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How to end a TV series

episode-8-hank-Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad” is back tonight, and we’ll see how creator Vince Gilligan decides to wrap things up. Here’s an in-depth look at the issue of how to conclude a great television series.

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‘Homeland’ sweeps Golden Globes again

“Homeland” has won the award for Best Drama Series two years in a row, while Claire Danes and Damian Lewis won for best actress and best actor. It’s a pretty incredible show, even with the elevated craziness of Season 2. And while I don’t think it’s quite as good as “Breaking Bad” it’s hard to argue with these choices.

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Aaron Paul on Conan

Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul stops by the show. Cool interview . . .

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Steven Bauer talks “Scarface” and more

Actor Steven Bauer is the sort of down-to-earth guy who’s willing to come right out and tell an interviewer that, overall, his career in Hollywood has been “kind of… a little iffy,” so it really does the heart good to see him currently experiencing a bit of an upswing in his success. If you’re a fan of “Breaking Bad” – and, really, why wouldn’t you be? – then you saw him make the first of his two appearances on the show this season, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect: between those episodes lies the Blu-ray release of “Scarface,” where Bauer ably held his own against Al Pacino with his performance as Tony Montana’s brother from another mother, Manny Ribero. Although we only had a short time to talk, Bullz-Eye still managed to get Bauer’s recollections of working on both of these projects.

Check out a sample of our chat with him below and then head over to Bullz-Eye for the full interview.

Bullz-Eye: With “Scarface,” my understanding is that it was a combination of your very authentic Cuban background and your audition that helped you get the part. How did you prepare for the audition?

Steven Bauer: Wow, it was… I’ll tell you what: it was pretty daunting at the time. What I did was… y’know, I read the script, I knew the script and I understood it, knowing that I had very little in common with this character of Manny. Fortunately, I’d met guys like that, so I had something to draw upon. Because I’m the antithesis of Manny. Well, I was then. I probably became more and more like Manny as I got older. (Laughs) But at 24 years old, I was more like Justin Bieber than Manny Ribera! But I had seen those guys, y’know, growing up in Miami. I’d seen guys who were that way, and that’s really what I drew upon. Also, it was the sensibilities of the Cuban who has lost his homeland and is really sort of adrift in the world and looking for any harbor. Landing in the United States is the opportunity to do anything you want to do and be anything you want to be.

BE: Talking about your inherent Cuban-ness, did it ever give you pause at all that so many non-Cuban actors were selected to play Cubans in the film?

SB: Not at all. Will, honestly, it was an amazing coming together of actors, and I for one… well, first of all, who am I to judge? (Laughs) But secondly, there was no room for judgment, because the actors that they chose, beginning with Bob Loggia as Frank Lopez. He did his own work, he did his own research, and he came up with a totally original Cuban character that… I recognized him immediately. He’s that guy who laughs at his own jokes. He’s a big blowhard, y’know? It was a fantastic character that he created. And then Murray Abraham created that weasel of a man, Omar. And the other guys who weren’t Cuban, the guy who played the Bolivian – God rest his soul, Paul Shenar, who passed away years ago – he was fantastic. And he had no knowledge of any Bolivian. But he did tremendous research. And when you look at the whole canvas of the actors that were chosen, they’re all stars. They’re all beautiful, amazing artists. Michelle Pfeiffer, in her second film role ever, she created this beautiful, beautiful character, this haunted girl who’s just completely lost and attached to this power, to this man, and then attaches himself to the other man as soon as he gets the power. And again, the actors who were playing Cubans, they were all… the ones who were playing the important roles in the film, they all did amazing, amazing work. I always, always defend it.

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“Breaking Bad” resources

The best show on television returns tomorrow night at 10 PM on AMC. If you’re a fan of the show, enjoy the video above and all the links in this post as you get ready for the start of season 4. If you haven’t been watching, well you’re missing out. You can start watching tomorrow night, but you’re better of setting your DVR to record the first season, and getting your hands on the first three seasons.

The Breaking Bad Fan Hub on Bullz-Eye.com is a good place to start for fans of the show. The fan site is loaded with cast interviews, along with reviews of previous seasons and a link to the Breaking Bad Blog. Will Harris also posted a preview of Season 4.

Is “Breaking Bad” the best show ever on cable TV? Grantland’s Chuck Klosterman thinks so, arguing that it beats out other greats like “The Wire,” “The Sopranos” and “Mad Men.” It’s hard to argue with his top four, though his column gets a little too deep into criticspeak for my taste. I’ll probably stick with “The Wire” as the best show ever on cable, but “Breaking Bad” is catching up with each season.

Time calls it the best drama on television.

Breaking Bad is the kind of TV show that gets described as cinematic, and that’s true in the literal sense: it looks like a movie. The astonishing landscape of New Mexico gives the show a western-film starkness and scale. “When you’re here,” says cinematographer Michael Slovis, “you can’t help but be affected by the size of the sky.” The sets are painstakingly built, especially the superlab: a temple of gleaming metal tanks, painted infernal red, that production designer Mark Freeborn built with the aid of a Drug Enforcement Administration consultant. The lab, Cranston says, is a metaphor for Walt’s compartmentalized worldview: “It’s clean. It’s isolated. He doesn’t like being reminded that he’s part of a messy, bloody business.”

Last year in Time, James Poniewozik offered a nice recap of the last episode and the relationship between Walt and Jesse. Newsweek also gets in on the discussion with some great quotes from Bryan Cranston.

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“Breaking Bad” is back, baby!

It’s been a long, cold wait for Walter White to start making meth again…so long, in fact, that the actor who plays him – Bryan Cranston, of course – has missed the window of eligibility for this year’s Emmy Awards…but on Sunday night at 10 PM EST, “Breaking Bad” will finally return to AMC.

Season Four of the acclaimed series arrives just on the heels of the network having received countless complaints from irate viewers who felt cheated when “The Killing” didn’t resolve the mystery of who killed Rosie Larsen, but if you’re one of those folks, fear not: while the answer to the question “is Gale dead?” isn’t definitely answered at the precise instant the season premiere begins (although you would be forgiven for thinking that it has been), you’ll have clarification of Gale’s state of existence mere moments after the opening credits conclude.

Mind you, despite all of the discussion about whether or not Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) successfully shot and killed Gale Boetticher (David Costabile) at the end of Season Three, series creator Vince Gilligan has said outright that “it’s not actually meant to be ambiguous. It’s meant to be, ‘Oh my God, Jesse shot poor Gale.” Not that he couldn’t have changed his mind in the interim between seasons, of course, but given Gilligan’s steadfast vision for the series over the course of 33 episodes, there’s little reason to think that he has.

Okay, so everyone remembers that Gale probably got shot by Jesse, since that was the last moment of the Season Three finale, but do you remember where everyone else was at the end of the season? Let’s play a little bit of catch-up, just in case.

When we last left Walt, he (probably) was on the verge of being shot and killed by Mike (Jonathan Banks), as order by fried-chicken impresario / meth kingpin Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), but the stay of execution was temporarily rescinded upon the realization that Jesse might well be in the process of murdering the only other person capable of maintaining the manufacturing of the meth. (Did I ever mention how much I love alliteration?) Victor (Jeremiah Bitsui), another one of Gus’s main men, makes a mad dash toward Gale’s apartment, but as it stands right now, we don’t officially know whether or not he made it in time…except, y’know, we probably do know, which is to say that he almost certainly didn’t.

But I digress.

Elsewhere, Walt’s wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), now knows of her husband’s goings-on (even if she isn’t nearly as much in the know as she thinks she is) and is trying to incorporate her own business acumen into the operation. Utterly in the dark, however, is their teenage son, Walt, Jr. (R.J. Mitte), who spent much of Season Three trying to figure out just what the hell was up with his parents. And can you blame him? After all, he watched his mom kick his father out of the house, demand a divorce, and even call the cops in order to have him arrested, only to see her backpedal. You’d be confused, too.

You’ve also got Skyler’s sister, Marie (Betsy Brandt), whose DEA-agent husband, Hank (Dean Norris), was left a paraplegic after an attack by two very violent gentlemen on a quest to avenge their cousin. When last we saw Hank and Marie, she had just successfully managed to make his groundhog see its shadow…by which, of course, I mean that she gave him a hand job and made his penis stand at attention. Sure, it seems like an easy enough trick, but it was the first time he’d managed it since incurring his injuries, and the fact that Marie made it happen meant that he had to make good on his promise that he’d leave the hospital, head home, and begin further physical therapy. Once Hank’s back on his feet, it’s only a matter of time before he’s also back on the trail of the mysterious blue meth and the man responsible for manufacturing it.

Obviously, we know where Jesse was when we last left him, but prior to that, he’d had a hell of third season. He started off in rehab, and once he got out, he initially managed to stay clean while still continuing to make meth, but after spending a little too long lingering on his conviction that he had become “the bad guy,” he soon began to backslide. In addition to his chemical dependency, Jesse also had his fair share of emotional turmoil, dealing with the death of his girlfriend, Jane (Krysten Ritter) by seeking solace in Andrea, a girl from his drug counseling sessions, only to learn that her 11-year-old brother had been responsible for the murder of his friend and fellow dealer, Combo. Dude can’t catch a break.

The relationship between Walt and Jesse hit some serious highs and lows during the course of the third season, but by the end of the next-to-last episode, it became clear that the two of them have a bond which cannot be broken. What remains to be seen, however, is how Gus is going to handle their continued partnership, not simply because of his lack of respect for Jesse, but also because of the way Walt has transitioned from being a mere manufacturer into someone who clearly has an interest in working his way up the corporate ladder, as it were.

So that’s where we stand with “Breaking Bad” as we enter into the show’s fourth season. Tensions were sky high when we last left the series, and I can assure you that by the time the credits roll on the season premiere, you will feel the same way Giancarlo Esposito felt after he read the script for the episode: a little bit stunned and a little bit shaken.

True, that’s generally how most viewers feel at the end of every episode of “Breaking Bad,” but having already seen this one, I’m going to lay it on the line: the show delivers the “holy shit” moment to end all “holy shit” moments to date.

See you on Sunday, kids.

P.S. Don’t forget to visit Bullz-Eye’s “Breaking Bad” blog right after the season premiere to join in on the post-show discussion. Trust me, there’s definitely going to be a lot to talk about. In the meantime, be sure to head over to our “Breaking Bad” Fan Hub for all the interviews, reviews, and features about the show that you can stand.

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Bryan Cranston’s Back to “Breaking Bad” in Albuquerque

This morning, Bullz-Eye had a chance to chat with Bryan Cranston – oh, sorry, I think we’re now required to refer to him as three-time-Emmy-Award-winning Bryan Cranston – about his new Atom.com series, “The Handlers,” and rest assured you’ll learn all about it when the full interview turns up in the very near future. For the moment, however, we can’t resist shining the spotlight on our beloved “Breaking Bad,” which, as we learned in AMC’s panel during the winter TCA press tour, starts production on its fourth season on January 13.

Cranston, God bless him, opened our conversation by asking, “How are you? When are you coming back to the set?” (My answer: I’m ready when he is, since God knows I had a blast last time.) This is kind of a funny question for him to ask, though, given that he himself hasn’t even made it back to the set yet, having literally only arrived back in Albuquerque last night. Still, given that we talked to him at 6:30 AM PST, he’s clearly raring to go when the time comes.

That doesn’t mean, however, that he’s looking to get too far ahead of the game when it comes to finding out what’s next for Walter White.

“I’ve only read the first script so far,” said Cranston. “I have the second one ready to read. I like to keep it like that, where it doesn’t get too far ahead of me. Walt is on this journey, and I like the fact that he doesn’t know where he’s going, so why should Bryan know where it’s going? It doesn’t help me. In fact, if there’s any kind of subliminal preparation, then it could hurt the character. I want to keep it as fresh as possible for as long as possible, so that I feel that one-foot-in-front-of-the-other tension that Walt has.”

As a result, Cranston’s obviously not in much of a position to offer up hints of what we can expect from the season…not that anyone from this show has ever gone out of their way to provide spoilers.

“I can’t!” he apologized. “I don’t even know anything, except that the first episode picks up right where the last episode left off. The tension was wound pretty tight, so we just have to wind ourselves back up to that level, and away we go, spinning like a top!”

Having only just returned to Albuquerque, Cranston’s big post-interview plans were to get settled back into his townhouse and get himself unpacked, then head over to “Breaking Bad” HQ for a fitting and to pick up some paperwork.

But we know what you’re really wondering: has he shaved his head yet?

“No, actually, and here’s an exclusive for you,” said Cranston. “Steven Michael Quezada, who plays Gomez on ‘Breaking Bad,’ he’s a local guy, and he’s very popular here. He’s a stand-up comedian, and he has a variety show on The CW that airs in New Mexico once a week (‘The After, After Party with Steven Michael Quezada’). They tape on Tuesdays, so tomorrow night I’m going to be on his show, and I’m going to do a little stand-up, and then we’ll do an interview session. What the audience doesn’t know, though, is that when we’re talking, Steven’s going to say something to the effect of, ‘You know, you look so different in person than you do as Walter White the character.’ And then I’ll say something like, ‘Well, it takes a team of professionals and…well, let me show you!’ And then out comes my makeup artist, my wardrobe head, and hairdresser, and they start going to work on me. And I’ll just keep talking to Steven, taking off my clothes, putting on the wardrobe, the make-up goes on, the goatee goes on – I don’t have one right now – and then they’ll shave my head live on TV. And then I’ll put the glasses on, and it’s, like, ‘Voila!‘”

NICE.

Cranston’s hopeful that they can get a clip of this momentous event onto YouTube sooner than later. Let us all keep our fingers crossed…both for the clip, and that he makes good on his assurance that he’ll have me back on the “Breaking Bad” set in the near future. (In this case, a win for me is a win for you, too!)

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2010 Year End TV Review: Will Harris

You’d think it’d be easy for me to pull together a “Best TV of 2010” list, given that I’ve attended two TCA press tours (one in the winter, one in the summer), participated in two editions of Bullz-Eye’s TV Power Rankings (one in the spring, one in the fall), and pulled together the site’s annual Fall TV Preview, but damned if that doesn’t somehow make the task harder. Nobody likes to feel like they’re repeating themselves, and given that there’s going to be some inevitable content crossover between all of these various pieces, I often find myself bouncing back and forth between all of these features, wondering if I’m subconsciously recycling a particularly nice choice of phrase. Hopefully, I’ve managed to make this sound at least somewhat original, but if for some reason you feel I’ve failed at that endeavor, please, for God’s sake, don’t take it out on the shows. It’s not their fault, and they shouldn’t be held accountable for my lack of creativity.

Oh, and one other note: in a further effort to avoid conceptual duplication, I’ve only written about each show once, so if you see a show’s title without anything written beside it, look back and you’ll find where I’ve already written about it. That, or I screwed up. Either’s possible, really. (I’m only human, after all.)

Best Shows to Come and Go within 2010

1. Terriers (FX) – It’s a testament to the quality of “Terriers” that FX president John Landgraf held a teleconference with journalists after breaking the news of the series’ cancellation in order to explain his actions, but I don’t think anyone really blamed the guy, anyway: the show’s ratings were as deplorable as the writing was phenomenal. Between the awful ad campaign for the show (no, it wasn’t about dogs) and the fact that many of the viewers who did tune in were kind of bummed out by too-real character traits and developments like alcoholism, infidelity, divorce, and mental illness, it’s not a surprise that it wasn’t a huge hit. But that doesn’t make it any less depressing.
2. Lone Star (Fox) – I’d like to think that this “Dallas”-esque series about a con man leading two lives would’ve been battling with “Terriers” for the top spot if only Fox hadn’t canceled it after only two episodes…but, then, if they can’t canceled it after only two episodes, then maybe viewers might’ve embraced “Lone Star” enough that it wouldn’t have been canceled at all. Oh, wait, never mind, I forgot: it was on Fox, so it probably still would’ve been canceled, anyway. Even so, Kyle Killen provided an intriguing concept and delivered it with the help of a top-notch cast. It’s just a shame we didn’t get to see more of it.

3. Warren the Ape (MTV) – So falls another network effort by one of our favorite fabricated Americans. Greg the Bunny couldn’t keep a show alive on either Fox or IFC, but it really seemed like a given that the shenanigans of Warren the Ape were tailor-made for MTV viewers. Not so, apparently. Frankly, the whole thing smacks of anti-puppetism. Warren himself has conceded that “fabricated Americans still have a very long way to go in this country, and I think it’s always going to be an uphill battle.” How right he was.
4. Happy Town (ABC) – Note to ABC’s publicity department: while I appreciate your intentions when you underlined the comparisons between “Happy Town” and “Twin Peaks” with a giant Magic Marker, you have to expect that “Twin Peaks” fans are going to offer up their equivalent of the old “I knew Jack Kennedy” line. Yeah, I know, you only meant it as a point of reference, and you never intended to imply that the two series were on even creative footing, but try telling them that. For my part, I thought it was a creepy little sleeper of a show…but, unfortunately, the other five people who agreed with me weren’t enough to keep it on the air.

5. Sons of Tucson (Fox) – I’m still not quite sure what Fox was thinking by trying to slot this poor live-action sitcom into the midst of their otherwise-animated Sunday night line-up. Maybe they’d hoped it would instill viewers with a bit of nostalgia for the days of “Malcolm in the Middle,” given the similarity in feel between that show and “Tucson.” If so, the plan failed miserably. In a perfect world, the network would raise the series from the dead and team it with “Raising Hope.” Now that’s a double bill I could get behind.

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A chat with Gale Anne Hurd, producer of “The Walking Dead”

Gale Anne Hurd, producer of There aren’t many producers around these days whose name can help sell a movie or TV show, but Gale Anne Hurd is the rare exception. Probably best known as one of the co-creators of “The Terminator” franchise, Hurd has been an important player in numerous mega- or merely major productions, including both “Hulk” and “The Incredible Hulk,” “The Abyss,” “Armageddon,” “The Punisher,” and the underrated 1999 comedy “Dick,” which starred Dan Hedaya as Richard Milhous Nixon and a young Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams as a couple of teenagers who wind up bringing down a presidency.

Clearly one of the more hands-on producers around, Hurd is pleasant and businesslike when talking to a member of the show-biz press, but clearly has the gumption to deal with the biggest and most difficult of personalities, which is how I segue into the obligatory mention of the fact that she spent the part of the late eighties and early nineties being married to first James Cameron and then Brian De Palma. Moreover, she began her career working for one the most fascinating and effective producers in the history of the medium, Roger Corman, but more of that in the interview.

Still, nothing she’s done is quite like her current project, the zombie horror drama and comic book adaptation, “The Walking Dead.” The AMC television series, adapted from a series of acclaimed comics by Robert Kirkman primarily by writer-director Frank Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption,” “The Green Mile,” “The Mist”) is currently receiving maximum exposure on the web. The publicity train was only just getting started when I spoke to Ms. Hurd at a mammoth new San Diego hotel adjacent to the Comic-Con festivities last summer.

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I had typed my questions on my laptop, which I was afraid might be a little off-putting. So, after a quick greeting, I tried to explain why.

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Bob & David: will there be a tour?

During the Winter TCA Tour in January 2010, I had a chance to talk to Bob Odenkirk about his work on “Breaking Bad,” but before our conversation was over, I had to ask the question that I knew “Mr. Show” fans – and I include myself in that number – were chomping at the bit to have answered: is there still a chance that Bob and his longtime cohort David Cross would work together again.

“Oh, yeah, we’re going to do something together,” Bob assured me. “Absolutely. There is no question. We started writing a live show two weeks ago when he was here. We want to do another live show. Maybe in a year or a year and a half. My kids are older now so I can leave, so we can do a live tour. It’ll be really fun, yeah.”

In early August, during the Summer TCA Tour, I was fortunate enough to run into David, busy promoting his new IFC series, “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret.” Not one to miss a chance for an update, I told him what Bob had said in January, and I asked for an update.

“See, I have very little responsibilities outside of a dog,” explained David. “But (Bob) has two kids and a wife. And, also, he has no balls. So when you combine all those things, it’s not good. But I put together a calendar for a way we could do a tour in which he would make money, he would be able to go home…I can’t remember offhand, but I think he would be able to go home for four days every ten days, or something like that.

“It would be a six-week tour, and I said, ‘Here, present this to whoever needs to sign off on it.’ I was, like, ‘You can’t ask for better than this. We’re going to suffer. We’re not going to make as much money, and we’re going to be away longer than we normally would be, but it’s in order to make it so that you can go home and so that these things that you need to address are addressed satisfactorily.’ I would love to do it. I am not the guy holding up the tour. It’s not me.”

So if David’s not the problem, then the problem must be Bob, right?

Time to drop a line back to the Odenkirk camp.

“I love David Cross,” Bob assured me by E-mail once he’d read David’s comments. “I think he’s funny and I consider him one of my best friends. But, sadly, he’s a liar. He is the one with family…two of ‘em – but don’t tell either about the other!

“Plus, he claims to have Philatellaphobia – the fear of collecting stamps, which he claims keeps him stuck in the basement of his house, quaking and pooping. I would love to tour. I am standing outside my bachelor condo right now with a packed bag and a stash bag for my cocaine fixes. Oh, and I have no balls.”

So if both Bob and David are both claiming to be ready, does that mean that the tour is a go?

Hell, your guess is as good as mine. But at the very least, we’re getting some good comedy out of the discussion process.

In the meantime, though, enjoy this look back at the Bob and David experience before there even was a “Mr. Show,” and let us keep our fingers crossed that we’ll see them on a stage again in the very near future.

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