Breaking down Breaking Bad with Vince Gilligan

Vince Gilligan may not be a household name yet, but he's behind one of the most talked-about shows on television--talked about among critics, anyway. Breaking Bad is AMC's second straight award-winning original program, and unlike any other show on the air.

On paper, the drama's premise may be off-putting to most: a chemistry teacher named Walter White (played perfectly by Bryan Cranston in an Emmy-winning performance) discovers he has inoperable terminal cancer and decides to cook meth to pay for hospital bills and leave a nest egg for his family. Grim, yes. But somehow, it's also damn hilarious.

Creator Vince Gilligan has taken Breaking Bad's unusual premise and turned it into a story about morality, risk, and responsibility, blurred all the lines, and even threw in a healthy dose of chuckles. And even though season one seemingly pushed the limit to the max, season two goes even further.

"Season Two is about chickens coming home to roost," Gilligan told me. "And so much of the season is about the consequences of Walt’s very sort of foolish decision to become a criminal to cook crystal meth. And, you know, once you’re into it--into that life, it’s in for a penny and for a pound. And now in Season Two, a lot of the consequences, both intentional and inadvertent, are coming back to haunt Walt. Season two is also a lot about lying. There’s an awful lot of lies."

There will also be a lot of laughs. Though the first few episodes are a bit darker in tone, expect the black comedy--one of the show's trademarks--to return.

"We have a wonderful addition to our cast this season in the figure of Bob Odenkirk who plays a lawyer--a bus-bench lawyer, you know, a real ambulance-chasing kind of a creep," says Gilligan. Odenkirk was one half of the hilarious HBO sketch-comedy show Mr. Show.

Because season one was shortened down to seven episodes because of the writers strike, season two is going to allow Gilligan to flesh out some of the characters. Walter's partner Jesse (Aaron Paul) will get the lion's share of non-Walt storylines, with a new romantic interest. Gilligan wouldn't say how Jesse meets his lucky lady, but did promise that it would be interesting. Gilligan also says there will be much more character development of Walt's wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) and Walt's brother-in-law DEA agent Hank (Dean Norris).

Watching season two, one wouldn't see the ordeals Gilligan had to go through to get the show made--which is high praise for his dedicated Albuquerque crew. When he hired Ray Cruz, who plays super-psycho drug lord Tuco, Gilligan didn't know he was a regular on The Closer. So when it came time to shoot season two, Gilligan simply expected him to be available. That wasn't the case, and production had to be totally reshuffled to accommodate Cruz's schedule (he filmed his scenes during an off week).

When Gilligan came back ready for season two, another obstacle popped up: the house where Jesse lives had been sold and was being completely remodeled. So it was back to the writer's room to figure out how to get Jesse out of his home.

In fact, it's that writer's room--hundreds of miles away from the Albuquerque set in Los Angeles--where the show really lives. Gilligan is the new "multi-hyphenate" prototype, and runs the show that way, empowering the writers by having them be part of almost every bit of the production process... a rare method not shared by many other showrunners.

"Until Breaking Bad came along, the best job I’ve ever had in my life was seven years on The X-Files," Gilligan explains. "And I learned so much about television, and I became a better writer because of that job. I learned how to produce, and all because of [X-Files creator Chris Carter], and because of the way he ran his show. He allowed the writers to take on as much responsibility as we possibly could. And that extended to, not just writing, but, you know, auditioning actors, and sitting in the editing room, and visiting the set, and talking with the director. And I try to pass that along. I try to run my Writers Room the same way."

In this studio-first day and age of television, it's nice to see a program run by the people who actually create it. And the result is one of television's finest hours.

Breaking Bad airs Sunday nights on AMC.

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Mar 29, 2009
can't wait for tonight's episode!
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Mar 29, 2009
i might watch this show
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Mar 28, 2009
Gilligan's running a tight ship. Adds to the quality of the show.
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Mar 28, 2009
Good Stuff!
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Mar 28, 2009
Thats a big gun.
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