Screen Savors: Meth and undies galore

You've got to hand it to Bryan Cranston, not everyone can pull off acting in tighty-whities.

Breaking bad 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Breaking bad 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
You've got to hand it to Bryan Cranston, not everyone can pull off acting in tighty-whities. But, the former Malcolm in the Middle star, now the brilliant lead in the equally outstanding Breaking Bad, gets caught with his pants down better than any actor I know. Cranston's characters aren't crazy exhibitionists. Rather, they're fathers in crazy situations. Some are comic, like Hal, the overwhelmed but determined father of five boys in Malcolm. Here, Cranston plays Walter White, a father with an entirely different set of problems. We first meet Walter in his underwear. He's driving an RV through the sands of the New Mexico jungle, two guys in gas masks passed-out beside him. After driving into a ditch, he jumps out, grabs a gun and prepares for a standoff. Sirens sound in the distance. Before his date with destiny, he videotapes a message to his family to explain his predicament. Jump back three weeks. Walter's a chemistry teacher at an Albuquerque, New Mexico high school. He takes it seriously, unlike his pupils. To make ends meet, he works at a car wash, a humiliating task subjecting him to his smartass pupils. His wife's pregnant and he has a son with cerebral palsy. He's got a loudmouth brother-in-law DEA agent always bragging about the big drug dealers he's busted and the big money involved. Walter wages a perpetual battle to stay ahead of the credit card bills. And, there's that nagging cough that won't go away. Then, Walter gets a gift - he keels over at the car wash. Rushed to the emergency room, he's soon told he got incurable lung cancer and two years to live. Arriving home hours later, his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn of Deadwood), whose life revolves around selling stuff on E-bay and writing occasional short stories, asks him, "How was your day?" "It was fine…" Walter answers. Somehow he means it because the death sentence has set Walter free. "Wipe down this!" he tells his boss at the car wash when he quits. One of Cranston's best moments has him sitting in the back of his house that night, chucking lit matches into the pool as he plans how to change his life. With nothing to lose, Walter decides to take on the bully who makes fun of his son at a local clothing store. Also, he goes along for a drug bust of a crystal meth lab with his brother-in-law. There he catches an ex-pupil, the ne'er-do-well Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul of Big Love) slipping out of the house. Before long teacher and ex-pupil have formed a partnership with Walter as the chemist. "You and I will not make garbage," Walter vows, insisting on only the finest lab gear. He extols the beauty of a round-bottom boiling flask from their production line in an RV out in the desert. So as not to track the smell of the drugs into the house, Walter works in his underpants. Pinkman can't understand how the super-straight-family-guy Walter has come to 'break bad' to such an extent. "I am awake," says Walter, offering the explanation that he has shed his former, zombie-like existence, like the lizards in the desert shed their skin. Naturally, things don't go completely smoothly, but Walter's Bunsen-burner level expertise pays off. By the pilot's end, he's collecting cash before heading off to bed, where even his anatomy has risen to the new occasion. The show's slightly off-center and tense pace is the product of Vince Gilligan, who worked on the latest X-Files movie as well as for years on that series. Walter's truth is out there - especially in his undies. And there are some cute little extras, like the letters in the actors' names are used to spell out chemical symbols in the opening credits. But it's Cranston's tour-de-force that makes the show. And his recent Emmy-nomination is well deserved. Mix that with suburban satire and some crazy chase scenes and you've got a formula for one of the best programs currently on the air. It is definitely worth hitching a ride on Walter's RV. Breaking Bad airs Saturday nights on YES Stars 2 at 11 p.m.