk about the brilliance of making Walt’s brother-in-law a DEA agent? Not only does it make it seem less random when Walt decides that out of all things, cooking meth is the best plan for raising money, it’s also a conflict I want to explore in future episodes. Does Walt learn how to use this connection for his own benefit? Does it cause more family drama between the two brothers-in-law? I want to know.

I also can’t neglect to talk about Jesse Pinkman, in part because Aaron Paul is a gift to show business, and in part because the Jesse/Walt dynamic is one of the more interesting aspects of the show as a whole, and we get a great taste of it in the pilot. Each has something the other one needs: Jesse’s a drug dealer and knows all the ins and outs of the business that Walt doesn’t. But Jesse’s boss just got arrested, and he has no more product to sell. Forcing two characters that have no logical reason to interact into a situation where they must interact is a great strategy for any tv show or movie, and it’s executed wonderfully here from both a writing and acting standpoint. There’s a damn fine reason this went on to become one of the defining relationships of the series.

What I didn’t like: I’m blanking on complaints which is rare for me. But I chewed up a lot of space with things I liked (and I’m still not sure I got to all of them) so I guess I’ll call it a day.

Do I want to watch ep. 2: I want to finish the series in part because it is one of those shows you’re just kinda expected to know about if you want to work in this field, but I actually watch it relatively rarely. I’ve found with subsequent episodes that it’s really a show you need to focus on and usually when I’m Netflixing my brain is half dead from work and I’m also screwing around on my phone and the show just doesn’t lend itself to that. It’s a good show, I just need to set more time and mental capacity aside for it.

2 thoughts on “30 Pilots in 30 Days: Breaking Bad

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