Popular culture goes all Walter

As someone interested in the state of contemporary culture, I’m on the look out for evidence that things are changing…or at least that precedents have been established and long standing rules are no longer inviolable.

So I love this passage from AN ESSAY by Andrew Romano in The Daily Beast.

“Television is historically good at keeping its characters in a self-imposed stasis so that shows can go on for years or even decades,” says Breaking Bad’s creator, Vince Gilligan. “When I realized this, the logical next step was to think, how can I do a show in which the fundamental drive is toward change?” So Gilligan designed Breaking Bad to transform its hero into a villain—or, as he put it in his early pitch meetings, “Mr. Chips into Scarface.”

This breaks the contract that TV once fashioned with the viewer, that heroes were enchanted and protected from harm.  (The hero in Castle is always in harm’s way but will never come to grief.)  To visit a world in which heroes could go “all Walter,” we were obliged to abandon popular culture for art and literature.  (And no one wanted to go there.)

It’s also worth pointing out that as TV gets better, so does the criticism.  See this essay by Romano and the Chuck Klosterman’s GRANTLAND TREATMENT of Breaking Bad which explores Walter’s transformation with real intelligence and touch.

The trouble with Klosterman, for me, is that he works fearlessly, making a point, and then making all subsequent points depend on it.  There’s no modularity.  He doesn’t seal off sections of the argument.  He could care less about damage control.  He just keeps building and in no time, it’s all or nothing.  Naturally, many of the points are so good and so original that this carries the argument.  But in fact argument is shot through with discontinuities.  It has broken down and what we get (and like) is a kind of serialized illumination.  But, hey, I wish I wrote this badly.


Tom Asacker for pointing out the essay and the passage.