(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)
Why I added it to my queue: Because this is one of literally dozens of critically acclaimed TV shows I still need to get caught up on, because of not owning cable, in this case a blackly funny neo-noir about a milquetoast high-school chemistry teacher who develops inoperable cancer, and who decides to start cooking and selling crystal meth in order to create a large dowry for his wife and kids for after he dies.
The reality: Just as amazing as you've heard! And that's because this is not so much a black comedy as it is a true noir, which makes all the difference in the world; our "hero" Walter White, in fact, is a pretty despicable human being, precisely because he is such a morally weak person, and it's the dichotomy of this compared to all the craziness going on around him that really makes this show shine. See, showrunner Vince Gilligan makes it clear right away that Walter has so far spent his entire life as a sorta wishy-washy coward who hasn't lived up to a single expectation made by the people around him -- once a celebrated corporate scientist, he left the company he helped found right before everyone else became millionaires, settling for an unhappy life teaching chemistry basics to sullen teenagers who disrespect him, and a wife and in-laws who are constantly disappointed in him; but then as soon as he gets cancer, he does the exact and diametric opposite of what his family wishes he'd do, closing himself off from them (both emotionally and literally physically) in a misguided attempt to raise a wad of cash that they don't want in the first place, and essentially ignoring their pleas to share himself with them in the little time he has left, instead becoming secretive and emotionally distant at a point when everyone involved believes him to only have a few more months to live. And this doesn't even touch on the ethical quagmire of Walter glibly deciding to make money by preying on the weaknesses of his fellow humans, and especially meth addicts who are like literal monsters in their all-consuming desperation for their drug, a subject that Gilligan and company get a huge amount of mileage from here in this tight, exciting, yet thought-provoking first season.
This may sound like you'll have nothing but disgust for Walter as the season continues, and in fact you'd be largely right by making that assumption, especially watching the way he weasels and outright lies right to the faces of the people closest to him; but that's the true essence of a noir, and what makes this show so brilliant, is that it's not about a cartoonish villain but rather an everyday joe who just happens to choose the most douchebaggy response possible to a sudden life-threatening crisis, and who just keeps digging himself into a bigger and bigger hole as recrimination stacks up on recrimination from this decision. That's why we watch noirs, after all, is to better understand the moral weaknesses in ourselves, and to feel better about ourselves for at least taking a higher road than the schmuck we're currently watching get himself into a world of trouble; and make no mistake, Walter very quickly finds himself in a world of trouble by making this decision to start selling meth, and it's the intricate plot mechanics of these problems that fuels the breathless sense of suspense that is the other reason this show is so popular. (For those who don't know, this is one of the most critically applauded television shows in that medium's history, a six-time Emmy winner that has consistently broken audience records for basic-cable shows; and not only that, but critical acclaim and audience numbers have done nothing but go up and up as the show has continued, with last year's season four for example scoring a rare 96 out of 100 at Metacritic.) A show that will delight and infuriate you in equal measures, it is quite unlike anything else I have ever seen on television, and needless to say that I will be continuing to watch an episode a day at Netflix Streaming until I'm finally all caught up to the fifth and final season, which begins its initial airings on AMC this July.
Strangest piece of trivia: The original plan was for Jesse Pinkman, Walter's former student who helps get him ingratiated into the drug world, to die at the conclusion of season one, but he was kept on as a regular after impressive acting by Aaron Paul.
Worth your time? Absolutely -- granted, you'll cringe on a regular basis, but absolutely