Sunday, May 2, 2010

The small but pivotal role.

I can't say enough good things about the TV show Breaking Bad, but I'm certainly going to try. I don't have my TV connected up to anything but a DVD player, so all the new TV I watch is through Hulu or other web sources. The only show I am paying money to watch is Breaking Bad, which I subscribe to on iTunes. Every week, I get the new episode and a short extra clip of Vince Gilligan and his actors and crew talking about what's happening in the episode.

The show is now in its third season and it gets better every year. The first season was almost all about the chemistry teacher turned crystal meth manufacturer Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and his ne'er-do-well former student and partner in crime Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). The story has opened up considerably, and I wanted to comment in this post about how good the cast is from top to bottom, including some actors you might remember from other TV shows or movies who play small but pivotal roles very well.

One of the first actors in the supporting cast I recognized was Tess Harper as Jesse Pinkman's mom. She was in Tender Mercies with Robert Duvall several decades ago and she played Tommy Lee Jones' wife in No Country For Old Men.

Meeting her and her husband, we see that Jesse is the wastrel son of an upper middle class family, not the product of the mean streets where he now lives. Together, she and her husband give Jesse tough love, most of the toughness coming from the husband and most of the love coming from her.

Jonathan Banks has been a character actor for over thirty years now, and most of his career has been spent playing villains. Two of his most memorable roles were in two Eddie Murphy vehicles, 48 Hrs. and Beverly Hills Cop.

In the topsy-turvy world of Breaking Bad, Banks plays a mysterious character named Mike who acts as an underworld guardian angel for Walter White. We first meet him as an employee of the lawyer Saul Goodman (more about Saul tomorrow), but we find out later that his loyalties are divided.

Banks is 63 years old, and he's playing a guy you aren't supposed to fuck with, if you'll pardon the expression. He does it very well.

Don't fuck with Mike.

John De Lancie's best known role was as Q in Star Trek: The Next Generation. He plays the father of Jesse Pinkman's love interest and, as we see here, he is also an air traffic controller.

His role in Breaking Bad definitely qualifies as small but pivotal. He has a great scene with Walt in a bar where they meet by coincidence. There are several major plot twists involving his character in the second and third seasons, and writing much more than this would require a spoiler warning.

Mark Margolis, like Jonathan Banks, has played a lot of villains in his long career as a character actor. If you watched Law & Order from way back in the day, you might recognize him as the gun dealer who shot Paul Sorvino's character.

In Breaking Bad, he plays Tio, the mute uncle of Tuco, a major bad guy from seasons one and two. Margolis doesn't look particularly Hispanic, and all he gets to do is sit in a wheelchair and ring a bell, but you always understand the danger he represents whenever he's on screen. Acting isn't just lines, and veterans like Margolis understand this very well.

I thought it was a very good chance that no actor from the cast of The Wire would ever get a better role than the one they had on that ground-breaking show, but David Costabile's role on Breaking Bad may be the first major exception. On The Wire, he was the weaselly Managing Editor of The Baltimore Sun, one of the people above Gus Haynes on the org chart who, unlike Gus, had a very hard time doing the right thing. His character on Breaking Bad was introduced just last week, Walt's new assistant in the drug manufacturing business, Gale Boetticher. In just one show, he's already had a couple of terrific scenes, and his character has a lot of potential for growth and conflict.

Those who pay attention to labels on blogs will have noticed I made a new label specifically for this show. I may have just barely 100 regular readers of this blog, but I intend to stand on my little soapbox regularly and sing the praises of Breaking Bad. I absolutely do NOT recommend trying to watch the next episode tonight if you've never seen it before. Rent it from the beginning, because the arc of the story is important. I won't say it's the best drama on TV ever, but in my opinion, the only shows that compare with it are the best on HBO, which puts it in very good company indeed.

No comments: