Sundays, 10 p.m.
The opening scene of a panicked Bryan Cranston driving a runaway Winnebago across a desert road while wearing nothing but a gas mask and a pair of tighty whities should be enough to get you to watch AMC’s new series, “Breaking Bad.” What will keep you coming back — what hooked me — is its central story, which is about the choices people make in times of desperation.
Cranston plays Walter White, a meek, 50-year-old high school chemistry teacher who suffers one indignity after another. He has less than $7,000 to his name and a career that pays so little that he’s forced to hold down a second job working at a car wash. His wife’s idea of nookie is to give him a hand job while she’s selling stuff on eBay.
So when Walter’s chronic cough finally gets the best of him and he’s diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, this former straight arrow opts for a big score: He decides to profit from his chemistry knowledge by joining up with a former student, Jesse Pinkman (played by Aaron Paul), to cook methamphetamine.
What happens from here will be the basis for “Breaking Bad,” whose title is slang for defying authority.
I’ve seen this show called a black comedy, and maybe it will become one. But I didn’t find anything comic in the pilot episode, which is one reason I liked it so much. Cranston plays White as a completely beaten man. His blank face, his slumped posture — even the excess fat around his midsection — suggests a man who’s waiting to die. We’re witnessing his awakening. He’s finished being a little man.
If only AMC had found similar cojones. But no, it edits out a couple of profanities and blurs a pair of naked breasts. How silly. These guys live in a highly dangerous world, and if we’re watching them, it stands to reason that we can handle some cursing and nudity.
Still, even if we have to make do with a PG-13 version of this world, we still get a terrific show. Creator/writer Vince Gilligan, a former “X Files” writer, gives us a realistic man who wants to do better for himself, his wife (played by Anna Gunn) and his special-needs son. He has nothing left to lose, and that’s an appealing position for a television character to be in. Can’t wait to see where they take it next.