Breaking Bad: See it if you can handle the violence
Years before Breaking Bad came on the air, there were two shows that were influential in its formation: the Homicide: Life on the Street Subway episode, and the X-Files Drive episode. All three shows are interconnected. Vince Gilligan wrote the X-Files episode of Drive as well as Breaking Bad. Vince Gilligan borrowed heavily from Subway to make the X-Files episode Drive, and that in turn was a huge influence on Breaking Bad.
Drive and Subway:
The majority of the episode focuses on intense dialogue between one man trying to save another.
Lange/Crump are trapped in dire, near-death circumstance.
Changing their circumstances puts them in worse danger.
Lange/Crump are angry, distrustful and out of control at first.
Lange/Crump seem doomed.
There is a grotesque element to the plot: exploding head, man pinned under subway.
There is a flare of hope right before the tragic end.
This is not Lange/Crump’s fault.
Police initially aren’t sure who was responsible for the crime.
Mulder/Pembleton walk away deeply saddened.
Drive and Breaking Bad:
Same intense writing by Vince Gilligan.
Crump/White are dying (at least initially, in White’s case).
Crump/White are in a race against time.
Crump/White are in dire circumstances to save themselves or their families.
I knew Men of a Certain Age was doomed from the start. The topic of middle age male malaise wasn’t going to rock the popular demographic. So, I enjoyed it while it lasted. The acting was great, and it also won a Peabody award. Ray Romano was surprising.
Thief was a fairly classic heist series. It was very smartly written, tense and exciting. Braugher won another Emmy but it was cancelled after one season. I’m still puzzling over that one. Who doesn’t like a good heist series? Why wasn’t this one more popular? Six measly episodes! Each one was great.
I started watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine on Hulu. I really like Andre Braugher, as usual. He’s serious and well-spoken and has a huge presence. The rest of the characters are goofy and comedic. The show has a cartoonish “hilarity ensues” feeling to it that is completely at odds with Braugher’s presence. I get that there is supposed to be a contrast, but it’s too much contrast. The other characters are manic and unlikable and I really have no interest in their story arcs. I want characters around him that can balance him out. You wouldn’t eat a twinkie with your filet mignon. I give some points for funny jokes, but funny jokes don’t make great character arcs or even plots. The show just grates.
Homicide: Life on the Street was a gritty police procedural that ran from 1993-1999. If you only ever watch one episode of Homicide: Life on the Street, make it “Subway“. The Subway episode well deserved its Peabody award and two Emmy nominations.
The episode, which aired in 1997 and was written by James Yoshimura, features Vincent D’Onofrio of Law and Order: Criminal Intent fame as John Lange, a man trapped between the subway and the platform either by accident or wrongdoing. Andre Braugher, a regular on the show, plays Detective Pembleton, who simultaneously comforts the victim while investigating the case. Their dialogue is moody and tense. The conclusion is all but foregone. We can’t imagine that Lange will survive. Nevertheless, everyone is still feverishly working to save him. Other detectives are looking for his girlfriend, jogging in the neighborhood.
See it. Flawless.
D’Onofrio is mesmerizing. He is at turns unlikable, empathetic, angry, calm, and manic. His character flips between demanding a burger to begging that they not remove his legs. The flare of hope he exhibits at the end is heartbreaking. The effect it has on Braugher’s character is also extremely convincing. They force and turbulance of D’Onofrio’s character is perfectly balanced with the calm of Andre Braugher’s character. Despite this episode being largely based on dialogue, it is extremely intense. An entire hour of just talking, a constrained, almost claustrophobic space, where the conclusion is all but foregone — sounds grim doesn’t it? Just watch it.
I’m a big fan of Andre Braugher. I’m disappointed that his better shows don’t last more than a couple of seasons. Aside from Homicide: Life on the Street (great) and Brooklyn Nine-Nine (terrible), many shows he was in did not last. He deserves longer-lasting vehicles for his talent.
There is something about a show with subtlety/intelligence/magic/challenge that the mass public isn’t interested in. When the public isn’t interested, there’s no money in it, and executives pull the plug. Here’s a short list of the Andre Braugher shows that got cancelled too soon: