Breaking Bad is Hard To Do (But So Worth It)

Oh god, I didn’t mean to start watching so late…

It’s not that I just discovered Breaking Bad. It’s really not that. After all, there is really no way to escape hearing about it, especially when one is in the entertainment industry. But I have to confess it, now, at the beginning: I just finished season one.

We all have our reasons for putting off watching TV shows we want to eventually get to someday, when we have All The Time Ever To Just Watch TV (read: never).   There are plenty of excuses – I’m sure you have your own version of the “I’m too busy to watch every show I want to watch, it’s already the second season, and anyway I hate cliffhangers because when I was a child the monstrous suspense of The X-Files scarred me for life, so I don’t think I can handle it.”  Whatever your less-nerdy version of that is, substitute here.

For those of us who really love television, before watching even an episode of a show there must be careful consideration of the future. After all, picking up a show is a bit like a new relationship: you think about it constantly, speculate almost non-stop about what might happen next to anyone who will listen, and you hope it will never end.

And great shows, like Breaking Bad, are for me the television equivalent of meeting a six-foot-two ruggedly handsome Australian man who reads Kafka and plays the violin. I don’t ever want to leave them.

I don’t ever want to leave you!

And then the pants fly up in the air, and I’m hooked (I’m talking about Breaking Bad again, not Russell Crowe’s musical doppelganger). From the first shot of the pilot – throw out those oft-watched seasons two and three of The West Wing. I could probably write the scripts from memory anyway!

Here’s the bad news:  I’m rapidly losing ground.

And there is nowhere I can go where people are not taking about Breaking Bad! My friend’s going away party featured predominantly an entire circle of people who are dying to talk about the show. Oh no. I’m That Girl. I’m That Girl that will stop you from talking about Breaking Bad, even though it’s the only thing you have in common with the guy you just met, because I refuse to have the future of the show spoiled for me.  That’s the measure of the deep and abiding love I have for television.

Here’s another ugly confession: I hate thinking of all the millions of people in the world who know so much about Walter and Jesse and Skyler than I do. In fact, I just hate them. I hate everyone who has watched seasons 2-4 of Breaking Bad. I probably hate you!

I don’t hate you. You were smarter than me, and jumped on the bandwagon in an appropriate fashion. Just PLEASE, I beg you, on behalf of those slower than you, just don’t, don’t, don’t tell me what happens next. 

Help Me, Harmon (Um, That Would Be Dan, Not Mark)

by ladyfan

 

When NBC announced Dan Harmon’s departure from the show Community, a shock wave echoed across the Internet – at least in the households of the shows’ fans, many of whom, in addition to watching the show, religiously follow Harmon’s tumblr (whose entries are often geared toward them) and Twitter. There was an immediate backlash from these folks, who considered Harmon synonymous with the show’s success – and it revealed an interesting trend that’s emerging in TV culture right now.

In the age of instant communication, a new relationship is developing between show creators and the fans who love the shows they make. There’s unprecedent access to the writers themselves, through blogs, articles, and social media like Twitter, creating a fan community not just invested in the characters and actors in the show, but to the person behind the show.

Harmon has used this to his advantage during his tenure as showrunner, utilizing his blog as a way to reflect on episodes, address controversies that come up, and write the occasional mea culpa, explaining to fans why this or that decision was made. He often did so against the wishes of NBC executives and/or the PR department (or so he claimed), which, while thrilling to fans, most likely did him no favors with the Powers That Be.

Rule 1 of TV writing-producing: When the showrunner & the star don’t get along, it’s always the star who stays

There has been a lot of talk about how long Community will survive in the wake of Harmon’s exit: its certainly been given a less than auspicious time slot for the upcoming season – and that following a third season essentially willed into existence by loud fan community. However, Harmon, while a driving force behind the show, was certainly not the only writer who filled out the contours of Greendale’s halls. In a recent Comic Con panel, some of the writing team attested to their own commitment to keeping the show great – although their statements about being great fans of the show as it has been were less than encouraging (after all, it takes more than liking something to do it well).

Ultimately, it remains to be seen what impact Harmon’s exit will have on the innovative, dense writing that’s a hallmark of the first three seasons. It will be interesting to see how the show does, and perhaps give us insight into how the cults of personality surrounding show creators will play into the success of the shows they write (especially given that Harmon has moved on two at least two new projects already).

RTD v. Moffat (Not Necessarily a Battle to the Death)

by ladyfan

As the media salivates over the ucoming season 7 of Doctor Who, lauding Steven Moffat’s work on both it and Sherlock, there seems to be a good deal of jumping over the four seasons that actually brought Doctor Who back to life. Yes, we speak (reverentially) of what will surely in the future be known as the Russell T. Davies Dynasty (for you non Who-vians, the RTD Dynasty = Season 1-4 of new Who). Although Moffat was a freelancer on the show before his upgrade to showrunner, the voice and tone of the first four seasons is unquestionably Davies’.

The excellent and painfully truthful book about TV writing he’s co-written with Benjamin Cook reveals just how involved Davies was in the episode-to-episode process of the show – and while we wonder about how he was ever able to sleep (ever) we admire the unity of tone and carefully crafted subtle plot arcs that span from season to season each year. Bad Wolf? Torchwood? Harry Saxon? There is always a little extra credit for paying attention to the details (and if you’re an extra super nerd, like we are, watching the episode that fourth or fifth time illuminated that one reference we missed the first four times. It did! And it was worth it!)

Now that the show is in Moffat’s hands, it’s very clear there is an essential difference in the way Davies and Moffatt have approached their respective tenures. If you currently watch Sherlock and Doctor Who, you know that Moffat is a flash magician of a writer – a fan of nail-biting suspense, jump cuts, and as much action-packed plot as you can stand.

Watching a Moffat season is like watching someone build an incredibly complicated Jenga tower out of aliens and inexplicable mysteries and hoping when it’s built they can step back and admire it instead of wincing as it all falls down around them. What he achieves is the creation of a world where characters are secondary to the magnificence of story and scenery – he often involves characters’ personal lives in the service of a greater plot. (Amy and Rory being the most notable examples).

Davies, on the other hand, rooted his seasons philosophically in this notion of unlimited human potential: his companions, over and over again, are lifted out of ordinary and often unpromising lives: Rose, the shopgirl who lives with her mother at the council estates, Martha, the medical student with the troubled family, Donna, the unfortunate temp, and even Wilfred, the UFO nut stumbling upon real aliens for the first time. The characters that populate Davies’ Doctor Who all have blinders on, even his Doctors, and the journey of the show is watching each character realize more fully who they are and what they are capable of, both good and evil.

The true lesson of watching the show pass from the hands of one to the other has more to do with the resilience of the Doctor Who mythology and the remarkable way the show, like the Doctor, can regenerate within itself (Cheesy? Yes! But true!). There are diehard fans of both Moffat and Davies who would defend until their last breath each approach to the show: and that says more about Doctor Who and the kind of fandom the concept inspires than it does about any particular color – or actor – within the show itself.