The Hour I Broke Bad, Parade Ended and Friday Night Lights shone in the Newsroom: all the TV I loved this year – part I
I wrote about My Favourite TV Series Ever here, in July 2011, and to this day it remains one of the more popular posts. Since then I have added to the list, and as I am sometimes asked for recommendations, here is the first part of my post about what I loved in the last year or so, starting from the most recent addiction, and working backwards. WARNING: contains spoilers, and (tasteful) male nudity.
1. Breaking Bad
Despite being a TV series junkie (albeit a discerning one) and something of an early adopter (I was rhapsodising about Danish series Forbrydelsen aka The Killing, Danish/Swedish Broen/Bron aka The Bridge, and Borgen, before the normally subtitle -phobic middle England discovered their delights*), I’ve resisted the siren call of Breaking Bad until, incredibly, this month. I certainly won’t be the first to remark on the irony of how habit -forming BB is: you get hooked on it after just a few hits, I mean, episodes. I dabbled in the first season almost a year ago, but was then discouraged by The Other Half, who pronounced it “too dark” at the time – happily, he is now a convert, though not as zealous as I am. Like so many fans, he is not fond of Skyler, whereas I have a lot of sympathy for Anna Gunn’s character. Skyler is acutely aware of being manipulated by Walt, and has enough moral fibre to be repelled by her own complicity, yet ultimately abandons her principles not just to protect the children, but also herself. Self-preservation is a less noble motivation than Walter’s initial desire to provide for others, which is one of the reasons why there is little love lost for Skyler. That she has so many haters seems particularly unfair, sexist even, given that as the story progresses, so grows Walt’s self-interest, and cooking meth becomes less of a way of securing a better future for others, and more about those qualities most associated with masculinity: control and power. It is Walt’s transformation from the emasculated, harassed chemistry teacher and meek everyman, into a resourceful, ruthless and rich antihero that resonates with many fans, who root for him, even as they grudgingly admit to disliking him. At the same time, his journey from hero to (moral) zero is mirrored by Jesse’s, who starts off as a shallow layabout and junkie but becomes a more complex and emotionally intelligent character, unafraid to face the consequences of his actions. Speaking of consequences – the major strength of the show is how its creators and writers manage to avoid making simplistic, instant-karma-is-gonna-get-you statements about the universal law that rules our existence: that no matter how small the action, it will affect us and those around us. People might not get caught, the wrongdoing might go unpunished, and, just like in real life, there is no justice, but all the characters do suffer the consequences of their decisions. This is often illustrated by the masterful, cinematographic photography and lighting, as well as clothes. Have you noticed that even though Walt always wears a middle-aged man’s uniform (slacks, shirt, driving jacket), he wears light-coloured, beige-y version as the chemistry teacher and paterfamilias, switching to a much darker one when moonlighting as the meth manufacturer Heisenberg? And what’s with Maria’s obsession with purple? I suspect the writers modelled her on the kind of woman who, having had “her colours done”, is obsessed with always wearing the right colours, and that it reflects her preoccupation with the superficial and lack of inner life.
The best thing then about Breaking Bad is how well it works as a morality tale and conveys the truth of our lives: that there is no karma and that both bad AND good things happen to bad people. What goes around might come around, but often not in the way that would satisfy human yearning for justice. It amazes me that even highly educated, non -religious people cling to the idea that karma exists – to believe in it is essentially the same as believing in divine justice, but calling it “karma” makes it sound more progressive.
Breaking Bad is not my no 1 Best Series Ever – that honour goes to the masterpiece that is The Wire, BB’s moral depth being slightly less…deep – but it is in the Top 3.
2. Now for something completely different: Friday Night Lights, which is a warm cashmere blanket of a series, with added eye candy.
If 2 years ago somebody told me that I’d stay up late watching a show revolving around American football-playing teens, set in a fictional and rather parochial town in Texas, I’d be rolling my eyes behind their back. And yet, an article in the Sunday Times convinced me to give it a go and I’m very glad that I did (it is one more proof that professional criticism is worth paying for, well – all good journalism). First of all – the trials and tribulations experienced by the main characters, including all the teenage characters, are universal. Secondly, the marriage at the heart of the series, that of High School Football Coach Eric Taylor and High School Councillor Tami Taylor’s, has been voted The Best TV Marriage in the history of American TV, and I wholeheartedly agree.
It is really difficult to believe the actors, Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, are not married in real life, their bond is so strong and the closeness feels so authentic – I suppose it is a testament to Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler’s acting abilities. And Tami Taylor! – a major, major girl (woman) crush. It is so good to see a female character with integrity, a person who is intelligent, strong, true to herself, as well as nurturing, caring and kind – we have nowhere near enough female characters like that (see Skyler and Marie from BB). The fact that at 40-something she is naturally beautiful, with a forehead that wrinkles, and enviable hair that has acquired nearly iconic status all of its own (if you type “Tami Taylor” into Pinterest, it helpfully suggests “Tami Taylor’s hair”) doesn’t make her less real. You totally believe that she and her equally kind and likeable husband are a real couple, and you wish you had them as friends and neighbours.
There are 5 seasons – don’t be put off by the dip in quality it suffers from in the 2nd season, it goes back to being first-rate for the next 3 – and it is a shame that this series is not as highly regarded in the UK as it should be. It deserves a much bigger audience, but at least it launched the careers of several of the main actors: Kyle Chandler’s, Connie Britton’s and especially the stupidly handsome (and tall!) Taylor Kitsch’s, who is also a great actor.
*Bearing in mind the unconverted, stubborn subtitle -haters, ITV promptly lifted the elements that made Danish crime series so successful: lighting, music, pace and plotting, wholesale, and made crime series called Broadchurch. There will now also be a British/French version of Danish/Swedish Broen/Bron, called The Canal. Americans just remake everything.
In part II, I will write about The Hour, Parade’s End and The Newsroom. What are your TV favourites?
- An Ode To Connie Britton, On Her Special Night (refinery29.com)