The best week of TV this year (so far) begins Sunday, starting with the return of Breaking Bad
, followed Monday by United States of Tara
and Nurse Jackie
- three truly accomplished series that offer compelling writing and superb acting.
Let's catch up:
10 p.m. Sundays
Previously on Breaking Bad
: Chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston), diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and realizing he has nothing to leave his family, joins up with a former student, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), to cook and distribute methamphetamine. Drug dealing being a dangerous business, the pair encounters serious complications with Mexican druglords, Jesse becomes a heroin addict, Walter discovers that he likes being in harm's way and Walter's wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), begins to uncover what her husband is up to.
This season: The first episode of the show's third season is called "No Mas," and that sums up most everyone's situation. Walter decides not to cook anymore, Jesse exits rehab and Skyler wants nothing more to do with her husband. The Mexicans also play a major role in this drama, but no spoilers will be revealed here. Just watch it unfold.
Why watch: The acting is pitch-perfect - particularly Cranston, who looks completely worn down. He plays Walter with a Zen-like calmness that's so staggeringly realistic, you can feel his pain. Also, the stories have an edge-of-the-seat quality and the show is well produced. Notice how quiet Breaking Bad
is most of the time. No music to increase the drama, little ambient noise. All the focus is on what's being done and said. That's dramatic enough.
Something extra: Before Breaking Bad
, we knew Bryan Cranston for comedy (Seinfeld
, Malcolm in the Middle
). I asked him whether we should have known he was such a talented dramatic actor. "Why, yes," he said. Then he got serious. "The only thing actors ever really want: Just give me opportunity. That's all. ... But I made a conscious choice that I was not going to do anymore comedy after Malcolm
unless it was significantly different from that character and that construct."
10 p.m. Mondays
Previously on Nurse Jackie
: Jackie (Edie Falco) plays a wife, mother and nurse with a drug habit who works at a hospital where she's having an affair with a coworker and battling to be an advocate for the patients. At the end of last season, Jackie's work-time lover, Eddie (Paul Schulze), found out about her family.
This season: Jackie continues to try to hold things together, but Eddie makes her life uncomfortable in two opposite but equally frightening ways. Coop (her doctor-nemesis, played by Peter Facinelli) becomes even more annoying and Jackie's older daughter's fears bubble to the surface more frequently. There's also a new male nurse who's pretty sure Jackie needs to go to Narcotics Anonymous.
Why watch: Jackie is a more intriguing central character than you'll find on almost any hospital show, and her relationship with Eddie is both dangerous and strange. The show has more than a few laughs (it's labeled a dark comedy), and this season offers some insight into medical ethics and the health-care system. Plus, Merritt Wever, who plays newbie nurse Zoey Barkow, is a joy. She's awkward and funny and a great protégé for Jackie.
United States of Tara
10:30 p.m. Mondays
Previously on United States of Tara
: Suburban housewife Tara Gregson (Toni Collette) deals with her multiple-personality disorder while her ever-patient husband, Max (John Corbett), children Kate (Brie Larson) and Marshall (Keir Gilchrist) and sister Charmaine (Rosemarie DeWitt) deal with her. At the end of the first season, Tara resumed taking her meds, and life was supposed to be normal.
This season: Normal? No. Even on the meds, Tara finds herself turning into redneck trucker Buck and romancing a female bartender. Then she adds a new alter ego - a psychiatrist - to her repertoire. Meanwhile, Kate gets a job as a bill collector, Marshall gets a girlfriend of sorts (which is a feat, considering he's gay), Max buys a house and loses patience, and Charmaine finds Mr. Mostly Right.
Why watch: Collette slips into her alter egos with extraordinary ease, and the rest of the characters are just as fascinated/astounded/horrified as we are. Plus, this season delves deeper into her psychosis, which gives them (and us) a better understanding of what's happening to Tara and why.
Something extra: Corbett is forever playing the put-upon guy, whether it's on this show, as Carrie's boyfriend on Sex and the City
- even, to a certain extent, on Northern Exposure
. I asked him if he likes that role. "When I started as an actor in 1983, I had a great acting teacher who said, 'Just be happy anybody wants to employ you, if you ever get lucky enough to get employed.' And I've always had that outlook. I'm just thrilled to keep my SAG (Screen Actors Guild) dues up and my insurance and that I get to be on somebody's set somewhere, sometime."