Sunday, January 13, 2013

It's all just a little too real.

Since giving up the luxury of cable TV, I have had the distinct disadvantage* of not knowing anything about popular shows. I've been subsisting off of Netflix, Project Free TV, and the occasional jaunt to the big city (aka my parents' house, where cable runs freely all day like the unbridled hussy it is). Recently, Three saw "Breaking Bad" on the instant queue and was intrigued.

Well, to be honest, he was like, "Wait, is that the dad from 'Malcolm in the Middle?'" and was further interested when I explained it was about a high school chemistry teacher, Walter White, who decides to start producing meth with a former student. My encouragement - of what essentially amounted to, "Well, lots of people on the internet think it's awesome" - started him on a marathon** of a guy's path to drug kingpinage.

After about the end of the first season, I was nearing my end of tolerance for the sheer amount of depravity in the show. I couldn't stand any of the characters, from Walt, the main guy we're supposed to feel bad for, and down to the dumbasses that deal out this meth perfection. Jesse, the village idiot and Walt's partner-ish-in-crime, shows some moments that make him endearing***, but then he goes back to being himself and I'm back into apathy central.
One day, after a particularly difficult series of episodes (and once the husband had gone to work), I was desperately ready for a palate cleanser. I went through my collection of regulars: "Friends," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and "Cheers;" but nothing seemed to click. Then I saw season one of "Miami Vice."

Now, I know what you're thinking. I'm just watching the flip side of the same coin, right? But see, this is the difference between 80s TV and its current incarnation. What was considered gritty back then is nearly cringe-worthy in its attempt now, but I found myself oddly elated at the simplicity and downright stupidity of some of the plots. Like, somehow, even though he'd lied about who he was and forged paperwork to get transferred from NYPD to Miami as a "liaison" or something, Tubbs was able to get a fucking job as a police officer and furthermore assigned to vice because of a drug bust that actually ended up in the release of the drug lord who fled the country after making bond? I mean, it makes absolutely no logical sense, but whatever. Just face it: you didn't watch the show for a factual representation of police work and great acting. You watched it for the boobs, butts, and explosions. Oh, and Sonny's five o'clock shadow and wicker shoes.
And I think that's kind of why watching too much of "Breaking Bad" gets me in a weird headspace. It's not that I don't enjoy a good, tragic downfall story. But there wasn't that much for Walt to downfall to. His wife is a complete bitch; his brother- and sister-in-law are laborious and stupid; his job as a teacher leaves him unable to pay the bills so he takes a second job (which he subsequently quits in an epic showing of castrated-male rage) at a car wash; he gets diagnosed with lung cancer. I mean, really? You are witnessing the gradual de-evolution of a somewhat average, if not discontent (and dying), middle-aged man into something of an emotionless machine that would have killed that first drug dealer he dealt with in the first season without a second thought to his humanity. And yes, "Miami Vice" did have its share of drug dealers and criminals, but there was a campiness to them that brought you back to this idea that, yes, indeed you were watching fiction. I mean, take Noogie and Izzy from "Miami Vice." There is no way in hell that either of those two would have been much, if any, help to Crockett and Tubbs, but they were fun characters. There aren't any of those in "Breaking Bad." None. I've looked. It's kind of like when Three stopped watching "Battlestar Galactica" for a while because, in his words, things just kept getting worse and, right when you thought there was some light, it just went darker. And based on what I've read about further into "Breaking Bad," it definitely does not get any better.

It's all just a little too real. To paraphrase a horrible movie, Walt is going down a path I just cannot follow. I cannot watch the rest of the already-released series; I will not watch the series to-be-aired final episodes. In "Miami Vice," Sonny is involved in an explosion and, because of the resulting concussion or something, thinks that he is his criminal undercover identity. He does some nasty things; Julia Roberts guest stars. But there's the light at the end of the tunnel, you know? You understand that he's going to return to duty as a police officer and that there will probably be consequences****, but ultimately, we'll be back to Sonny fighting to save the souls of Miami's underworld.
I'm not sure which one is Tubbs and which one is Sonny.
For Christmas, my parents got me the BluRay edition of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, and I was watching the appendices with their behind-the-scenes fun. One of the writers, Phillipa Boyens, was discussing some of the lines spoken by Sam in "The Two Towers," when he's trying to convince Frodo to go on.
"By rights, we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much had happened? But, in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out all the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you ... Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going because they were holding on to something ... That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it's worth fighting for."
I don't have some naive view that all stories end happily. Hell, most of the time in real life, they end in a mediocre way, if at all. And I don't need a happy ending to consider a story satisfyingly concluded. I would have been stoked if the writers of "Battlestar Galactica" had ended the series with them finding out that Earth was destroyed and now they must just start again, instead of the ending we got. Dismal with a dash of hope. But I need to be in the right mood for that sort of thing. Most of the time, I want a story that ends on a happy note to let us know that the journey, the pain, the self-doubt, etc. was all worth the trouble. Otherwise you end up like me after the episode where [spoiler alert for the season that's already several years old now] Walt just watches Jesse's heroin addict girlfriend asphyxiate on her own vomit:
Actual quote.
So now I'm looking for another TV show for Three and me to watch that doesn't make me want to stab everyone, including myself. I'm not sure how successful I'll be, although I'm leaning heavily toward "Fringe" or "New Girl." At this point, my main criteria is that I like at least one of the characters, but that would actually include Revolution (Billy Burke!), which has turned out to be a giant disappointment of a show.

Le sigh.

* Or some may say advantage. It depends on the day, really, as to how I feel about this. Any reality show makes me facepalm and wish for the days where our entertainment came from a local modestly-dressed girl singing a tune at a stodgy party among neighbors. Then there are times when I really, really want to see a new series that had a really intriguing teaser trailer.
** The last show he did this on was "Revenge," which had him enraptured until about the middle part of the first season. And then he went all side-eye and said, "Fuck this, I'm not watching a prime time soap opera. I'm going to be watching a TedTalks."
*** My favorite scene is when they are out in a desert with a non-functioning vehicle and no water, both due to Jesse being a complete moron, and Walt is going over possible scenarios. Jesse is all, "You're smart! Build a battery! BUILD A ROBOT!" And when Walt has a little light bulb pop up over his head, Jesse says, "You're going to make a robot?" I had to pause the show to laugh because the actor just plays that scene beautifully.
**** Not real consequences. Or at least, not consequences that last more than, like, two episodes.
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