The Little TV Season That Could: Two New Shows To DVR

This winter we were all witness to the first writer’s strike in 20 years.  While we all took sides (the writers’…) it made for a very interesting Television season and had many people watching closely.  It was almost an experiment and like the networks, a lot of us were wondering how the strike would or could impact viewer ship with the absence of many regular shows.  It seems that the answer still isn’t very clear with both sides claiming victory and everyone is just happy that Lost is returning to further confuse us.  Still, through all the turmoil, a few new shows debuted and made it through the other side (nearly) unscathed.   I’m here to detail two freshman shows that stood out during this cold and dry season.  One dares to cross the line and the other dares to be about Terminators and NOT include California‘s current Governor.

Breaking Bad AMC Sundays 10PM 

A surprise hit this season came from the new basic cable underdog of television series, AMC.  Following their first true hit, Mad Men, they decided to bring the one-two punch with a series that was developed by FX but was passed on, probably due to its extremely controversial nature.  Luckily AMC had enough guts to put Breaking Bad on the screen and it seems to be paying off.  Many will recognize the show’s lead Bryan Cranston, who was arguably the best character on Malcolm in the Middle where he portrayed Hal, their child-like father, but most will be stunned at Cranston‘s new character.  Walter White is a high school chemistry teacher, something he seemingly fell into despite being a genius that seemed destined for greener pastures. Not only is he stuck teaching unmotivated teenagers, but he washes cars in the afternoon to make more income for his family that includes pregnant his wife, Skyler (Anna Gun), and son, Walter Jr. (R.J. Mitte), who has cerebral palsy.  On top of all this he recently turned 50 only to find out that despite being a non-smoker, he has terminal lung cancer.  Struggling as it is, he stumbles across a former student and current meth-dealer, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), and makes the life-altering decision to forge a partnership with Jesse and to use his extensive knowledge of chemistry to cook the purest meth this small New Mexican town has ever seen.  Oh, and his brother-in-law is the town’s leading DEA Agent. 

This show is definitely not for the faint of heart, not only due to its drug depicting nature but also the utter hopelessness and self-deprecating feeling one gets from watching the aimless Walt.  Coming from former The X-Files scribe Vince Gilligan, it’s something that should be expected.  Like his previous show, Breaking Bad dares to go deep into the darkness of our own psyches and question everything we know.  It isn’t quite clear why Walter decides to "break bad" (southern slang for, essentially, going down that bad road) but it is assumed it is so he can leave his family in good financial standing.  Everyone can sympathize with that, but can they condone Walter’s actions?  That is what lies deep in the heart of the show.  It never asks you to agree with Walt’s decisions, only to understand them, which makes the show such an emotional ride.  We are rooting for Walter but deep down we question why we are and if we really should. 

The cast is top notch and the relationship between Walt and Jesse is one of the best duos to arrive in years.  Both their lives have lead to a dead end and they strangely come together as they search for a way out.  Of course the breakout star is Cranston who is so far removed from his previous work that he’s almost unrecognizable and coming from a true Hal fan that is a huge compliment.  Cranston plays Walt as a man who is stricken with constant depression, desperation, fear and compassion and creates a character who is unbearably hopeless to watch yet it’s impossible to tear your eyes away, contemplating what he could possibly do next.  Due, in no small part, to Cranston’s impeccable portrayal of Walt and deep, thought provoking writing, Breaking Bad has shown itself to be one of the most audacious and infectious shows of the past few years. 

Unfortunately, the original order of 9 episodes was cut to 7 due to the strike but the transformation of Walt, thus far, is so compelling and dramatic that it’s hard to imagine where the series can go from here.  Of course, his terminal cancer status brings all of this into question immediately but Gilligan and co. will surely figure something out (if they haven’t already) as it hopefully enters its second season.  A controversial and daring series like this is something that will inevitably be both lauded and revolted against, especially on basic cable.  But AMC has to be given praise for airing such a truly original and bold show.  We can only hope they have the brains to continue Walter’s plight. 

The season-finale airs this Sunday at 10 PM on AMC. 

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles  Fox 

Another show that broke onto the scene this year was Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, a show that is also controversial in its own way.  The Terminator series is now considered a classic, but only when it involves James Cameron.  Luckily, this series ignores what happened following the destruction of the T-1000 and continues the story from there.  We are now introduced to a 16 year-old John Connor (Thomas Dekker) and a thinner and more brunette Sarah Connor (Lena Headey).  They’re still running and still trying to stop the creation of that apocalyptic company, SkyNet, which will ultimately bring upon the destruction of Earth as we know it by the hands of the machines.  This time the two are being protected by Cameron (Summer Glau) a young, female Terminator who passes off as John’s sister.  Adapted for the small screen by Josh Friedman, it was scandalous even before it started.  The Terminator series is the Holy Grail to many action fans and re-doing it is unthinkable to many, including this writer.  Surprisingly, it turned out to be pretty tasteful.  It is heavily anchored to James Cameron’s mythology established in the first two films and stays the course.  The bulk of the series finds Sarah and John taken ten years into the future, 2007, by Cameron to avoid the enemy cyborgs sent back in time.  But, they find they’re not so safe in the future either and neither is the eventual coming of Judgment Day. 

This series isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s a real treat for Terminator fans and even for those new to the story.  Sometimes relies too heavily on the films and newcomers may be at a loss as to what is happening.  It’s surprising that this should even be a criticism, but towards the end of the season the show really comes into its own blend of new storylines blended with the ones we’ve all committed to heart.  Following a 12 episode airing the show is still in limbo and its fate has yet to be determined.  Unlike Breaking Bad it didn’t hit the ground running but for such a well known story, it’s really held its own and there’s obviously great potential for future growth.  Lena Headey is no Linda Hamilton as she will always be the true Sarah Connor, but Headey breathes new life into the character and does the job.  Fox should give this series, itself, more breathing room this fall and allow it to come into its own.  But a network notorious for canceling great shows, optimism may not suffice.

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