Question: The cast and crew of Breaking Bad have done a great job — at making me depressed! I couldn't get more than halfway through the pilot, and I wanted to cry through the 30 minutes I did see! I think that for a TV show to affect me this strongly means that the writers and actors are nothing short of amazing and deserve some kudos. I never saw Bryan Cranston in Malcolm in the Middle, so I am not familiar with his comedic work, but watching him in this show made me wonder if he's capable of even smiling. So many moments in the pilot were literally heartbreaking: Being ignored by his students while trying to teach, being ignored at his own birthday party, and the one that got me the most, when his wife asked him if he used the credit card at Staples — his simple, "We needed printer paper" response just killed me. I couldn't watch any further, so please tell me that it gets better, as in lighter. Beneath all the doom and gloom, there was something about the show that I really wanted to like. Is the whole season going to be this depressing? If it is, I don't think I can watch, no matter how much I want to.
Answer: The biggest knock I heard from some of my fellow critics in advance of Breaking Bad's premiere was that it was too dark, too depressing, and why would anyone choose to watch? Most of my mail, thankfully, has embraced the show for daring to go there. I recommend, when AMC airs its mini-marathon of the first three episodes this Wednesday (8 pm/ET), that you try to steel yourself to watch the entire pilot, and then take it from there. (At the very least, I would have thought you'd be curious how a guy so beaten down by life in the first half-hour would find himself in such a crazy situation with a runaway van in the desert by the end of the pilot.) I wouldn't say Breaking Bad "lightens up" in the second and third episodes, but Walt (the Cranston character) certainly asserts himself more as he finds himself over his head in his new criminal enterprise. The psychological fallout, not to mention the grisly mess he has to clean up, is shocking and very darkly funny at times (if your taste runs that way), but also tragic and harrowing. This show isn't going to be for everyone, quite clearly. If it was, it probably wouldn't be worth caring about.