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Breaking Bad, the Complete First Season

Two discs; Sony Pictures; $39.95

By Michael S Gant

The Emmy-winning AMC series Breaking Bad just returned for a second full season, which makes this a good time to catch up on the strangely abbreviated first season of only seven episodes. In a darker version of Weeds, a sad-sack middle-aged high school chemistry teacher, Walter White (Bryan Cranston), learns that he has an advanced case of cancer. Worried about medical bills and supporting his family (his younger wife is pregnant with their second child), he connects with Jesse, one of his ex-students, to start a crystal-meth lab; Walt will provide the high-end chemical expertise, while Jesse scores pseudoephedrine and moves product. Many mishaps lie in the path of the would-be drug kingpin: his brother-in-law is a drug-enforcement cop; his chemo treatment leaves him retching at inconvenient times; his friends and loved ones, worried by his unexplained absences, stage an intervention. The show lurches wildly between high gallows humor and moments of intense suffering and personal humiliation. As one point, Walt even finds himself justifying a hands-on murder—a moment of moral travail that the show then glosses over. Cranston, most famous as the dad on Malcolm in the Middle (although Seinfeld fans prefer him as Dr. Tim Whatley, Jerry's dentist), never misses a chance to push over the top in his performance. At times, the anguish of this woefully beset family man achieves a Job—like grandeur; at others, he is left mugging wildly and running around in his tighty whities. The real winner is Aaron Paul, who plays Jesse. Paul is extremely funny as the slacker meth user/pusher with a bit of a nasal whine. The disc comes with a varied of interviews and behind-the-scenes material.

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