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'Breaking Bad,' 'Men of a Certain Age' closer than you think

September 30, 2013 - Paul Giannamore
I was a latecomer to the whole “Breaking Bad” phenomenon.

My brother told me five seasons ago that I should start watching this show about the chemistry teacher who starts cooking meth. And I thought, why the hell would I want to watch something that glorifies drug manufacturing?

But that missed the entire point.

My son finally got me to start watching the past seasons on Netflix over the winter, and I watched the final two seasons in real time, and I am very, very glad I did. Kudos to son and bro.

What started as a quirky story of nerdy chemistry teacher Walter White, a doormat apparently for his whole life transforming into a no-nonsense drug kingpin/monster, turns out to have been the kind of pure entertainment genius that only comes along once in a generation, if that often. The show transformed itself from quirky to very deep and dark. But the point remained overall that any guy who has been mad as hell but took two deep breaths and went on to take some more could identify with this character who just stopped taking the two deep breaths. He had cancer, a wife and kids to provide for and he had gotten screwed out of big money before by using his brain to help a couple of corporate folks start a successful pharmaceutical company.

It occurred to me after resuming normal breathing after the finale Sunday evening that “Breaking Bad” in its dark, sometimes funny, sometimes serious way, managed to cover a very evil angle on the coming of AARP age story that “Men of a Certain Age” failed to garner enough ratings to tell.

What? The stories aren’t remotely the same, you say?

Actually, they are. For while Ray Romano, Andre Braugher and Scott Bakula, didn’t portray men who turned to drugs or becoming crime kingpins, they were very directly telling the story about what different men feel as they get older. It could be about recapturing youth, floundering in general or growing up under the thumb of a domineering dad. Anyway, unfortunately, not enough viewers cared, either through network mis-promotion or just plain viewer stupidity. And that, unfortunately, was kind of the whole point, anyway, that Americans generally can give a rat’s snoot about what aging guys think or do. I loved the show and wished it had been more than a couple of too-short seasons. It was finely written, finely cast and finely performed.

Walter White is kind of the ultimate version of the characters in “Men of a Certain Age.” None of them were quite the doormat that White was at the start of “Breaking Bad,” but none of them turned totally criminal after facing what their lives had become as they turned toward 50.

White just was the everyman fantasy run wild, as a man of a certain age. And Americans don’t want shows too close to reality. They want to escape into a world of crime, murder, intrigue and sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. “Men of a Certain Age”, which was a contemporary of “Breaking Bad,” was too close to reality, perhaps, and too cerebral. But I loved it.

As an aside, the meaning of which still confounds me, I thought about it Sunday night and, after watching my TiVo’d “Hawaii Five-0” season opener and Walter White’s demise in the same day, my Sunday body count had to stand at about 37, plus a really nice Camaro and a Chevy Equinox.

Time to bring on sleazy Congressman Frank Underwood and season 2 of “House of Cards” on Netflix, I say. Or is that too close to reality, too?

 
 

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