Breaking Bad

AMC

“Guess I got what I deserved.” Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” provided a fitting sendoff to arch criminal Walter White in the final scene of Vince Gilligan’s landmark television drama Breaking Bad. We guess that’s all the show had to say. All that remained was silence, and, honestly, a fairly formidable void. Where now would audiences go? What did we deserve? As far back as we can remember, crime films have been a staple of American cinema. From the roaring days of James Cagney and the Warner gangster movies to the golden age of Scorsese, it seemed evident that the one place crime almost always paid was at the theater. Still, when looking back over the year in film that was 2014, it can’t be denied that the genre took some rather interesting turns and indeed experienced an embarrassment of riches that would make Henry Hill’s Lufthansa heist seem like small potatoes.

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Sons of Anarchy

Spin-offs have been a part of television since the very beginning. These include not just those series that branched off from popular shows focusing on a favorite supporting character but also those that continued following the leads. The latter could be thought of as TV show sequels, like Archie Bunker’s Place. Prequels, however, have not been as big a part of television tradition. There were Saturday morning cartoons offering origins of live-action TV characters like Alf and the Muppets, as well as some jumping onto the “__ Babies” concept for classic animated series like Scooby-Doo and The Flintstones. Around the same time, ’80s drama Dallas got a legitimate prequel, but it was in the form of a TV movie. Outside of shows that were prequels to movies — a current trend in and of itself that has its roots in series like Freddy’s Nightmares (some of its episodes, anyway) and Young Indiana Jones Chronicles — the earliest American live-action spin-off of a live-action series to go backward in focus was probably Young Hercules, in which none other than Ryan Gosling portrayed the teenage version of Kevin Sorbo’s legendary hero for 50 episodes between 1998 and 1999. Unsurprisingly,  the Star Trek franchise eventually got into prequel territory with Enterprise. Later, another sci-fi series, Battlestar Galactica, tried it with the unsuccessful Caprica. 

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Saul and Walt in Breaking Bad

Saul Goodman’s solo spinoff series just added a new and increasingly complicated wrinkle. According to executive producer Peter Gould, via the Daily News, Better Call Saul will feature a “floating timeline.” As in, the series will take place before Breaking Bad. And during Breaking Bad. And after Breaking Bad. Whenever Gould wants it to be in any given episode. Considering the show was originally supposed to be set in the early ’80s, that means we’re getting at least four decades’ worth of Goodman’s rise to sleazy, inflatable power. Upon reading this, the brain’s first response should be “Cool, I guess.” This gives Better Call Saul an easy way to reunite the old Breaking Bad gang in scenes where they’re clearly older than the characters they’re supposed to be portraying (although the occasional Breaking Bad flashback already gave us that gift). More Bryan Cranston, more Dean Norris (maybe?), more Aaron Paul (nope, not so long as Aaron Paul is to be believed). And we’ll finally see Saul manage that Cinnabon in Omaha, which is worth the cost of the whole damn show.

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Better Call Saul

You might feel some apprehension about the Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul, but you know you’re going to watch it. When it finally arrives, that is. The show, which is to star Bob Odenkirk reprising his role as lawyer Saul Goodman, was supposed to debut on AMC this November. The bad news is that it’s been pushed back until early next year. The good news, though, is that the cable network is excited about what they’ve seen so far and have already renewed the series for a second season. The first will be 10 episodes, and the second, arriving early 2016, will add another 13. Vince Gilligan is directing the pilot and will share showrunning duties with Peter Gould, who created Goodman as a Breaking Bad writer in season 2 (the character’s debut episode was also called “Better Caul Saul”). Michael McKean, who was so great recently on HBO’s canceled Family Tree is also in the cast as another lawyer, and Jonathan Banks is reprising his role as Mike Ehrmantraut. Yes, it’s a prequel series.

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Breaking Bad

Throughout the month of April, Film School Rejects will be dedicating the bulk of our Sunday programming to a series we call “Movie Geek Self Improvement.” We’ve tasked our writers with finding ways to improve your life — from losing weight to restoring old VHS tape jackets — we want to help you get the most out of your pop culture obsessed existence. In this Golden Age of Television, and especially great serialized dramas, trying to catch-up on a show can sometimes feel like taking on a second job. That’s how my wife and I felt as the final season of Breaking Bad approached. We’d stopped watching around Season 2, and as the episodes piled up, getting back on-track seemed too daunting. But we found a solution. Now obviously, the morally superior approach is to binge-watch everything you’ve missed, but life and family commitments can make that impossible. Fans and even the show creators themselves will sometimes produce season recap videos. Those are great if you can find them, and if you’re willing to skip an entire season at a time. What if you just want to skip a few episodes and trim your overall load? How can you know which episodes to skip?

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TV Collage 2014

The agreement we make with a TV show is that we’ll spend time with it as long as its interesting, as long as we want to hang out with its characters. Beyond the one-shot that movies demand, TV shows require a thirty minute testing period or eleven hours if you like it. More if you get in deep. And who knows if your favorite show will last 10 seasons. We get devoted. But even a favorite show has the potential to lose its luster (or jump right over the shark), and we know when it happens — when to give up. Or we end up straggling along anyway, because we get devoted. So what would it take for you to give up on a favorite? What would a TV show have to do to get you to quit?

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Breaking Bad art by 100Sons

“I think Netflix kept us on the air.” Breaking Bad creator and executive producer Vince Gilligan said that in September at the Emmy Awards, referencing the struggles his show endured following its second season. On the same night that House of Cards became the first web-only show to win a Primetime Emmy award, Gilligan told Mashable that streaming services such as Netflix have ushered in a golden age of television, allowing audiences to consume their favorite shows at their own pace. His creation, the story of cancer-stricken chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and his former student/partner Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), now lives on Netflix in its entirety. As of Monday, one of modern television’s great dramas can be watched end-to-end on your favorite streaming device, on your schedule. As Mike once told Walter in season three, “No more half-measures.”

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Walter Blanco - Breaking Bad en Espanol

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golden-globes-statutes-1

The 71st Golden Globe Awards are happening now, and we’ve got all the winners for your reference. Don’t worry, no spoilers. We’re only finding out everything as it happens, and we’ll be updating this post throughout the big night. Keep checking in, especially if you’re not watching. But why aren’t you watching? It should be an entertaining show, not just because of hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, but because of the booze (ours and theirs). Also, nobody is sure what will win the Best Picture – Drama trophy, Gravity or 12 Years a Slave. It’s vital that we find out and we’ll be here for the ride towards finding out. Okay, let’s get to the winners. They’re the ones in bold below. Congrats to all, unless Breaking Bad wins. Nobody even likes that show, right? Just kidding, it better win this time.

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Gravity

Last year I took on the Golden Globes for the first time, did my research and made my assumptions, and my predictions wound up with only 9 out of 14 winners chosen correctly. This year I’m going more with my gut. I’m also going to have a try with the TV categories since we’ve been covering more and more of that stuff here at FSR. We’ll find out how well I do in my sophomore effort when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association holds its 71st Golden Globe Awards tomorrow night with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosting. You should join me then for as-it-happens updated coverage on this site. I’m not calling it a “live blog.” It’ll be more like a concurring review of the show and results. I can’t guarantee that my predictions are going to help you win any bets or pools, but I’ll offer a friendly wager with anyone who thinks they can beat my score. Gimme your best shot in the comments.

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Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 8.45.49 PM

What happens when you’re the loudmouth who spoils an episode of Breaking Bad for President Obama? Recently, The New York Times did an oddly in-depth piece on the viewing habits of the 44th President of the United States, and though I’m disappointed he’s not working his way though the Mystery Science Theater 3000: 25th Anniversary Edition box set, as everyone should be, his list of series he’s keenly interested in is a solid one nonetheless.  Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad is a series the president is late to the game on, where, as noted above, there appears to be a standing order not to spoil his early entry into the world of Walter White. On the opposite end of that spectrum, the entire Obama clan likes to catch episodes of Modern Family and NBC’s Parks and Recreation, thought the president himself has noted that his alone-time viewing habits tend to go a bit darker. Political thriller Homeland, led by Claire Danes’ oft upset and cry-faced CIA operative Carrie Mathison, political drama House of Cards, of which Obama was invited to cameo by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, fall under his must-watch list. I’ll leave other journalists to pick apart any subtle associations between Mr. Obama’s viewing habits and his current occupation. Also, the guy loves HBO’s The Wire, calling it “one of the greatest shows of all time,” which is fine, and pretty standard. Like, I’m almost certain it’s a requirement for sealing the Presidential deal, like taking the oath of office.

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2013review_tvshows

According to the kind of people who are prone to make such pronouncements, the Golden Age of Television ended this year with the series finale of Breaking Bad. But with more quality television on the air today than is humanly possible to watch, I don’t see how that could possibly be true.  The one big observation about the TV landscape this year that I’d like to make is that there finally seems to be a preponderance of shows about women, a much-needed correction to the masculinity-obsessed, anti-hero shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad. I love and admire all of those shows, but I’m glad to see that the new opportunities for original programming that the proliferation of cable and now Netflix and Amazon offers has resulted in more stories about women. Without further ado, my picks for the 13 best shows of 2013:

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Breaking Bad

That sound you heard coming from your computer, your phone, your tablet, your whosiwhatsit, and your web-enabled whatever over this weekend was the collective noise kicked up by the Internet as it broke, and broke in the best way possible – from joy! While television’s beloved Breaking Bad ended earlier this year, AMC’s game-changing series still has plenty of treats to offer its loyal fans, even if one of them leaked a touch too early on the interwebs. Fans of the Bryan Cranston-starring show have long toyed with a good-natured “theory” that the end of Breaking Bad would lead into the beginning of Cranston’s other well-known series, Malcolm in the Middle, with his Walter White going underground before turning into Malcolm’s dearly dysfunctional dad Hal. It was certainly a fun idea, if not a totally improbable one, but it seems as if the team behind Breaking Bad took it to heart, filming a jokey alternate ending to the series that sees Cranston reprising his Hal role, alongside Malcolm wife Jane Kaczmarek, and firmly nodding to the fan theory. It’s very funny and very clever – and it’s also very satisfying, and not just because it’s amusing.

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Breaking Bad

Spoiler Warning for all both of you who haven’t yet seen Breaking Bad‘s finale. There’s something a little bit curious about a series that gave us one of cable’s most definitive male anti-heroes seeking absolute resolution and closure upon its final hour. But that’s exactly what Breaking Bad did Sunday night, with Vince Gilligan repeatedly pronouncing The Sopranos’ ambiguous ending as its prototype-for-opposition. It’s telling that, amongst all the finales of comparably beloved 21st century cable dramas, Gilligan steered the conversation about the end of Walter White so directly through the terms of David Chase’s game-changer. Sure, both shows have clear points of comparison, as each are violent, regionally specific contemporary tales of a paterfamilias’ less-than-legitimate business tooled toward the visage of a “normal” domestic life, and both shows carried some debated expectations that their respective underworld kingpins would find their demise by the last musical cue (be it provided by Bad Finger or Journey). But more appropriately, these two shows can be seen as bookends to the same greater phenomenon: the golden age of cable’s repeated focus on male anti-heroes to drive their narratives. As many have noted, this trope has brought us some great – or, at least, compelling – shows, but now with the calculated (and certain) death of one of its most celebrated manifestations, it’s time to give this trope a rest and see what else television can do.

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Breaking Bad Pilot Script

The first vision of Heisenberg comes within the first ten pages of Vince Gilligan‘s pilot script. That’s how gracefully orchestrated Breaking Bad is. First we’re introduced to Underpants, then we get an Lester Burnham redux of suburban ennui through the failed masturbatory morning of a bland white guy who’s exhausted by The American Dream, and then we get the first whiffs of Falling Down as Walter White airballs his Stand and Deliver moment. Leaving a petulant classroom behind, something magical happens: the show drifts Noir for just a minute, and we get to see Heisenberg — all the evil that Walt will become — banging his fist behind a glint in the chemistry teacher’s eye. (Spoilers for Breaking Bad at the end of this post. You’re safe through the video, though.)

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Breaking Bad Finale

The fifth season of Breaking Bad was all about anti-climax. That sounds bad, since we tend to think of climaxes as the best part of, ahem, several different things, and whatever comes after as an inevitable letdown. But after Season Four — wherein Walt engineered Gus Fring’s demise — the series lost its epic ambitions. Again, that’s not a bad thing. The fifth season demonstrated the impossibility of Walt’s transition back to civilian life. Once he’d gotten blood on his hands, he couldn’t wash it off. The question of how to live with stubbornly dirty hands drove this last season. It was an anti-climax that showed how difficult, complicated, and satisfying anti-climaxes can be. (This season’s climax, of course, was “Ozymandias.”) “Felina,” written and directed by Vince Gilligan, was the anticlimactic finale to an anticlimactic final season. It was also an extremely fitting one for the series. It showed Walter White, who made a (rather infamous) name for himself by producing the Southwest’s best crank and outsmarted his many, many enemies through his extreme methodicalness, closing up all the loose ends in his life. “Felina” was about Walter settling accounts: with Skyler, his children, Hank and Marie (in a way), Elliot and Gretchen, the Nazis, and, of course, Jesse. The machine gun he had in his trunk added just enough ambiguous tension throughout the episode to keep it from being a straightforward “Walter White visits his past” storyline. It also allowed to Gilligan showcase the chief strengths of the episode: its micro-detail-oriented plotting (the ricin!), its stomach-churning suspense (Walter framed like […]

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Breaking Bad Poster

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The Bridge

Here’s one of my pet peeves: critics describing the setting of a TV show or film as a “character,” the way Manhattan was routinely called a “fifth character” in Sex and the City. Describing a location as a “character” is supposed to be a compliment — it means the writers, set designers, and directors have done their job of building a convincing world — but to me it usually just sounds like a disparagement of TV shows and films that don’t bother to feature a unique background. The current “golden age of television,” which dawned after a conspicuous New Yorkification and Californization of the TV landscape in the 1990s, has largely taken place outside of the five boroughs and the Golden State. The Sopranos, the herald of the prestige cable drama era, took place in northern New Jersey — geographically close but culturally far from the big city. Breaking Bad has achieved brilliant cinematography in New Mexico, while The Wire and Friday Night Lights accomplished in-depth explorations of why Baltimore and the fictional town of Dillon, Texas, are the way they are. Justified gets great mileage out of its unique and detailed portrayal of Harlan County. All the above shows were filmed on location — enriching TV as a visual medium. Even Mad Men, The Shield, and Sex and the City, which do take place in America’s two cultural capitals, have grander ambitions regarding their settings. The action in those shows takes place mostly in relatively small neighborhoods of their respective cities. Thus, Don Draper’s Manhattan isn’t Jerry Seinfeld’s. Vic Mackey’s LA isn’t even in the same universe as Beverly Hills, […]

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Mad Men Split Season

This past week, AMC announced that it will split Mad Men’s seventh and final season into two 7-episode increments to air in 2014 and 2015, similarly to the way that Breaking Bad has been careening to its much anticipated yet seemingly breathless finale. On the one hand, this represents a business move that exists anywhere between shrewd and shameless, but one that is unlikely to anger fans who would be happy to follow Don and Roger well into the disco era, even if they’re ultimately only getting one extra episode as a result of the wait. But the decision has convincingly been perceived as an act of desperation on behalf of a network whose two brand-making critical darlings of original programming will soon see their end, with no surefire successor to take their place (perhaps Low Winter Sun should create a crossover story with The Killing). But what I find most striking about this decision is the fact that, perhaps more so than any recent quality cable show, Mad Men has done of great deal of work to identify itself through – and, in the process, help to define – what a television season means in the age of binge-viewing. By separating each season by discrete gaps in the historical procession of time, Mad Men has overtly defined each of its seasons as characterized through changes in its characters’ associations, lives, relationships, locations, business affiliations, etc. So, will each “part” of Mad Men’s final season take place in a separate […]

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Batman Breaking Bad

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published: 12.23.2014
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published: 12.22.2014
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published: 12.19.2014
A-


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