‘Breaking Bad’: right show, right time

By Frazier Moore

NEW YORK — Is “Breaking Bad” the most relevant series on the air right now? The show most relatable to viewers?

A knee-jerk response might say otherwise. Returning for its second season Sunday at 10 p.m., this AMC drama has a most unlikely hero: high school chemistry teacher Walter White, who cooks up Methamphetamine and deals it big time.

Ah, but wait. Without endorsing the odious crank trade, “Breaking Bad” holds up a mirror in which many Americans can see themselves — especially these days.

When the series began a year ago, Walt was a painfully by-the-book scientist, husband and father who, caught in the economic squeeze of the middle class, was losing his struggle to make ends meet. Then he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and given just a couple of years to live.

Handed this sentence, Walt was jolted into action. He knew no social safety net would break his fall, or that of the family he’d be leaving behind. He had to hatch a plan, fast.

As the first season of “Breaking Bad” unfolded, Walt forged a desperate alliance with a ne’er-do-well former student, Jesse Pinkman, to equip a motor home as a rolling meth lab, and leave his family financially secure. Thanks to the scripts’ twisted brilliance, the Albuquerque setting (with its desert and suburb visual extremes), and a glorious cast (led by Aaron Paul as Jesse and Bryan Cranston in his Emmy-winning role as Walt), the series was never less than riveting.

Meanwhile, Walt won understanding from viewers as a born-again renegade.

“I think they saw that the show isn’t about the glorification of a drug,” Cranston says, “but about a man and what he does when he feels backed against a wall. People hate the abhorrent behavior, but they root for the character.”

That was then. A year later, Americans are reeling from one financial scandal after another, and from a monetary meltdown with no end in sight. Now they may feel even more in tune with Walt.

In a scene from Sunday’s season opener (which Cranston directed), Walt makes a quick estimate of his family’s expenses in the years ahead: college tuition for two kids; mortgage payments; food, clothing, utilities. Familiar stuff.

All told, $737,000 is what Walt figures he must raise for his family before he dies. This means quickly pulling off 11 more drug deals.

You say you have trouble relating? Just take a gander at your amazing, shrinking 401(k). Talk about breaking bad! That should put you in a more receptive mood.

“Looking at our show here at the beginning of season two, I do find myself feeling that it seems more timely than I ever thought it would be,” says “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan.

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