The extent to which serious TV criticism tends to cluster around a handful of shows can be infuriating when your favorites aren't included: Why does Girls get so much more ink than The Good Wife? Why The Newsroom and not Fringe? (I am going to keep mentioning Fringe, because seriously: Watch it.) But the salutary effect of the TV renaissance being narrowed to a handful of shows is that when those shows are on the air, it's as if the entire critical establishment -- including members who don't normally write about television -- has agreed to bring its collective A game. Alyssa Rosenberg opens her (spoiler-free) review of Breaking Bad's final season (or half-season, if you want to play that game) by asking "What more is there to say about Breaking Bad?' But the truth is great works of art are never exhausted; their ability to keep giving, to reveal new facets with every examination, is part of what makes them great."
More on the final season below, but a few more Breaking Bad links first. Here's Matt Zoller Seitz initiating a new feature where he revisits great shows one seasons at a time, beginning with Breaking Bad's first.
Every great creative work should be experienced twice: the first time to get over whatever you expected it to be and experience what it actually is, and the second time to appreciate the craft. Second viewings are especially rewarding when you're revisiting a work that’s unabashedly plot-driven but that’s also aces at characterization, symbolism, and atmosphere. Breaking Bad is that kind of show.
Be sure to scroll down to the comments, where Seitz (as "MZS") addresses the nagging issue of some fans' hostility to Skyler White, whom they apparently view as a castrating scold because of her insistence that Walter not endanger his family's lives and maybe stop killing people. (Seasons 2 and 3 will follow on Wednesday and Friday of this week.)
Tonight, Sundance Channel premieres the first installment of The Writers' Room, an ongoing series hosted by Community's Jim Rash -- sorry, "Academy Award winner Jim Rash" -- that features panel discussions with a TV show's writing staff. Upcoming episodes will feature Parks and Recreation, Dexter and Game of Thrones, but the first episode focuses on -- you guessed it -- Breaking Bad. (As a barometer of how the culture has shifted towards acknowledging showrunners as not-quite-stars in their own right, note how Vince Gilligan shares camera time with Bryan Cranston.) Topics of particular interest include a reference to Gilligan's love of Westerns, which he narrows to "the moment before the shooting starts," and an imagined version of what Breaking Bad might have looked like on a broadcast network. Who's in for White Lies, starring Jason Priestley?
More reviews of Breaking Bad's final season:
Brian Lowry, Variety:
For those onboard since the beginning, Breaking Bad's final batch of episodes seems destined to produce nothing less than a frenzy, a testament, in part, to how bracingly unpredictable Vince Gilligan-s creation has been. And while the first of these remaining hours does little to suggest whether the wrap-up will ultimately prove worthy of the journey, it's breathtaking stuff, providing tour-de-force moments for the key characters.
Tim Goodman, Hollywood Reporter:
Written by Peter Gould (who also wrote the penultimate episode), the return episode is riveting from start to finish -- with the use of another flash-forward that also kicked off this final season -- and it concludes with an extended scene that is written, acted and shot with the kind of magnificence that is at the heart of why the series is so exalted.
Tim Molloy, The Wrap:
Breaking Bad is better than meth. Meth has diminishing returns. It's never has good as the first time, people say. Breaking Bad gets better the more you do it. It rewards you for being obsessive. Go back and watch a few episodes in Season 2 or 3, and you'll have a richer experience in Season 5.
Alyssa Rosenberg, ThinkProgress:
There's a certain simplicity to chemistry, which isn't to say it's easy to master. Conditions matter: Jesse Pinkman slouched his way through Walter White's classroom, but came alive to the possibility of chemicals when they were reunited in an old RV. One of the tragedies of Jesse and Walt's relationship is that Walt, through cooking meth, gave Jesse the education he was unable to impart to him in the classroom. And even once you’ve passed your knowledge along, that doesn't guarantee the stability of your compounds and processes.
Brian Stitt, Inside Jersey:
Update: Final season teaser trailer? Don't mind if I do.
The return of Breaking Bad is something to be celebrated by all those who crave crafty, intelligent and beautifully shot television.