I’m glad Breaking Bad likes the name Todd enough to make it the name of a recurring character. I’m also glad Breaking Bad was able to add a fantastic actor like Jesse Plemons to its ensemble. But did they have to go and pair the two, forever making America associate the name with a person who looks like the dimwitted Matt Damon doll from Team America: World Police? We Todds were just beginning to put the yam killing Iraq War vet behind us, and now this…
Just Why Exactly Is Breaking Bad Great?
Aside from the fact that this post’s title implies other possibilities, I think - no, declare, with what tiny speck of authority I have - that Breaking Bad is worthy of the label of “great show.” Since this blog started, I’ve never questioned its status on the consensus Mount Rushmore of Golden Age television, along with The Sopranos, The Wire and Mad Men.
But of the four pantheon shows of the post-Sopranos era, Breaking Bad is easily the one that seems the most peculiar. The other three have come to somewhat define what high class television is now, mainly cerebral, oblique and dense.
In contrast, Breaking Bad is far less literary. If we equate the modern television with the New Hollywood era, people like David Chase and Matthew Weiner would be its Scorsese and Bogdanovich, while Vince Gilligan would be more akin to its William Friedkin, which is really a roundabout way of saying that the adventures and evils of Walter White are relayed to us in a much more straightforward way.
That isn’t a bad thing by any means. Walter White is unlikely to ever venture off into a Test Dream, ponderously stare down an empty elevator shaft or largely abandon us for an entire season so we can explore the life of some dock workers or middle school students. But the pulpy nature of Breaking Bad, along with Gilligan’s knack for visual quirk, allows the show to embrace a very effective style over subtlety approach that has been incredibly successful for many filmmakers (Quentin Tarantino is probably the most notable of late).
This pulpy aspect can also result in flaws - the convoluted Lily of the Valley twist at the end of the last season was a good example of how the show can overly stress its Rube Goldberg style chaos when it tries to apply some method to it - but more often it allows Breaking Bad to embrace the ways of traditional television but elevate it to much more rarefied territory.
So why is Breaking Bad a great show? Look no further than two of the key scenes from this week’s episode “Madrigal,” featuring emerging go-to character Mike Ehrmantraut, cleaning up messes the way only Mike the Cleaner can. In the scenes at the home of Mr. Chao and in front of the pleading Lydia, Mike is every bit the traditional badass that any viewer can appreciate. But the scenes are filmed in such a way to orchestrate the tension and dread to operatic levels. The vengeful hitman is about as pulpy a storyline as you can get, but when filmed with that level of skill, it transcends pulp. It’s just great.
How HBO Made It Look Like Critics Liked ‘The Newsroom’ (Forbes)
It’s been a long time since HBO has had a series so critically villified as The Newsroom. Though Aaron Sorkin’s show sits in the ‘comfortably mediocre’ range on rating aggregators like Metacritic, many critics have savaged the show. Yet you wouldn’t know it from the two-page ad HBO ran for the show recently, full of laudatory phrases from TV criticism’s elite. But there’s a catch:
Time’s James Poniewozik, summarizing his views on “The Newsroom” for non-subscribers, flatly declared, “I was not a fan.” Yet the ad makes it sound like he was, burbling, “The pacing is electric…captures the excitement.”
Salon’s Willa Paskin is quoted in the ad calling “The Newsroom” “captivating, riveting, rousing.” Here’s what she actually wrote: “The results are a captivating, riveting, rousing, condescending, smug, infuriating mixture, a potent potion that advertises itself as intelligence-enhancing but is actually just crazy-making.”
As the article accurately points out, movie studios have been practicing this kind of marketing deception for years — Sony went so far as to invent a completely fake critic to plant positive reviews for A Knight’s Tale. But HBO’s shows are usually so well-received that they wouldn’t need to stoop to these lows.
Hopefully the show will stick around for a few more seasons so Jeff Daniels can address the scandal himself in The Newsroom’s trademark “ripped from the headlines from two years ago” style.
THE EMMY NOMINATIONS ARE IN!
As usual there’s a lot to like, a lot to be upset about (NO NOMINATIONS FOR COMMUNITY AGAIN?!?!?!) and a lot I don’t care about, like whether The Amazing Race wins its 478th Best Reality Show award.
Here’s a quick rundown of the categories I care about, with a little commentary for each.
Should Win: I’d be happy with almost any of the shows picked, but I’d lean towards Mad Men. The argument could also be made for Breaking Bad.
Shouldn’t Be Here: Of these shows, Boardwalk Empire deserves it the least, but I’m not complaining.
Was Robbed: FX’s Justified had a hell of a year, and probably deserved a nod.
Should Win: Of the shows nominated, I’ve got to go with Girls. I would have argued for Louie, Parks and Recreation or Community, but every one of them was inexplicably snubbed.
Shouldn’t Be Here: The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, and Curb Your Enthusiasm should have tapped out for the aforementioned three shows.
Was Robbed: Glee. (JK JK, Glee not being nominated for anything was the highlight of the nominations for me).
Best Actress, Drama
Should Win: Claire Danes for Homeland, or perhaps Elisabeth Moss for Mad Men.
Shouldn’t Be Here: Kathy Bates and Glenn Close. Legends, yes. Worthy this year? Not even close.
Was Robbed: Jessica Pare had enough screentime on Mad Men to warrant a lead actress nod, and she arguably had the meatier role than Moss this season.
Best Actor, Drama
Should Win: Another solid crop, but I’d go with Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad with a slight edge over Jon Hamm and Damian Lewis of Mad Men and Homeland, respectively.
Shouldn’t Be Here: Michael C. Hall. Dexter was nearly unwatchable this season, and while Hall always finds a way to keep the show entertaining, his time has passed.
Was Robbed: Timothy Olyphant and Kelsey Grammer for Justified and Boss.
Best Actor, Comedy
Should Win: Louis CK.
Shouldn’t Be Here: The rest of the category. Specifically Jon Cryer and Don Cheadle, whose House of Lies was one of the worst comedies not on CBS or TBS last year.
Was Robbed: No one deserves it but CK, sorry.
Best Actress, Comedy
Should Win: Lena Dunham. Poehler would also be an acceptable choice, but Dunham redefined comedy for women in 2012.
Shouldn’t Be Here: Melissa McCarthy. She’s hilarious, no doubt, but Mike & Molly is not, and neither is her performance.
Was Robbed: Laura Dern was outstanding on Enlightened, but too few people saw her performance for it to be nominated.
Best Supporting Actress, Drama
Should Win: Anna Gunn or Christina Hendricks
Shouldn’t Be Here: Christine Baranski
Was Robbed: Kelly McDonald was great on Boardwalk Empire once again.
Best Supporting Actor, Drama
Should Win: Do I have to choose? Gun to my head, I’ll go with Aaron Paul, but Giancarlo Esposito or Jared Harris would do in a pinch.
Shouldn’t Be Here: No one. This category was too good for screw-ups.
Was Robbed: At least a dozen guys. A few to highlight include John Slattery and Vincent Karthieser on Mad Men, Michael Pitt on Boardwalk Empire and Dean Norris on Breaking Bad, but the list goes on an on.
Best Supporting Actor, Comedy
Should Win: Ty Burrell, as the lone remaining standout on the suddenly pedestrian Modern Family.
Shouldn’t Be Here: The rest of the Modern Family cast. With so many deserving candidates, how can Emmy voters justify giving 4 of the 6 spots to one show?
Was Robbed: Nick Offerman, Danny Pudi, Aziz Ansari, Adam Driver, and Adam Pally could hold an even better “Best Supporting Actor Inexplicably Snubbed by the Emmys” contest. My money would be on Driver in that one.
Best Supporting Actress, Comedy
Should Win: Yikes. With so many incredible women on TV, it’s amazing that Kristen Wiig is the only woman I’d like to see win this category. (To be fair, I haven’t seen Nurse Jackie, but I hear good things about Meritt Weaver).
Shouldn’t Be Here: Kathryn Joosten, Mayim Bialik, Sofia Vergara, Julie Bowen.
Was Robbed: Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie, Maya Rudolph, Casey Wilson, Elisa Coupe, Gillian Jacobs. (In a repeat of the Best Inexplicably Snubbed group, I’d go with Brie)
Best Animated Series
Should Win: American Dad. Or maybe Futurama. Possibly Bob’s Burgers. Meh.
Shouldn’t Be Here: That Madagascar bull.
Was Robbed: HAS NO ONE SEEN THE SHOW ARCHER? NO ONE? NOT ONE GODDAMN EMMY VOTER? JESUS.
Best Variety Series
Should Win: Colbert
Shouldn’t Be Here: Maher
Was Robbed: Conan
So, those are my thoughts, which I’m sure most of you disagree with. Feel free to let me know if you do.
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip’s Nate Corddry answers my question about Aaron Sorkin’s casting decisions. I am satisfied with his response.
Predictions for Season 5 of Breaking Bad:
- Mike the Cleaner returns from Mexico, figures working at Walt’s car wash will allow him to still go by the name “Mike the Cleaner.”
- Skyler becomes a spokesperson for Pepsi Max, claims it tastes “exactly the same” as regular Pepsi.
- Walt starts to get paranoid when he realizes several characters on AMC shows have the exact same green Pontiac Aztec SUV.
- Jesse discovers the Meredith Brooks song “Bitch” and starts listening to it on continuous repeat (followed by a long obsession with Chris Brown’s “Yo”).
- Nobody bothers to point out that the Lily of the Valley revelation was an almost obnoxiously convoluted end to season 4.
- Everything ends up fine and all the characters live happily ever after.
GET EXCITED, PEOPLE.
I Have a Completely Rational Hatred for Mark Duplass
The fourth season of FX’s The League doesn’t premiere for a couple months yet, but that doesn’t mean its stars haven’t kept busy. Paul Scheer filmed a second season of Adult Swim’s NTSF:SD:SUV:: this spring. Nick Kroll is working on the Nick Show Kroll for Comedy Central. And Mark Duplass, the ostensible lead of The League, has no less than five movies coming out this summer, which is somewhat ridiculous.
I’ve always had problems with Duplass on The League. Considering the ensemble around him, he always felt like the odd man out. The show already has a much more relatable and sympathetic comic foil in Stephen Rannazzisi, yet Duplass’ acting style isn’t manic or bizarre enough to compete with Scheer, Kroll or Jon Lajoie. He has the demeanor of an everyman but works with material better suited for a more exaggerated character. In other words, he’s the one annoying aspect of an otherwise great show.
I’ve wondered if this was just a result of poor casting. Considering Mark Duplass is somewhat of an indie film darling, having served as a leading figure in the mumblecore movement, I thought it might just be that he didn’t really fit in with The League, which isn’t necessarily his fault. It could be a similar situation to that of former Parks and Recreation cast member Paul Schneider, the proto-normal guy who never really gelled with the rest of the ensemble (Adam Scott basically stepped into that same role when Schneider left the show and has proved a much better fit).
Until recently the only other work I had seen Duplass in was Lynn Shelton’s Humpday, a movie I thought was couldn’t quite handle its high concept plot, and I hadn’t seen any of his directorial efforts with his brother Jay Duplass. But this summer is making me feel that Duplass in general is just an overrated talent. His performance in Your Sister’s Sister, another Lynn Shelton movie, fell completely flat despite the fact that he was working with two actors in Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt who tonally should be a good match for him. Meanwhile, his work in the Aubrey Plaza-starring time travel comedy Safety Not Guaranteed runs into many of the same issues that hinder him in The League - he is given a character who is a bit extreme and out there, but Duplass just doesn’t seem capable of “out there” characters.
Conclusion: The League’s creators didn’t just screw up in casting Duplass. Duplass screwed up in being Duplass. If that makes any sense. Which it probably doesn’t.
Happy Independence Day, everyone.
(Text image via Alex Leo)