Th­ese days with web stream­ing, the an­swer to the ques­tion ‘What’s on the box?’ is ‘Er, ev­ery­thing ac­tu­ally’

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - REAL LIFE - ANNE GILDEA anne.gildea@mailon­sun­day.ie

It’s nearly over. I’m qui­etly dev­as­tated. It was love at first sight — quickly, life turned into a pat­tern of long, late nights fol­lowed by sleep-de­prived, groggy days with the back­ground won­der­ing of what would hap­pen next. But I knew from the be­gin­ning that it would end even­tu­ally; it’s the na­ture of th­ese things. It’s not like a Coronation Street, rat­tling on for­ever. Af­ter tomorrow night, that’s it: done. Sixty-one episodes down, one to go. Break­ing Bad, the big­gest af­fair I’ve ever had with a TV drama. (Note: slight spoil­ers to fol­low.)

To call it a ‘tele­vi­sion’ drama is some­thing of an anachro­nism. It has the scope and pro­duc­tion val­ues of a fat- bud­get movie, the char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment, nar­ra­tive sub­tleties and wider-is­sue res­o­nances of a great novel... and I binge-viewed it on my lap­top. It was the first thing I got into af­ter I sub­scribed to Net­flix and I watched it last thing at night in bed, in­stead of read­ing. As with an un­put­down­able book, mid­night would be­come 4am be­fore I knew it, the temp­ta­tion of ‘the next episode will start in 10 sec­onds’ too much.

I blame my ‘view­ing in­con­ti­nence’ on the fact I grew up in that sim­pler era of TV-watch­ing habits, where Char­lie’s An­gels was on once a week and if SBB Ina Shuí was the only thing on the box, that was what you watched if you were to watch any­thing. Now, with web stream­ing ser­vices and all that in­ter­net malarkey, the an­swer to the ques­tion ‘What’s on the box?’ is ‘Er, ev­ery­thing, ac­tu­ally.’ And it’s not even ‘the box’ any more, is it? It’s any of those escalating num­ber of de­vices with mi­crochips and a screen around the house. They’ll be all over, even­tu­ally. Imag­ine the chat: ‘Mammy, where are you?’ ‘I’m in the kitchen, watch­ing re­runs of Poldark on the cooker.’

Ac­tu­ally, I was think­ing, ‘Great, I can get rid of the telly’ — and with it the tele­vi­sion li­cence, that anachro­nis­tic charge for a ‘pub­lic ser­vice’ broad­caster that al­legedly an­swers to a higher call of broad­cast­ing stan­dard (any­one see Damo And Ivor? Ha!) yet is also jam-packed with com­mer­cials, YET is per­ma­nently broke — rid­dle me that one. But, of course, now the li­cence fee is about to be­come the ‘broad­cast­ing charge’, in ac­knowl­edge­ment of the chang­ing ways we ac­cess TV. And at dou­ble the monthly charge for Net­flix (which is ad-free), isn’t it worth it be­cause you can also watch any of ‘our’ pub­lic-ser­vice broad­cast­ings you missed ‘on the box’ on play­back, via the in­ter­net. If you can bear the heaps of com­mer­cials you’ve to wade through. Back to where I was... By the time I started view­ing, vir­tu­ally the whole five sea­sons of Break­ing Bad were avail­able. What a com­pelling drama! A mild-man­nered 50-year- old doctoral-level high-school chem­istry teacher strug­gles to make ends meet; af­ter school, he bears the in­dig­nity of hav­ing to dou­ble-job at a car wash. Then he gets in­op­er­a­ble lung can­cer. At home there’s a preg­nant wife and a 16-year-old son with cere­bral palsy. How can he pro­vide for them into a sud­denly even more in­se­cure fu­ture? Next thing he’s ‘cook­ing’ crys­tal meth, scal­ing the ech­e­lons of the il­le­gal- drugs in­fra­struc­ture, and, bada bing — we watch as the man trans­forms ‘from Mr Chips to Scarface’, in the words of the show’s cre­ator, Vince Gil­li­gan.

What el­e­vates the ap­peal of the show, for me, above the lofty likes of The Wire, The So­pra­nos, Mad Men and Home­land is the ‘ev­ery­man’ dilemma Wal­ter White, the put-upon, ter­mi­nally ill, un­der­paid worker, faces. It homes in on the co­nun­drum of keep­ing a moral com­pass while ex­ist­ing within a fun­da­men­tally amoral sys­tem. Timely, given the bank crash and bailouts we’ve been through: fat cats re­main­ing fat, lit­tle ev­ery­man bear­ing the brunt. Over in the US, Se­na­tor and Har­vard law pro­fes­sor El­iz­a­beth War­ren pre­dicts the coun­try is shift­ing from a three-class to a two-class so­ci­ety: the rich and the debt-rid­den rest.

Height­en­ing Wal­ter White’s sit­u­a­tion, it is ad­di­tion­ally re­vealed that two old col­lege chem­istry col­leagues have be­come bil­lion­aires based on re­search he co-au­thored. So the story is, also, that of a man at­tempt­ing, with time run­ning out, to re­write the dis­ap­point­ing nar­ra­tive of his life. You want him to suc­ceed, to a de­gree, but as he bears more and more blood on his hands, to the point where it’s as if he’s be­come the em­bod­i­ment of Beelzebub, our em­pa­thy erodes.

On top of that there are the nu­anced char­ac­ters, the gob- smack­ingly good act­ing, the twisty­turny sto­ry­lines (with in­ter­weav­ing of Walt Whit­man verse!) and the ex­plo­ration of the in­ner logic of us­ing vi­o­lence as a busi­ness tool. You don’t need to know that it’s just won the 2013 Emmy for Out­stand­ing Drama Se­ries to re­alise its sig­nif­i­cance. You are just, like me, gag­ging for the fi­nal hour, ‘the how it all ends’.

Then it’s over. The in­ti­macy with the lives of all those char­ac­ters — snuffed out. What to do? Well, Love/ Hate starts on 6th Oc­to­ber. Some­thing to look for­ward to, if you can ig­nore all the com­mer­cials the ‘pub­lic ser­vice’ will pile on.

The Nualas play the Moat The­atre, Naas, on Fri­day

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