Monday, August 12, 2013

The good and the bad...

Last night I watched the first episode of the final season for Breaking Bad, the tremendously successful series on cable's AMC (American Movie Classics) about a chemisttry teacher who, learning he has cancer, decides to brew up meth to make money for his family after he's gone.

But, as they say in movies, it's only the beginning.

This is the 7th and final season of Breaking Bad (a southern expression for someone who turns bad) and it's about the closest to The Sopranos as anyone can get. The Sopranos was judged the best TV series of all time (well, since TV started). And this too was about a very bad guy who kills people.

So why are both shows so popular. And why does the audience like Tony Soprano and "Mr. White"? Both have killed people, both are in the business of selling lethal drugs and both have conflicts within their families.

There are a lot of theories about this odd pair, why do we like them?

My theory is this; the American Dream and great actors.

The American Dream is always a subject of debate and my take on it, shared by most, is that it is the ability for anyone (and they mean "anyone") can come to America or be born in America and can find happiness and prosperity. Like the old saying; a husband and a wife and two kids and a home.

And it doesn't really exclude the bad guys.

Tony Soprano, on one level, is simply chasing the American dream although it's certainly not being a teacher or a factory worker. No, he stands over two families, his wife and kids, and the "other family", his mobster crew. And each family makes him happy or crazy.

Just like any normal family.

But why do we like Tony?

Well, for me, it was James Gandolfini, who was a very likeable character. The term with writers is that "you'd want to go out and have a beer with him". Sure, he bashes someone's head in, but "the guy had it coming" and we forgive him. Because he's likeable. 

It's a very delicate situation and few actors can bring that to the table. And it's not really learned, it just is. But it's a long way from Father Knows Best or the Cosby show.

With Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad, you have the same thing. He makes meth that destroys lives of thousands of people but you like him, maybe because you could put yourself in his position. Those stacks of money would sure be fun to have. And besides, we don't see the meth users themselves and that helps us like him.

Both Gandolfini and Cranston have that "likeability" presence and that's what makes it work. Steve Buscemi also is a lead in his series Boardwalk Empire but I don't like him. Not like Gandolfini and Cranston. 

Someone else has that likeablity presence, Mark Harmon on his series NCIS. 

But in the end, it's still all about chasing the American Dream of success. With a little twist here and there.