Breaking Bad: Worst Finale Ever?

With Breaking Bad now in the final throes of its amazing run, we have to wonder what approach they will take for the series finale.  There’s been several television shows throughout history that people have considered “the best,” and Breaking Bad seems to be the most recent show gunning for that title.  So let’s take a look at how some of those other shows ended and how Vince Gilligan and crew could potentially follow suit.

They could do it the style of The Sopranos, where Walter is sitting with his family and the screen just fades to black.  This will lead to several years of fans discussing the symbolism and if Walter was killed right after, when really the writers just said, “There’s no easy way to do this, so let’s just pretend the power went out.”

There’s always the Seinfeld approach:  Walter and Jesse are in court, and every witness called is a character from seasons past who testifies about how awful the duo treated him or her.  We, the audience, sit with great anticipation waiting for the episode to become, you know, good, like it’s supposed to be.  But then Walt and Jesse are sent to prison and that’s that.  We all just turn to each other and say, “Really?  That was it?” But showrunner Gilligan didn’t drop out two seasons earlier only to come back and write a bad finale, so no worries here.

Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about Breaking Bad taking the Friends approach to closing out.  That would require the show running an extra six seasons beyond its expiration date, leading to terrible and completely out-of-character storylines.  Just imagine the horror of Jesse, now married to Marie, telling some woman “Please give us your baby.  My wife’s a mother without a child!” Hard to even thinking, isn’t it?  He would ride these ridiculous arcs as long as it could, only to wither across the finish line like a dying snail.

Now, they could get wild and go for something along the lines of Lost:  It turns out that every terrible thing Walt has done over the last few years have been nothing more than an illusion, and his family, friends, and enemies are all just chillin’, waiting for him to move on.  If they take this route, it’ll be hard to match the genius level of Lost‘s producers, as they were able to convince their fan base that the series was made so much better by having such a shitty ending that answered absolutely zero questions (several Losties still defend it to this day).  Brilliant, I tell you.  Brilliant.

But how could we forget about the series finale of M*A*S*H?  The beautifully crafted, heartwarming, utterly flawless finale to one of the greatest achievements ever put on television.  The Breaking Bad finale would be so amazingly perfect that thirty years from now, I’ll be telling my children about how Breaking Bad was this beyond amazing show–a mesmerizingly radiant display of human creativity–and they will have no idea what I’m talking about.  Because they’ve never seen the show nor will they have any desire to watch it.  Thus, they will go write on their stupid blog about how they have no idea why their parents won’t stop talking about this show called M*A*S*H, excuse me, Breaking Bad.

Ultimately, here’s the thing:  Breaking Bad is the greatest television series ever.  And it’s been so good up to this point that the amount of pressure to live up to expectations on these last 8 episodes (well, 7 episodes now) is at a level that would cause nightmares for even the most hardened of drug kingpins.  Nearly every show that has ever been considered “great” has failed to produce an equally worthy finale.  But I’m convinced that Vince Gilligan and company will deliver, simply because they always have.

Of course, if it fades to black, I’ve  got my torch and pitchfork ready.  Who’s with me?

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Grammys, The Walking Dead, and Chocolate Tacos

This past Friday, I went to a bakery around the cornerThey have this dessert called a Chocolate Taco—a cookie “taco shell” filled with chocolate moose and topped with chocolate shavings (Pretty much a When Harry Met Sally kind of dessert).  Anyway, I’m not sure what the joke was, but their stereo system was playing a song on repeat:  Billy Joel’s “The Downeaster Alexa,” which I subsequently heard about eight times.  But each time it played, one line kept catching my attention:

There ain’t no island left for islanders like me.

And I realized that’s a bit how I feel in regards to mainstream music.  As much as I wish there’d be a return to the glory days, I’m simply longing for something that no longer exists.

But what am I going to do about it?  Put on a pair of skinny jeans and fake glasses? Drink expensive coffee while I piss and moan with the kids over in Silver Lake about how much better life was before Gotye and Foster the People were on the radio?  What good would that accomplish?  It would do nothing to change the current—and more-than-likely permanent—paradigm.

It’s of no coincidence that the Grammys took place the same night as the midseason premiere of The Walking Dead.  Because is there really a better analogy for what has happened to music?  Zombies are human bodies completely void of emotion and feeling, whose sole desire is to destroy all remaining pieces of humanity.  They devour our nation and their sickness continues to spread, even infecting those who were previously clean.  Pretty much sums up what we hear on the radio, right?

But if we are using The Walking Dead as a metaphor, how can we forget about the group of survivors?  Rick, Herschel, Daryl, and Glenn; just to name a few (For the time being, we’ll just ignore those crazy Woodbury people).  While society crumbles around them, and even as they lose those who are near and dear, they continue to trek on.  Hoping to find a way to keep their standard of living as high as possible.

Back in reality, our musical survivors made their presence felt at the Grammys.  Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, Frank Ocean, and Adele; just to name a few of the few.  Pushing on the only way they know how, despite what the current standards attempt to dictate.  They may be outnumbered by the callous zombies, but they remain true to their form.

So perhaps I shouldn’t take Billy Joel’s words as an absolute statement.  The island is definitely out there.  Maybe I’ve just allowed the horde to prevent me from seeing the lighthouse.

P.S.

I remember a few years back while mind-numbingly flipping through channels, I came across an HBO airing of The Jonas Brothers:  3D Concert Experience.  The band’s on stage, playing this awful music, but when the camera would pan the crowd, I saw nothing but girls screaming.  Thousands and thousands of young girls, just ripping their vocal cords to shreds.  Non-stop.  Some were even in tears.  They couldn’t even begin to help themselves.  And I had an epiphany:  If this music can bring such jubilation to so many people, can it really be all that bad?  And my opinion as of today … yes, it really can be all that bad.  But at least I’m trying to get over it, eh?

Five Things I Learned While Watching the Super Bowl

On Sunday, our nation’s favorite-yet-potentially-dangerous sport concluded its season with the Baltimore Ravens defeating the San Francisco 49ers 34-31 in Super Bowl XLVII. Before we begin the long countdown to next year’s gladiatorial gridiron festivities, let’s reflect on what we learned during those five (maybe six?) hours on Sunday night.

1. CBS Is Desperately Insecure

CBS felt it necessary to remind us, at least once every fifteen minutes, that it is the most watched network on television. Their tactics involved using actors from their various series—at least, I’m guessing that’s who those people are. Outside of Craig Ferguson, I’ve never watched a full episode of any CBS show. I gave Two and a Half Men a chance; had to shut it off after about six minutes. People rave about The Big Bang Theory (and I’ve given it due credit, as well) but it just didn’t do it for me (How can a show about geniuses be so dumb?). Clearly, the “Les Moonves System for a Top-Rated Network” consists of three elements: laugh track, police procedural, and Jerry Bruckheimer. Throw in at least four servings of each and, ¡voila!, you’ve got the most watched network. I’m not sure where the lack of confidence comes from, but, after Sunday night’s display, it’s safe to say we are fast approaching paranoia.

2. David Spade Still Exists

While watching one of these propaganda bits on CBS ratings, a face from my childhood popped up on screen. And thank heaven for DVRs, because I was forced to rewind it for confirmation. Sure enough, there was David Spade. You may remember Spade as being the sidekick to Chris Farley in two movies during the mid-90s. Other than that, I don’t know what else’s he’s been in. But curiosity got the best of me, so I looked him up on IMDb. I was shocked to see that his show on CBS—entitled Rules of Engagement—has been on the air since 2007. I’d honestly never heard of it until last night. Again, I don’t really watch CBS, so how would I know? Maybe I’m the reason Les was so adamant about the constant reminders.

3. Super Bowl Commercials Are New; Doesn’t Mean They Are Good

I swear, every year—well, at least every year since the explosion of social media—the collective population of the Internet is consistently disappointed with the advertisements that air during timeouts. At this point, people should know to stop putting them on a pedestal. Simply put, the companies main goal is not to impress you with how creative their ad execs are; they only want to further promote their brand. And the truth is, if their commercial sucks and everyone is talking about how terrible the commercial was … well, everyone is still talking about the company. Sure, it’d be nice to garner the most votes in HuffPost’s “Best Ad” poll (the equivalent of a pissing contest between 12-year-olds), but ultimately, just keeping the brand name afloat is the objective.

4. Sore Losers Love To Blame The Refs

Lest we forget, when a team loses a game in any sport, it is never because the other team was better (in fact, 49ers running back Frank Gore went on the record about it). So who do they blame in order make themselves feel better? Of course, it’s the officiating crew. Never mind that on the 4th and Goal pass, there was contact by both players. On that same goal line stand, forget about the horrendous play-calling (Three straight passes? Really?). How about not giving up a 108-yard kickoff return? Or maybe when a receiver makes a diving catch, falling to the ground, and is covered by two defenders, you manage to get a hand on him instead of letting him strut into the end zone. I’m by no-means a football coach or analyst (Side note: To be a professional analyst, is the only prerequisite having had previously watched a football game? Seems to be the case.), but when you’re gifted a momentum-swinging power outage, you have no right to complain.

5. Bar Refaeli Was Paid A Ton Of Money

At least, I hope so.

30 Rock: More Like 30 Rocky Balboa

Rocky is generally considered one of the greatest underdog stories of all time. Nothing against the five sequels, but the original film from 1976 definitely stands out from the rest. The movie went on to win Best Picture, become a staple of pop culture, and the hero isn’t currently being accused of running a Ponzi scheme (I’m looking at you, Rudy).

But one thing that people often forget when discussing the film is {spoiler alert} Rocky doesn’t win the fight at the end. He loses on a split decision, and it’s Apollo Creed who raises his fist in jubilant victory. But we all know that’s not the point. Rocky didn’t have to beat Creed to win us over; he didn’t even necessarily want to beat Creed. He simply wanted to go the distance.

With that in mind, something becomes blatantly obvious: 30 Rock is the greatest underdog story since Rocky.

This past Sunday, Tina Fey pleaded, “Our finale is on this Thursday at 8. Up against ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ so just tape ‘The Big Bang Theory’ for once, for crying out loud!” TBBT—or possibly Chuck Lorre’s body of work as a whole—is currently television’s Apollo Creed. And that’s not an insult; Creed was one helluva boxer.

The Big Bang Theory is currently averaging over 18 million viewers per episode. 30 Rock, on the other hand, is averaging just around 3.5 million. It’s not a problem that TBBT has more viewers, but it’s the staggering difference in number of viewers that is so shocking to me.

For whatever reason, 30 Rock could not find a big audience. My girlfriend says the jokes are too intelligent and come too fast—almost one immediately after the other—that sometimes even she gets lost. Plus, there is no laugh track to let the audience know, “Hey, that was a joke. It’s okay to laugh now.” (Side note: You can throw out the “Filmed in front of a live, studio audience” line all you want; if there is laughter on the broadcast, it’s a goddamn laugh track.) I admire Tina’s playfulness with their lack of viewers (in addition to their consistent ribbing of NBC’s across-the-board low viewership). One of my favorite lines of the series was when Liz, in reference to her show-within-the-show TGS, said, “We’re the show that TV Guide once described as ‘still on.’” This is 30 Rock in one sentence. Every year we had to pray the show would be renewed. Every. Single. Year.

Yet, despite the lack of viewers and the constant threat of cancelation, 30 Rock—just like Rocky—went the distance. Think of all the shows that don’t even make it through one full season; it makes you admire 30 Rock’s body of work even more. Now, who knows what sort of blackmail or witchcraft was required to make this happen. But we shouldn’t concern ourselves with such minute details, and instead just be thrilled that it happened.

In the end, I leave you with my favorite scene from 30 Rock. From Alec Baldwin’s so-small-it’s-huge acting to Tina’s commentary on current television trends; just an all-around genius moment. And pay attention to Tina’s gesture at the very end, for after tonight’s finale, we should all engage in such an expression. For we know that 30 Rock gave us the ride of a lifetime, and while we may not have come out on top, at least we went the distance. Lemon out, Nerds!

Must-See Holiday Programming

There is countless holiday programming on television, and it can be a bit overwhelming at times.  So I decided to go through and give you a heads up on which ones are really worth watching.  Fire up your DVRs and let’s get to celebrating!

Justin Bieber’s “I Hate the Holidays” Extravaganza (8:00pm, Dec. 21, ABC)

I would initially think that the Biebs has had a few too many eggnogs, but being as that he is under the age of 21—and we all know that a kid like Justin would never break the law—this can’t be the case.  So clearly Justin Bieber is going to test the limits of his rock-star status.  He wants to know if, even after disparaging their favorite time of year, he will still be adored by millions of thirteen year old girls.  They already say he’s better than John Lennon, so he’s taking the “more popular than Jesus” idea to new heights.  Closing number is rumored be a mash-up “O’ Holy Night” with Lil’ Wayne’s “I Wish I Could F*** Every Girl in the World.”  Experts expect this to be the top song on iTunes come Christmas Day.

Jeff Foxworthy’s Second Annual “You Might be a Reindeer” Special (7:00pm, Dec. 23, CMT)

The patriarch of blue-collar comedy is back with a laugh-every-few-minutes-if-we’re-lucky standup routine that is sure to have you rolling on the floor … to better entertain yourself.  After last year’s failed attempt—most jokes were met with silence, with the occasional shout from the audience of “Hey, tell one of your redneck jokes!”—Jeff is determined to not take “No” for an answer.  Judging from the preview, he has a gaggle of new material, including this gem: “If you your back hooves get stuck in your buddies antlers, you might be a reindeer.”  All viewers will receive a complimentary six-pack of Lone Star (expected delivery time of four weeks post-airing).

Hipsters Love Our Crude Animation, Charlie Brown (8:00pm, Dec. 24, PBS)

Time to call up your buds on your old rotary phone, put on your best pair of fake glasses, and squeeze into those skinny jeans one more time, as we celebrate a Christmas tradition in watching this classic Peanuts film.  Some will say that these age-old specials have lost some of their luster over the years, that the animation simply doesn’t hold up over time, and the new generation of children don’t care.  Well, don’t mention that to the hipster movement.  They will quickly tell you how the simplicity of the drawing is a reflection of the times, a reflection of the true nature of the soul, a status of where we ought to be as a society.  This year’s feature was to have a soundtrack by Gotye, but unfortunately, a requirement is you can’t be on the radio, so the movement is currently scrambling for a  replacement.  They seem to be running into issues finding an artist that no one else has heard of, though.

A Christmas Story (All Day, Dec. 25, TNT)

Ted Turner is a genius.  He somehow determined that what people truly want for Christmas is to watch the same movie over and over again, and so he decided to air A Christmas Story for the whole twenty-four hours of Christmas Day.  You’ll laugh the first time you hear the line “You’ll shoot your eye out!”  And then you may cry when you hear it for the 20th time.  But you’ll continue to watch because, hey, that’s what you do on Christmas.  Mr. Turner recently has said he regrets not being the one to create the twenty-four hour burning Yule log channel; perhaps Ted is losing his touch.

Rob Parker’s Twelve Days of Christmas (9:00pm ET, Dec. 26, ESPN3)

ESPN analyst Rob Parker wanted to experience a true twelve days of Christmas, and sure enough, his employer gave him the perfect opportunity.  Since being suspended by the network on December 13th for stating that Redskin’s Quarterback Robert Griffin III wasn’t black enough, Mr. Parker’s had a lot of time to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.  The day after Christmas, see if Rob has learned his lesson.  Sample lyrics of Parker’s rendition of the classic carol have already been leaked:

On the fifth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Five tasteless tweets
Four white girlfriends
Three “No Ways!”
Two GOPs
And a foot shoved deep in my mouth
           

Ryan Seacrest Presents “New Years Eve Bash 2012:  I Can’t Believe People Still Watch This Crap” (9:00pm, Dec. 31, FOX)

To top of your holiday viewing, what better than to celebrate the most-overrated holiday than with Ryan Seacrest, as he showcases the destruction of whatever remaining integrity is left in the music business.  Expect to see performances by boys with perfectly groomed hair, girls with lots of different colors in their hair, songs about boys who break up with their girlfriends, and songs about girls who won’t go out with this boy.  This year, the network is simulcasting via FOX.com a backstage look at the show, which will feature Seacrest lighting his midnight cigar with burning $100 bills.

Stephen King: Literary Master, Cinematic Question Mark

Stephen King is one of the most prolific writers ever.  Maybe not regarded as the best, but he has put out something like 50 novels over the past 40 years, a majority of which have ended up on various bestseller lists.  His name is nearly synonymous with horror, but he’s achieved high praise in other genres as well, including non-fiction.  So for one of the most recognizable names in literature– for someone who has sold over 350 million copies of his work there is one question that has always bothered me:  Why have the film and television adaptations of his stories been so bad?

Yes, there have been exceptions.  Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is one of our greatest films (despite what Mr. King himself has to say about it), and Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption is one that, despite how many times you’ve seen it, you will always stop and watch a few scenes when you catch it playing on TNT.  Kathy Bates won an Oscar for her role in Misery, and Carrie is generally regarded as a classic of horror.

God bless you, Mr. Kubrick.

But the success of these films is so greatly offset by the complete duds.

Take a look at It, King’s tale of a shape-shifting being who primarily takes the form of a clown named Pennywise.  Written in 1986, the film was adapted for a television miniseries in 1990.  From a personal standpoint, I’ve never understood the fear of clowns, especially when they are presented on screen (perhaps the cult film Killer Klowns from Outer Space ruined it for me).  The terrifying thing about Pennywise isn’t that he is a clown – it’s that he eats children.  But seeing Tim Curry dance around in a puffy costume wearing makeup just doesn’t rile up any suspense.

I’m scared … maybe?

But the real issue with this film is the climax.  Yes, I’m ignoring the C-level acting and production value (how could they not see the shadow of the camera in so many shots?).  At the end, the “Losers’ Club” confronts It in its true form:  a gigantic spider-like creature.  I understand that this was made on a television budget, but this spider thing looks like it was constructed with Play-Doh by my 5-year-old cousin.  I saw scarier things in my elementary school cafeteria.  I’m amazed that people found this film frightening, and some even say it is the root of their coulrophobia.

The budget obviously couldn’t afford something like this.

I’ve never read the novel It, so my opinion of it is purely based on the mini-series.   But another poorly adapted King novel happens to be a favorite of mine:  The Stand.  Yes, I read all 1,152 pages of the complete and uncut version, and I read them twice.  Just an all-around fantastic novel.  Now, all those pages makes for a dense story, so I understand the complications that could arise from adapting a story of such epic proportions.  But the 1994 television adaptation didn’t even come close.

First of all, I’ll pay you $5 if you can find someone who, while reading the novel, pictured Molly Ringwald as Frannie Goldsmith.  Hell, I’ll pay you $5 if you can find someone who pictured Molly Ringwald as ANY character in the novel.  This has to be one of the all-time worst casting decisions.  And I’m not trying to attack Ringwald, but no one wants to be watching an apocalyptic story and think, “Hey, isn’t that the John Hughes’ girl?”

And they still don’t remember her birthday!

On top of that, bad directing, bad set design (the deserted Las Vegas looked more like a deserted Motel 8), and just an overall poor production.  It looks especially bad by today’s standards, but honestly it already looked dated when it was first released.

Others include The Langoliers—a low-budget miniseries with special effects created using Microsoft Paint – and Children of the Corn and it’s seven sequels, which reminds us to always be careful when casting children actors, advice the producers obviously paid no attention.

Hollywood generally looks at the horror genre has a sure bet.  But the bottom line is King’s work is much more than simply scary.  He describes characters in such depth that is hard to translate to the screen.  While he’s never been a master of wrapping up plot points, it’s his characters that we fall in love with and keep bringing us back to his writing – even though he does tend to kill them off without any remorse.

But this isn’t stopping anyone from trying.  It’s been announced that The Stand is being rebooted with possibly Ben Affleck at the helm.  I wish you the best of luck, Ben, because you’re going to need it.

 

 

The Walking Dead on Arrival

When The Walking Dead premiered in October of 2010, I had no interest in watching it. I’d seen plenty of zombie films. In the first grade, pretending I wasn’t scared while watching the original Dawn of the Dead at my friend’s birthday party, I felt like I got the gist of the zombie genre. And to be honest, I didn’t think there were really any stories left to cover.

Now, while the stories may no longer be whole-heartedly original, they can still be put together to create a solid film. Danny Boyle did this with his 28 Days Later (and I’ll partially include the non-Boyle-directed sequel 28 Weeks Later, but it doesn’t nearly live up to the predecessor’s standard). And some fun comedies have shown up along the way as well—Shaun of the Dead and Zomebieland (which featured the most-epic of cameos).

Saint Bill

But with the first season of TWD, I had no desire to check it out. I ignored the advertisements and after it’s short, six-week run, I forgot it even existed. But sure enough, come fall of 2011, the ads started revving up again. I thought, “Why the hell not? It’s only six episodes.” Flip on Netflix, watch the pilot and … hooked. Wow. That was one hell of a show.

One aspect that grabbed me was the overall look of the show—in particular, the casting. I hate watching dramas on the traditional networks because they all look the same—bland, artificial, actors who look too much like … well, actors. The Walking Dead did the opposite. I felt like I was watching actual human beings dealing in this post-apocalyptic world:  Andrew Lincoln playing Rick Grimes (what a great name for a hero), Jon Bernthal as the maybe-antagonist Shane, just to name a couple.  Fantastic job of casting.

I also greatly admired that they did not rely on jump scares. If anything has destroyed the horror genre, it is this cheap trick. There is nothing genuinely scary about a face quickly popping up on screen as a cymbal crashes in the background. Intense, perhaps, but not scary. In fact, I believe the first season of TWD played on this now-clichéd trope by building up lots of suspense by using similar shots from recent films imploring the jump scare, only minus the actual jump scare.

On top of all that, there was genuine emotion, great music, beautiful settings, and a plot that races along. I watched the entire six-episode season in about a day and couldn’t wait for the second season premiere—advertised at 90 minutes long. This was going to be great! So fall 2011, the day comes, I’m all pumped, push play on the DVR and … what? Surely there was a mistake. 90 minutes of that?

It was nothing more than watching the characters run around the forest. Then, we have a six-episode arc looking for a girl (with lots of running through the forest), followed by a six-episode arc meticulously debating whether to leave or stay at a farmhouse (I remember Twitter blowing up with “Can we leave this *expletive* farm already!?”). Throw in some soap opera-esque storylines and the mandatory “Ahh! Zombies! Run! Shoot!” scenes and we have the entire second season in one small paragraph.

Cue up The Clash’s hit-single of 1982

We all know that showrunner and Hollywood veteran Frank Darabont was fired (or asked to resign) during production of the second season. Prior to that, Darabont himself fired the entire writing staff. He respectfully hasn’t commented on these many personnel adjustments, so we are left to speculate. But those two events clearly indicated trouble was brewing, and the manifestation of which was one stinker of a product.

So maybe it was the musical chairs of writers and producers.  Perhaps going from a six-episode season—where writers are forced to propel the story quickly—to a thirteen-episode season was just too much to handle. And to be fair, they had some decent scenes thrown in: the Merle hallucination, Shane and Otis at the school, among a few others.

This leads us to the season three premiere. It’s essentially the season two premiere, but instead of the characters running through the forest, they’re running through a prison. Lots of running. Lots of zombies. Lots of shooting. Nothing else. At least this one was only 60 minutes long.

But I haven’t given up hope yet. The introduction of some interesting characters promises good storylines–I’ve been hearing great things about this Governor. And yes yes yes, every week we hear how this show has broken another record for basic cable viewership–and I believe it is warranted. The show still looks great from a production value standpoint, and the characters still look like actual people. However, the ratings may be more about the current state of television programming than about The Walking Dead being a superior product.

So, as Bill Murray’s only dying regret was “Garfield, maybe,” let’s hope that The Walking Dead’s cast and crew only regret the second season, instead of everything that followed an impressively solid opening.