TCA Tour: Breaking Bad

AMC may have broken its streak of perfection in late 2009 when their miniseries remake of “The Prisoner” met predominantly with either indifference or annoyance, but there’s plenty of reason to expect that the network will regain its good name in full in 2010.

For one thing, there’s the announcement that Kurt Ellis, the screenwriter behind HBO’s “John Adams,” is setting his sights on Warren Harding and developing the miniseries “Black Gold: The Teapot Dome Scandal.” Then, of course, there’s the fact that we’ve been chomping at the bit for Season 4 of “Mad Men” ever since the dissolution of Sterling-Cooper back in November, which means that we’ll pretty much forgive the network anything when the series returns later this year. Joel Stillerman, AMC’s Senior Vice President of Original Programming, Production, and Digital Content, gave us this one-liner: “Betty is off to Reno, Don is shacked up in the village, Sterling Cooper is held up in a hotel room, but maybe most importantly, Joan is back, and it should be another great season of one of the best shows ever.” Sounds good to me. More details are also emerging about the latest addition to AMC’s slate of original series, “Rubicon,” which Stillerman describes as “an incredibly compelling mystery that pays homage to the great conspiracy thrillers of the ’70s like ‘The Parallax View’ and ‘Three Days of the Condor,’” adding, “We thought, if we could find a way to take that style of storytelling that has stood the test of time so well and spin it off into a serialized drama, we would have something really great.” Let’s hope they do.

But enough about the new kid on the block. Let’s talk about the network’s other high-profile series: “Breaking Bad,” which will kick off its third season on March 21st.

It will, I’m sure, not surprise you that there will be little in the way of revelations in this piece, what with the season premiere still more than two months away as of this writing, but I can tell you that, within the first five minutes of the panel, the discussion had already veered between a religion called Santa Muerte and a teddy bear’s eyeball, so, y’know, make of that what you will.

Like many dramas on TV, the cast members of “Breaking Bad” have almost as little idea what’s going to happen next as the viewers do, rarely knowing how things are going to unfold until they get the script for the next episode.

“That’s what makes it exciting,” explained Bryan Cranston, who plays the show’s cancer-ridden meth dealer, Walter White. “Just like you watching it, we are reading it, and the feeling has the same impact, as much surprise as you have. We often comment to each other, ‘Did you read it yet? Did you read it?’ ‘Yeah, don’t tell me. Don’t tell me. Don’t tell me.’ ‘I’m only halfway through it.’ ‘Oh, yeah. Oh, my goodness. You are not going to believe it. You are not going to believe it.’ So you have that kind of anxiety and anticipation of what’s about to happen, so it’s never boring and always a surprise and a turn here and there.”

As expected, Cranston wouldn’t offer specifics about what Walt would be going through in Season 3, but he was willing to speak in general terms, at least. “There are actually a couple turns that happen emotionally, some physically,” he said. “I’m starting to completely accept the metamorphosis of my character. I’m breaking out of the cocoon and ready to become a different person, and that transition over time is one of the things that was the most compelling for me about wanting to do this show is that (creator) Vince Gilligan said he wanted to do something that he’s never seen before, and that’s, as he famously puts it, turn Mr. Chips into Scarface. And it hasn’t been done on television before unless someone can cite an occasion where you actually see a person completely change who he is by the end of the series or near the end of the series. I will be a completely different person from the milquetoast person you saw in the pilot.”

(You may recall that Cranston spoke to this issue when he chatted with Bullz-Eye in conjunction with the most recent TV Power Rankings.)

Those who enjoyed his introduction in Season 2 will be pleased to learn that sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman will be back on the attack in Season 3. Saul was never intended to play such a substantial part in the show, but as Gilligan freely acknowledged, the part got beefed up because Bob Odenkirk was just so damned good in the role.

“I think the idea started the impetus was just watching ‘The Godfather’ over and over again, which I’m wont to do pretty much every other weekend,” said Gilligan. “We’re just ripping it off shamelessly at every turn. We figured Michael Corleone has a consigliere, so Walter White needs one too, but perhaps Saul Goodman is the type of consigliere that Walt and Jesse would get.”

“It’s a blast to play this character,” said Odenkirk. “People tell me it’s funny, and it’s certainly there’s a lot of funny lines, and he’s a funny guy, funny, slippery character to play. But I think, too, in a show where so many of the characters are they have such high stakes all the time, and my character is a little bit removed. It’s a little bit of a game to him to move these pieces around and see if he can make some money off them.”

“You’re sort of like the hooker with the heart of gold, though,” said Gilligan.

“Does he have a heart of gold?” asked Odenkirk.

Gilligan hesitated. “Well…”

“He had it removed,” decided Odenkirk. “So he can sell it and see how much he can get for it.”

Probably the most telling responses during the course of the panel came when the group was asked en masse if they could nail down a theme for Season 3 of “Breaking Bad.” Gilligan immediately passed the buck, claiming, “I can’t see the forest for the trees.”

“Well, its very different this year in the sense that, in Season 2, we were all leading toward that final midair collision, and everything led up to that,” said Cranston. “This changed all that. I know, Anna, you were talking to me about the whole conceit of Walter feeling like he had to keep this secret to himself.”

“Yeah,” agreed Anna Gunn, who plays Walter’s long-suffering wife, Skyler. “At the end of last season, he had to balance that he decided to go down this road, but the whole time it was essential, obviously, to not let Skyler find out. And then what we’re left with is that she knows something. She doesn’t want to know what it is, but she knows something. And he knows therefore that he doesn’t know exactly you don’t know exactly what I know at the end of last season.”

“I know what you think you know,” said Cranston, smirking, “but I don’t know what you really know.”

Gunn laughed, but she pressed on, explaining, “I think that the actions that he took are starting to have consequences. That’s what it seems to me. The chickens are coming home to roost.”

“That’s well put,” agreed Gilligan. “Perhaps this season is, ‘The best laid plans of mice and men…’ I don’t want to get too much into detail, because it would ruin a lot of fun things that are coming up, but I see Walt this season a little bit like Dr. Frankenstein, in the sense that Dr. Frankenstein, with good intentions, creates a monster. And maybe we’ll see a little of that with Jesse.”

“I think this season is really a season of change for all the characters involved in this show,” said Aaron Paul, who plays the aforementioned monster in Gilligan’s comparison. “With Jesse, it ends off with him feeling completely 100 percent guilty for the death of Jane, his first real, true love. I mean, maybe it was just like a chemical romance, but he lost her, and he completely blames himself. So he is thrown into rehab, and this first season starts with him kind of trying to make an executive decision on staying focused. he kind of accepts who he is…and it’s kind of a sad reality.”

  

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