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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“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by fried-chicken impresario / meth kingpin Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), but the stay of execution was temporarily rescinded upon the realization that Jesse might well be in the process of murdering the only other person capable of maintaining the manufacturing of the meth.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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2010: A Look Back at a Lot of Interviews

At the end of 2009, I took a look back at 100 interviews I’d done over the course of the year, and it was exhausting…not only for me, but possibly also for you, the reader. Oh, I still think it was a heck of a piece, but I believe I made a mistake by numbering them. I mean, you get about 20 – 25 into the proceedings, and it’s, like, “Oh, geez, I’ve still got 75 left to go? Screw this, I’m out of here.” So this time, I’m not going to tell you how many quotes are in the piece. I’ll just say that I talked to a lot of really funny, fascinating, and decidedly forthright people during the course of 2010, and I’ll let you dive in. Hope you enjoy the chance to reminisce as much I did, and here’s to a great 2011 for us all!

Big Shots at the Box Office

“I was in Australia, touring with my films and live show, and I got an E-mail from my agent, saying that there was interest in me for Tim Burton’s ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ I thought, ‘Okay, that sounds good.’ I thought it would be for a day or two, maybe a few days or something, and I would’ve been very happy to do that. But then the offer came in, and it was for virtually the entire run of the film. I didn’t even know what part it was for, so I asked my agent, and he said it was for the Knave of Hearts. So I looked up the Knave of Hearts in the original book online and…it didn’t really seem like a character that would require the run of the film. I thought, ‘Something must be different.’ And then I got the actual screenplay, and it was extremely different. I could see that it was written as a sequel. But it was a great part, and I was ecstatic to be in it…and I’m still ecstatic to be in it!” – Crispin Glover, Alice in Wonderland

“They called my agent and said they were auditioning for (‘Inception’), so I flew myself back, I read for Chris (Nolan) once, and I left. I think it was later that day that I heard from my agent, saying, ‘They’ve cut everyone except you. Now, they’re going to go to London to see some people, and then we’ll know more after that. So don’t get your hopes up, but…this is great!’ Then I came back and read again, and I got the job. And then, as you might expect, I freaked out completely.” – Dileep Rao, Inception

“I was actually down at my ranch in South Texas, and my guys called me and said, ‘Hey, we’re trying to get you a meeting with Sylvester Stallone. He’s casting a movie called ‘The Expendables.’’ Several months went by, and he’d already cast ‘The Expendables,’ but he still wanted to meet me for potentially playing the part of Dan Paine. So I went in to meet Sly, it was the first time I’d ever met him, and I’m a huge fan. I remember watching ‘Rocky’ back in ’76 or whenever it was, then getting up the next morning, drinking eggs, and running down the street…and now here I am meeting with this guy!” – Steve Austin, The Expendables

“I was privileged and honored to work side by side with Sly (Stallone in ‘The Expendables’). Most of my scenes take place with him, and I’m telling you, man, he took me under his wing, and it was a brilliant thing. I don’t know what else to say. ‘Rocky,’ ‘Rambo,’ just everything he’s done is iconic, and it wasn’t lost on me. I love the man, and I can’t wait to do another one, ‘cause Sly’s the king of the sequels…and in my whole career, I’ve never done a sequel to any one of my projects. So I’m, like, ‘Sly, I’m ready for ‘Expendables 2,’ okay?'” – Terry Crews, The Expendables

“Jessica (Pare) was just about to disrobe…we were in the (hot) tub…and they were, like, ‘Ready!’ And she took off whatever was covering her in the tub. And somebody asked the boom guy a question just as she was disrobing, and all he could say was, ‘Yesssssss…’ He could only whisper. I didn’t make a joke about it, though. I was just, like, ‘Okay, Craig, keep it cool, keep it together…’” – Craig Robinson, Hot Tub Time Machine

“I made the mistake of using one term loosely and saying (filming in 3D) was a tedious process, and somebody made it sound really bad. The bottom line is that it took a little longer, and the one that suffered more than anybody was (director Kevin Greutert) and the camera guy, because they have to get it right. You know, calibration and being specific with lights and all that stuff. For me, it was a good excuse to go play with the crew that wasn’t on set and crack a couple of jokes, so I got to socialize a little bit more.” – Costas Mandylor, Saw 3D

“Usually, when you’re coming in completely blind with who you’re working with, you don’t know if you’re going to get along, nor do some people put the time in to try to get along. We were all in Pittsburgh, and we did do, like, two weeks of rehearsal before we started shooting (‘She’s Out of My League’), and in those two weeks, we hung out a lot…and, luckily, it went good rather than bad. Because sometimes it’s just awful, and you’re going, ‘I can’t stand that guy!’ So we were lucky. I know a lot of people always say this when they come off work, because they’re kind of trained to say it, but with this one, we all really got along, and I think that’s what helps our chemistry on screen so much: we thought each other were funny, we even liked to hang out afterward, and that played well. ” – Nate Torrence, She’s Out of My League

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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The boys from “Breaking Bad” weigh in on character transformations and the future of the series

Over the course of my time at Bullz-Eye and, by extension, Premium Hollywood, I’ve slowly but surely reached a point where I do so many one-on-one interviews almost never sign up to do conference-call interviews anymore, but when you’re pitched a “Breaking Bad” call that features Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, and series creator Vince Gilligan…hey, there are some offers that you just can’t refuse. It was a packed house, but I managed to sneak onto the call twice during the course of the hour that these three gentlemen held court. Here’s some of the wisdom that they imparted upon me…

First of all, I’m curious what percentage of the “Breaking Bad” budget goes to replacing the windshields of Walt’s vehicles.

Vince Gilligan: (Laughs) That is a good question. It has to be a huge percentage. That has turned into a running gag, hasn’t it? We didn’t intend for that to happen at the beginning. There was no long-term plan to keep breaking Walt’s windshield. But it sure does happen a lot. We keep the tape on there to remind everybody.

Aaron Paul: You love the tape.

This has been a fantastic season, especially for Jesse. Aaron, you really soared with the character, trying to go clean, going at it alone, finding out that your new girlfriend’s brother killed one of his associates. Can you talk about adapting your performance to meet each of Jesse’s challenges in life?

Aaron Paul: I thought I had a grasp of who this kid was by the second season. I had an idea about where he was going before we started the third season. But as always is the case, we went in the complete opposite direction. It was a little tough. Now Jesse is convinced that he is officially the bad guy. He has all of this guilt on his shoulders. He is making a valiant effort to stay on a clean and sober path. It’s like playing a different character within the character itself. Which presents a different challenge. But its so much fun to play.

Talking about character transformation, Skyler went through a major transformation over the course of the season, first making decisions in desperation, then becoming empowered. Was that development planned way, way in advance, or was it something that came about as a result of you guys deciding to have her discover Walt’s secret at the beginning of the season?

Vince Gilligan: Good question! You know, I guess…there’s always an exception to every rule, and this going to the lie slightly to some stuff I was saying earlier, but we try very hard to keep our storytelling organic and to let the characters let us know where they intend to head. Having said that, Anna Gunn is such an integral part of our show, and the character of Skyler is such an integral part of our show and is a character that I would surely hate to lose from our series, and there was a crossroads early on this season when we realized that she had to find out about her husband’s illicit activities. We couldn’t keep that lie going very much longer, because she’s a very smart character and she knows he’s up to something. So we’re at a crossroads at a moment like that, storywise, my writers and I, because she has three very believable routes or forks in the road to take. She could call the police, and that’d be very believable, and it’s definitely an option when you find out that your significant other is dealing large quantities of meth and putting your whole family at risk that way. Or she could divorce him, definitely, or she could take the kids and flee and get the hell out of Dodge.

I mean, these are all possibilities, but we wanted to keep her around, so in kind of a moment of wanting the character to tell us where she wanted to go but… (Starts to laugh) …trying to steer her a little bit into sticking around and not leaving the show entirely, we decided at that point that we want her to go through sort of a process this season. If it’s not coming to sort of a sympathy for Walt throughout the course of the season, at least she comes to some sort of an understanding whereby she doesn’t side with him necessarily, she doesn’t think that he did the right thing here, but she gets to kind of a pragmatic place where she says to herself, “Well, there is this money, and we’re going to need it for Hanks’ rehabilitation and recovery, now that he’s been shot four times. Let’s be pragmatic about this. Let’s make the best out of a very bad situation.” And that’s sort of what we’re working toward with Skyler all season: the idea of her slowly, as organically as possible, as believably as possible, getting her head around a very big concept, which is that her husband is a criminal. And it took 13 solid episodes to get there, and it will perhaps continue in Season 4 because she’s a wonderful character… (Laughs) …and, on a very mercenary level, I want to keep her around, because she’s a great actress and a great character. So that’s my long-winded way of saying, “Yes, that was intentional.”

Obviously, Walt is no longer Mr. Chips, but nor is he quite Scarface yet. Where are we on the sliding scale, and will the final transformation into Scarface take place in Season 4?

Vince Gilligan: You want to take that one, Brian? That’s a good question.

Bryan Cranston: Oh, you’re dishing off, and I’m going to put it back to you, because I’m kind of along for the ride, just like Walt is. Walt has no idea that this transition is happening to him. He’s just experiencing it as it goes, and that’s what so much for me as an actor to play this, because it’s so immediate. It’s so in the now. He has very little thought on the future because he doesn’t have much of a future. The past has completely destroyed him. All he has is the now, so he’s living right here and now. So as an actor approaching that, I like to do the same thing. I knew the larger picture, just as all you had, from Vince’s very colorful way of explaining what he wanted to do four years ago, when we first started talking about this journey, and that fascinated me, because I knew it had never been done in the history of television.

But with that being said, as the actor, I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know what’s in the back of Vince’s brain. It’s dark and ugly… (Laughs) …and I would rather have him delight me with his story as we go along, because in this case, it just couldn’t help me. And, y’know, to me, it’s like someone telling you the ending of a movie, and then saying, “Oh, let’s go see the movie,” and you’re, like, “Well, it’s kind of blown for me now!” In that sense, I like not knowing, and wherever that line is, we don’t know. I think it’s safe to say that this is not a series that was constructed to last like “Gunsmoke.” It’s not going to be, “Wow you’re in remission!” “Yeah, it’s been 20 years now!” (Laughs) Nor do we want it to be. I think we’re all very proud of this show and proud of the collective work that goes into it from all fields, but like the prideful athletes that we see, I think that Vince and I and Aaron and everyone else connected would rather have an amalgam of years that make sense and end it at the right time, as opposed to going and extending our welcome and having people wonder when we’re going to die already. I think we’d like to wrap it up in a… (Hesitates) It’s hard to say, because it’s kind of a moving target, but in the right amount of episodes to tell the story and to do it justice, and then go home.

Vince Gilligan: That’s a great answer. And to add to that…and I’m not being coy here… it is very well described by Bryan as a moving target. I don’t quite know where we are on the spectrum of Mr. Chips and Scarface myself, and, again, I’m not being coy. I don’t know how much farther we can take it. In some sense, we’ve already taken it farther than I would’ve thought possible way back when I was writing the pilot, and it’s a credit to our actors and certainly first and foremost to Bryan…when we’re speaking about Walt, it’s a credit to Bryan’s ability to continue to let an audience sympathize with his character, despite his character’s terrible behavior. You still sense the underlying humanity. You realize he’s not a monster, even though he very often does monstrous, cold, evil things. He behaves that way, and yet he is not necessarily that person. He hasn’t lost completely his moral compass yet. He continues to remain…his character continues to remain interesting and relatable, or at least understandable, if not sympathizable, and so much of that credit goes to Bryan.

It is very much a moving target. If you held my feet to the fire right now, I can’t really see beyond one or two more seasons, but having said that, there was a time way back when when I thought that three would probably be the total amount we could do, and I think we easily could do another season, if not more. But as Bryan says, this will not be “Gunsmoke,” and I can’t forsee it… (Trails off) It’s better to leave the party early than late. You’d rather leave people wanting more from you than saying, “Jesus, is that show still on the air?” So it’s a tricky equation and one I hope we will get right, as far as, “When’s the time to take the final bow with a show like this?”

  

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“Breaking Bad” returns to AMC for Season 3. Will you be there?

Well, I certainly will be, that’s for sure.

The writers of Bullz-Eye – and, by extension, Premium Hollywood – have never been afraid to throw their love behind television series that aren’t necessarily embraced by the general viewing public, and it’s no surprise that AMC’s “Breaking Bad” falls into that category. Certainly, it gets a great deal of love from the nation’s TV critics, but in fairness, it does have the sort of premise that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to mass consumption: a high school chemistry teacher with a pregnant wife and a teenage son with cerebral palsy is diagnosed with stage-three terminal lung cancer and, in order to provide for his family, decides to start making meth.

Bryan Cranston, previously known primarily for his work as Hal, the patriarch on “Malcolm in the Middle,” took the role of Walter White – the aforementioned meth-maker – and ran with it. Indeed, we’re pretty sure that the only times he has stopped running since the premiere of “Breaking Bad” have been to accept his back-to-back Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.

Although Cranston is the only member of the ensemble to win thus far, he’s not the only one to have been nominated. His co-star, Aaron Paul, pulled in his first nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series in 2009 for his work as Jesse Pinkman, Walt’s partner in crime, and it would not surprise us in the least if 2010 found Anna Gunn in the running for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series. (Season 3 is, we have been reliably informed, somewhat Skyler-centric.)

Now, if you haven’t been following “Breaking Bad” but you’ve heard good things and have been wondering if there’s way you can possibly catch up in time to watch the premiere of Season 3 without feeling completely lost, you’re in luck: AMC has managed to successfully distill the first two seasons of the show into one reeeeeeeally intense six-minute video. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go back and watch Season 1 and Season 2 in their entirety when you have the chance, but this will definitely put you in a position to sit comfortably in front of the TV with the rest of us on Sunday night.

Now, as you may have seen elsewhere, Bullz-Eye was fortunate enough to visit the set of “Breaking Bad” in January, where we were provided with the opportunity to have lunch with series creator Vince Gilligan, then followed that up with dinner with Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul. And prior to that, the Winter 2010 TCA Tour provided me with several other “Breaking Bad” opportunities: a one-on-one with Aaron, followed by a chat with Bob Odenkirk, the “Mr. Show” alumnus who now plays the series’ resident attorney, the ever-slimy Saul Goodman, and then wrapped things up by (quietly) participating in a roundtable interview with Cranston, Paul, Gunn, and Odenkirk.

Yes, we realize that’s a lot of information to take in before the premiere, but at least you can’t say we don’t provide you with a great deal of preparatory material…including this sneak preview of what you can expect on Sunday night:

Season 3 of “Breaking Bad” premieres on Sunday, March 21, at 10 PM EST/PST.

(Be sure to meet back here after the season premiere – and every episode thereafter, for that matter – to check out our blog!)

  

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