There’s nothing like a terminal illness to show you how to get the most out of life, which would usually entail spending more time with family or confronting fears. But in the case of Walter White, the protagonist in AMC’s grim new dramedy “Breaking Bad,” it’s cooking crystal meth.

White (Bryan Cranston, “Malcolm in the Middle”) is a high school chemistry teacher with a pretty depressing life. He’s just turned 50, his wife is excessively controlling and no one respects him. To top it all off, he’s just been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, giving him less than two years to live.

In a predictable scenario, White tells his wife he’s dying and tries to live life to the fullest by skydiving or apologizing for past misdeeds. But instead, White decides to use his chemistry expertise to produce crystal meth.

White comes off as a depressing, pathetic guy, so it’s hard not to root for him as he cooks up a fresh batch of glass. Sure, we all know drugs are bad (thank you, Mr. Mackey), but seeing him take charge of his own life is pretty motivating, illegal as it may be.

The underlying theme of the series is change. White defines chemistry as the study of change. He evolves fundamentally as a character throughout the pilot. The White the viewers see brandishing a handgun against the oncoming police is a stark contrast to the meek White we see at the beginning of the episode. He’s become surprisingly badass.

It should be mentioned there is nudity in “Breaking Bad,” along with a healthy dose of swearing. Mind you, these are both blurred/bleeped out, but it’s a way for AMC to edge up “Bad” and still keep the FCC off its back. This should be juxtaposed with, say, TBS, which often plays less-than-wholesome movies with tamer words dubbed over these expletives. AMC’s version of censorship is a much better method of cleaning up their show – it’s almost a loophole, a sort of middle finger to the overbearing FCC and their incessant fines.

If there are any drawbacks to “Breaking Bad,” it’s the show’s graphic detail of White’s sex life. White is in his underwear for a large part of the pilot, and the viewer is also treated to a hand job (under the covers – it’s on AMC) that’s simply unnecessary. Cranston was often pants-less in “Malcolm in the Middle,” so there’s a possibility he enjoys acting with out the restrictions of loin-coverage. In which case, no one deserves to see your old-man thighs, Cranston. Gird up.

But besides the luminescence of Cranston’s pale legs, there aren’t many glaring offenses in “Breaking Bad.” It’s a funny, gritty perspective on drugs and while it may not be a call for men in midlife crises to start peddling crack, it’s a skewed motivator to live life by your own rules.

Breaking Bad

Sundays at 10 p.m.


Rating:4 out of 5 stars

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