It’s back and it’s badder than ever. Breaking Bad began its run of its final 16 episodes (the first half of season 5 runs this summer, the concluding 8 will air in 2013). And any concerns that the show might downshift in the absence of chilling bad guy Gus Fring (the amazing Giancarlo Esposito) were quickly put to rest.
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After a signature Breaking Bad opening that sees Walt (Bryan Cranston) at some point in the future (he has a full head of hair) making a gun deal in a Denny’s, the story picks up following Gus Fring’s death. Walt and Jessie (Aaron Paul) form an uneasy alliance with hitman Mike (Jonathan Banks) and quickly concoct a scheme to destroy the remaining evidence of Gus’ drug ring that would implicate them. Before you can say “Magnets Bitches!” the makings of the new criminal organization has been cemented.
Of course, Breaking Bad’s riveting criminal story is only a part of what makes it the best show on television, and the continuing de-evolution of Walter White’s humanity was prevalent. Skyler (Anna Gunn) knows he blew up a nursing home to get rid of Gus, and the idea has both deepened her involvement in the criminal conspiracy and increased her fear of what Walter has become.
There is no telling just where this story will go and how it will end, but Vince Gilligan has never let us down, not at any moment in this show’s history, one thing is certain: the remaining 15 hours of Breaking Bad will further enshrine it as one of the most original, compelling and finely made dramas in the history of television. I plan on enjoying the ride.
USA NETWORKwent to a lot of trouble to position Elaine Barish (Sigourney Weaver), the central character in its political drama mini series Political Animals as a not-very-thinly veiled portrayal of Hillary Clinton. Elaine is a former first lady, with a philandering southern ex-president husband (Ciaran Hinds), who then started her own political career in a big state, and made an unsuccessful run for president before accepting the position of Secretary of State. Oh yeah, and people love the husband but find her cold and off-putting. They stopped just short of making her a big Cubs fan, settling for having her be Governor of Illinois. And if Political Animals had picked up the baton from there and attempted to tell a fictionalized Clinton-story, leaving us to compare it to, say, Primary Colors, I’d have panned it from here to next week.
I need to stop here and confess that I am a HUGE Hillary Clinton fan, and I wish like hell she had been elected president in 2008. My problem with Political Animals’ Clintonization is that it makes no effort to actually work as a bio-pic, instead capitalizing on the sensational elements of the Clintons’ story and thus creating a sort of half-true mythology that just doesn’t register. Primary Colors may or may not have contained truths about Bill Clintons’ 1992 presidential campaign, but it captured the tone perfectly. By contrast, Political Animals feels tone deaf if it portends to be a study in 2012 politics, but works much better as a straight drama with full literary license to tell its story.
Thankfully, Political Animals’ storyline quickly goes very fictional, and sheds most (but not all) of its Clinton-esque vestiges, and instead of a strictly political drama along the lines of Ides of March, goes for more of a character study of a powerful, influential but highly dysfunctional family, with Elaine as its most visible public face. She winds up tangling with a cutthroat reporter (Carla Gugino), who threatens to release some scandalous information about one of Elaine’s sons (Sebastian Stan) unless she gives her access for an exclusive interview.
At its best, Political Animals examines the toll success takes on family, with a particular focus on how successful women suffer in a way that men do not. At its worst, it gets punch drunk in its own girl-power narrative and tapdances back toward that Clinton line (in the alternative reality of Political Animals, Hillary/Elaine becomes wildly popular once she divorced Bill/Bud Hammond, although the two of them maintain a discrete sexual affair on the side).
Carla Gugino & Ellen Burstyn
Weaver is terrific in her role, and the first episode’s best moments featured the chemistry between Weaver and Gugino, who increasingly grew on me, as did the story, as the show progressed. Ellen Burstyn is also outstanding as Elaine’s mother, perhaps not coincidentally, playing a character with no ties to the Clinton-verse. Hopefully, Political Animals will end its fascination with Hillary, and stick to its fictional credentials as a family drama. It has the potential to be quite memorable if it does.
EMMY NOMINATIONSwere announced on Thursday, so it’s time to gripe about my personal favorites who got snubbed!
Comedy Series (The Big Bang Theory, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Girls, Modern Family, 30 Rock, Veep): Really? Curb Your Enthusiasm? It hasn’t aired an episode in about a year. I’m happy to see Veep get a nod, and I’m quite dismayed that the not-funny and not even that interesting Girls got a nomination while the hilarious Community continues to get snubbed. Oh well, it’s all academic. Modern Family wins again.
Drama Series (Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, Mad Men, Homeland): I have no issue with any of these shows getting nominated. What a field! Particularly pleased to see Game of Thrones and Homeland getting recognition.
Lead Actor-Comedy (Alec Baldwin, Don Cheadle, Louis CK, Jon Cryer, Larry David, Jim Parsons): These are all solid noms. I don’t have a complaint here.
Lead Actress-Comedy(Edie Falco, Tina Fey, Lena Dunham, Zooey Deschanel, Amy Poehler, Melissa McCarthy): Oh come on. Zooey
Deschanel? Don’t get me wrong, I like Zooey, but New Girl was completely uneven and Deschanel looked like she was trying too hard half the time. Also, isn’t acting supposed to mean you’re not just playing yourself? I’m looking at you two, Zooey and Lena Dunham.
Supporting Actor-Comedy (Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ed O’Neill, Bill Hader, Max Greenfield, Eric Stonestreet): Glad to see SNL’s Bill Hader get nominated, he’s the funniest guy on the show. Also glad to see New Girl’s Max Greenfield there, he’s the funniest thing on that show. By the way, when are they going to change the name of this category to best supporting actor on Modern Family? Four nominations from one show? Overkill.
Supporting Actress-Comedy(Mayim Bialik, Julie Bowen, Kathryn Joosten, Sofia Vergara, Merritt Weaver, Kristen Wiig): Thrilled to see Nurse Jackie’s Merritt Weaver and Big Bang Theory’s Mayim Bialik both here. Very dismayed that Happy Endings’ Eliza Coupe got COMPLETELY JOBBED in this category. She should not only have been nominated, she should have won it. It also would have been nice to see 2 Broke Girls’ Beth Behrs on here instead of one of the Modern Family gals. Again, what’s with the Modern Family obsession?
Lead Actor-Drama (Hugh Bonneville, Steve Buscemi, Bryan Cranston, Michael C. Hall, Jon Hamm, Damian Lewis): I guess some people would be surprised not to see Hugh Laurie on this list, but honestly, who would you take off? This is a good field.
Lead Actress-Drama (Kathy Bates, Glenn Close, Claire Danes, Michelle Dockery, Julianna Margulies, Elisabeth Moss): If you’re wondering where Connie Britton from American Horror Story is, don’t worry – AHS was treated as “miniseries” and she’s nominated for her performance in that category (as is the show).
Supporting Actor-Drama (Jim Carter, Aaron Paul, Giancarlo Esposito, Peter Dinklage, Brendan Coyle, Jared Harris): So happy to see Giancarlo Esposito on this list. It’s an incredibly strong field, but he just might win it.
Supporting Actress-Drama (Christine Baranski, Maggie Smith, Archie Panjabi, Anna Gunn, Christina Hendricks, Joanne Froggatt): I don’t know how much I can complain about this field, and I am really happy to see Anna Gunn get a nod, but I was hoping to see Lena Headey from Game of Thrones and Kelly MacDonald from Boardwalk Empire included.
The awards ceremony airs September 23. I’ll post my favorites to win that week.
Bryan Cranston showed up on Conan this week and reminded everyone that he can be as hilarious as he can be intense. Conan asked him if he was able to be scary and intimidating in real life (like his character on Breaking Bad) and without missing a beat Cranston glared at him and said, “What the F*ck kind of question is that funny boy?!” The audience broke up, but Conan maintained his poise and said, “Oooh you think I’m funny?” Just a great segment.
Reality Check: Borne of the good stuff from which Whose Line Is It Anyway was made, ABC has brought improv comedy back to network TV (at least for the summer) in the form of Trust Us With Your Life. Each week, a team of improv comics (Wayne Brady, Colin Mochrie, Jonathan Mangum, Brad Sherwood, Greg Proops, et als) act out scenes from the life of that week’s celebrity guest, while host Fred Willard moderates, calling for changes in style. Fans of Whose Line will undoubtedly enjoy this show, although I’m sure they will agree that it falls just a little short of the laughs its predecessor always got. Very noticeable in his absence is Ryan Stiles, Mochrie’s partner from both the US and UK versions of Whose Line, and missing with him is the almost psychic comic chemistry the pair used to generate. In addition, the format is a little more rigid and as a result, some of the more outrageous free form Whose Line games like Props, Superheroes and Scenes From A Hat don’t work here. Still, the improv talent is both funny and impressive, and the celebrity guests (Serena Williams, Mark Cuban) really seem to get a kick out of the performances, as does the studio audience. As a summer replacement show, Trust Us With Your Life is a breath of fresh comic air.
Everyone hates the vote-off show on talent competitions, and So You Think You Can Dance this season doesn’t have them (not by choice – FOX was unwilling to give them two nights a week). Consequently, the vote-off comes at the end of the performances each week, and I have to see that while I hate the dragged out faux drama of the vote off show, squeezing the elimination into the final 90 seconds felt rushed and forced. Hopefully, when the field thins out and there’s a little more time at the end of episodes, the show will handle this more gracefully.
Educational TV: Things we learned from watching TV this week: 1) Big Foot is real. Probably. (The Newsroom); 2) Comedians and feminists are natural enemies (The Daily Show); 3) Sometimes “mysterious” and “ridiculous” look like the same thing (Web Therapy).
I know that the Colorado shooting occurred at the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises, but I am urging newspeople to resist the temptation to compare the perpetrator to a Batman villain. To make matters worse, the guy surrendered to police identifying himself as “The Joker.” This guy was NOT a Batman villain. He was a douchebag. A disturbed, twisted douchebag who killed people. This really happened. Batman didn’t.
The Teen Choice Awards air on FOX on July 22.
The season 4 premiere of Warehouse 13 airs on Syfy on July 23.
The season 2 premiere of Alphas airs on Syfy on July 23.
pens at the end of Love In The Wild will be on NBC on July 24.
The CLIO awards for the year’s best commercials air on NBC on July 25.
Jimmy Fallon’s Primetime Music Special airs on NBC on July 25.
The series premiere of 3 airs on CBS on July 26.
NBC’s coverage of the Olympics begins on July 27 with the Opening Ceremonies.
TV’s a big place and I haven’t been to all of it yet. Got a favorite show you’d like me to comment on? Post a comment below, contact me on twitter @RobLazlo. or shoot me an email: RobNJ564@yahoo.com. I welcome your input!