Monday, May 3, 2010

The new supporting cast on Breaking Bad

The story line on the show Breaking Bad has progressed and important new characters have been added. In the first season, Walter White and his partner Jesse Pinkman produce a better grade of crystal meth than the competition, but they are still just street level dealers. As they move up the food chain and survive some tough situations due mainly to luck, they gain access to the next level of money and power in the drug trade, and two new characters become part of the regular supporting cast.

On Breaking Bad, series creator Vince Gilligan never throws a fastball. There always has to be a twist. Sometimes it's a curve, sometimes a screwball, sometimes a hard slider. Bob Odenkirk's portrayal of the criminal lawyer Saul Goodman is definitely a screwball. Odenkirk has been a comedy writer and actor since the early 1990s, starting on Saturday Night Live and working on shows like Mr. Show with David Cross, as well as doing a lot of guest spots on sitcoms. The character of Saul Goodman is a lawyer advising criminals on how to commit crimes more efficiently. We've seen this before, most notably with the character Tom Hagen in The Godfather and also on shows like The Sopranos and The Wire, but Saul Goodman is also one of those ridiculous ambulance chasers that advertises on late night TV. In a show that tends very much to the dark side, Saul is played for laughs by Odenkirk, and he delivers on a regular basis.

It is Saul that gives Walt his introduction to the big time drug kingpin Gus Frings, played by Giancarlo Esposito. I first noticed Esposito in Spike Lee films made back in the late 1980s, but he had been working on TV for about ten years before that and has had steady work ever since.

Unlike Saul, Gus is no joke. He is very quiet and serious, and like the old E.F. Hutton ads said, when he talks, people listen. Besides being a major drug kingpin, Gus runs a chain of fast food chicken restaurants called Los Pollos Hermanos throughout the Southwestern United States, which is also his territory for his other, more lucrative product. He got where he is by being smart and being cautious. He doesn't seem to have any temper at all so far, but we have seen that when violence needs to be done, he does not hesitate to give the order.

These additions to the cast have added to the drama and excitement of the show, and these are only a few of the ways the story has expanded. While the plots are surprising, so far characters have stayed in character and the things they do in remarkable and stressful situations make sense. I find myself looking forward to each new episode with the hope of seeing more good work from a master storyteller. I consider Vince Gilligan to be one of the best writers working on TV today, at the same level as David Milch, Joss Whedon, J. Michael Straczynzski, Matthew Weiner and many others at their best.


Anonymous said...

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Margaret Benbow said...

You're absolutely right--if the Giancarlo Esposito character has occasion to PERSONALLY get violent in Breaking Bad, back up! I first saw him as a drug kingpin in the movie Fresh. Inspite of his almost pretty, rather effeminate looks in that movie, he was the most chilling, terrifying film psychopath I've ever seen.