Monday, July 29, 2013

Flipping Channels: Breaking Bad on Crank, Emmys on Crack

Posted By on Mon, Jul 29, 2013 at 7:32 AM

You can start a lively debate by asking which AMC series is better: Mad Men or Breaking Bad. As someone who grew up during the '60s and finds a lot wanting in the former's depiction of that era, I come down squarely on the side of Breaking Bad.

But it is also a powerhouse show that can't go on indefinitely, like some procedurals or sitcoms. The evolution of Walter White (multiple Emmy winner Bryan Cranston) from a struggling, ailing, fiscally strapped science teacher to a hard-edged meth dealer wallowing in wealth — which you can relive in the mashup clip above — has been an epic story. Now it is coming to an end.

Breaking Bad begins its final eight episodes 8 p.m. Aug. 11. Expect fireworks to erupt early and continue right through the conclusion. "This is a race to the finish," creator Vince Gilligan told TV Guide. "We leave it all on the field. No loose ends go untied. It's a fast-moving eight episodes."

One proposed thematic direction that didn't happen was the death of White's DEA agent brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris). As a result, their last encounters will be a major part of the storyline, resolving what has been a brilliantly plotted study in the rippling consequences of immoral choices.

As the show nears its finale, old arguments will only intensify. When exactly did Walter White "break bad?" Or was he bad from the beginning — needing just an inciting incident (or self-justification) to let loose the demons within?

Such questions ensure that Breaking Bad will join other departed classics like The Wire, NYPD Blue and The Sopranos among shows TV fans will forever discuss, debate and dissect. It is good the program is going out on a high note, and won't hang around until every ounce of creativity has been wrung out of its staff.

The cool of Hard Knocks
There aren't many reality shows I watch, but one exception is HBO's Hard Knocks. It not only expertly captures pro football's drama, intensity and violence, it exposes the politics and lunacy at its core. But the program has become a hot potato in NFL circles. The producers had to hustle and entice various teams before they finally found a willing host for the new season.

When it returns 9 p.m. Aug. 6, Hard Knocks welcomes back an old friend, the Cincinnati Bengals. When they were the 2009 subject, the most memorable scenes involved Chad Johnson's on- and off-field exploits and Carson Palmer's growing disenchantment at the disarray he saw on a daily basis.

Now the Bengals have been to the playoffs three of four years, and are no longer regarded closer to clowns than champions. Hard Knocks is also a tribute to NFL Films, which might be the greatest film company of all time outside Hollywood — not just for sports, but period.

Every Hard Knocks episode is compiled from more then 300 hours of footage. HBO has complete access to meetings, film study, personnel discussions and evaluations — in short, pretty much everything that happens in training camp.

They, not the NFL or the team, have creative control, which can result in some astonishing footage making it on air. Plus there are no language or content restrictions, which contributes to the "train wreck in progress" sensibility that's part of the show's lore and appeal.

Eight seasons in, Hard Knocks remains not just a sports' fan's delight, but a fine show for everybody — with the exception of young children.

Emmy fallout
As with all awards, there's plenty of politics involved in the Emmys, and merit often doesn't get rewarded. But there was universal head-shaking when the nominations were announced, and neither Justified nor The Americans was among the drama nominees. Neither was CBS's The Good Wife.

For all the happiness about Netflix's House of Cards getting 14 nominations, there was just as much dismay that these programs got the shaft. Broadcast TV has become an underdog in the Emmy competition, but it still shocked a lot of people that The Good Wife was totally overlooked. This is one show that doesn't follow CBS's usual procedural formula, and it got shut out.

On the plus side, Connie Britton's Best Actress in a Drama nod gives the locally produced Nashville additional industry attention and status. Kerry Washington's nomination only adds to the wave for Scandal, which became a legitimate phenomenon in its second season. She's also the first black actress nominated in a lead role for a drama in decades.

Still, the absence of The Good Wife, Justified and The Americans sparked new demands for expanding the nomination roster from six (up from five since 2009) to 10 in the drama and comedy categories. It wouldn't be necessary to nominate 10 if the committees didn't think there were that many worthy choices. But this year, it was pretty clear some excellent programs received unfair treatment.

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