Archive for the ‘For Your Viewing Pleasure’ Category

Breaking Bad: Confronting Yet Amusing Look at the World of Crystal Meth

October 24, 2009

I’m what you call super-mega-fussy about the shows I watch. I’m likely to watch about one or two hours of TV a week, excluding the news, and often there is nothing at all that grabs my attention. So besides trying to find a few good DVDs to view, I rely on the “OMG Factor” when picking a series to watch. And by that I mean whenever I come across people with similarly fussy tastes saying “Oh my God, have you seen…” I tend to take notice.

Breaking Bad

From the first few seconds of Breaking Bad, I knew I was going to like this show. In what obviously seems to be a flash forward, it starts amid frantic action as a camper-van flies along a dusty desert track, ending with a clearly distressed middle-aged guy in his underpants standing in the middle of the road pointing his gun at the sound of approaching sirens, and that’s after leaving a farewell message to his family.

Then it goes back 3 weeks and, besides showing what led to this sorry state of affairs, lays the ground for what this series is about. This is the story of Walter White, a chemistry teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico, just turned 50, with a beautiful wife and teenage son with cerebral palsy, who finds out he is dying of lung cancer. Besides the shock of facing his own impending mortality, he begins a morbid obsession with not being able to leave his family with enough money to survive without him, especially since he learns his wife is pregnant with a daughter he may never see.

Unable to tell his family the grim diagnosis, he suddenly sees the possible answer to the other part of the problem when his brother-in-law – a D.E.A (Drug Enforcement Agency) agent – exposes him to the lucrative world of crystal methamphetamine.

When riding along on a drug bust, he is the only witness to one of his former students, Jesse Pinkman, fleeing the scene, so later he visits him with a business proposition. Using his superior knowledge of chemistry –  since he used to be a lot more than a mere chemistry teacher – he would start manufacturing the purest crystal meth anyone had ever seen, with Jesse handling the distribution side of things.

Breaking Bad: Cooking Crystal Meth can be a Bitch!What follows is a series of disasters and triumphs, both hilarious and disturbing. A man driven to protect his family can be a mighty force, so you will see a usually timid and definitely respectable Walter to do many dubious things to ensure he can provide for his loved ones before he departs. As for Jesse, a drug-addled and majorly stressed-out loser, usually too concerned about his own pathetic life to give much thought to others, he too evolves throughout the seasons, but sometimes in a more positive light.

This truly is a gem of a show, definitely worthy of cult status, so if you want some engrossing crime drama – seen through the eyes of the perpetrators – with lots of hilarious moments, as well as a few confronting and emotional ones, do yourself a favour and check it out.

Besides watching series of events inevitably lead to disaster, other side-splitting moments are watching Jesse (who reminds one of a stressed-out version of Ryan O’Reilly of OZ) freaking out massively when things go bad. Then your smiles will turn to grimaces of discomfort as you watch Walter awkwardly trying to convince his family nothing is going on, even though he’s cooking meth and starting to mix with some pretty shady characters.

Quite unique and thoroughly entertaining, Breaking Bad is currently 2 seasons old, with season 3 starting on cable in the US in 2010. Check it out at your local DVD store.


Outrageous Fortune: Hilarious Crime Family Drama Series from NZ

October 22, 2009

We Antipodeans make some pretty good TV series, and eventually the rest of the world catches onto them. But besides shows like Underbelly, I’m actually somewhat embarrassed about what comes out of Australia. I’m thinking Neighbours and Home & Away, but then nothing of late has grabbed my attention. But our cousins across the Tasman have created a show that not only should be aired in Australia (at prime time) for all to enjoy, but should end up in the cult classics section of your local DVD store, whatever part of the world you’re in.

The West Family from Outrageous FortuneOutrageous Fortune from Aotearoa (or “New Zealand” for you Pākehā) is a far cry from being your average soap, and masterfully blends comedy – often of spoof-like proportions – with hard-hitting drama. It revolves around the Wests, a West Auckland family notorious with the police for generations, and the various dubious characters associated with them.

Wolfgang WolfWest (played by Grant Bowler) is a career criminal who believes in the old code, and lives by certain rules like no violence and no home invasions (at least while there’s anybody home). And of course the family rule is never, ever lag/rat/dob/snitch/dog on anyone, no matter what the reason. He is the undoubted boss of the household, but his dominance over the family is soon to be questioned.

His wife Cheryl (Robyn Malcolm) is the rock of the family, and in the first episode her strength is tested as Wolf lands in jail yet again, and for a much longer stay than anyone anticipated. Faced with a family spiralling out of control due to the nature of their lifestyle, she makes the decision that from then onwards their family would so straight. Met with disbelieving horror by her children, and hearty laughter from her imprisoned husband, Cheryl’s efforts to see this through form the basis of this thoroughly entertaining show.

Humour abounds as Cheryl tries to guide her family down the road to redemption, from out-of-control sibling squabbles to generally poking fun at stereotypes, from witty one-liners through to hilarious series of events leading to catastrophe. But this isn’t a sitcom, with plenty of serious drama in the mix, and more than a few heart-wrenching scenes as the story unfolds. And for a largely-unknown show funded by NZ on Air, it has some pretty damned good acting in it too.

This becomes immediately apparent when you meet the oldest of the West kids, identical twins Jethro and Van – wildly opposing personalities actually played by the same award-winning actor, Antony Starr. Jethro, the oldest by minutes, is by far the smarter of the two, and is white sheep of the family, as he is just about to be accepted to the bar as a lawyer, much to Wolf’s dismay.

Van, who is nowhere near as cultured and intelligent as his sibling, is proudly following in Dad’s footsteps, so is of course involved in all sorts of petty crime. Unfortunately, while his heart is in the right place, Van often bungles things, usually with side-splitting consequences. No-one is sure whether it was the hip flask of Jack Daniels he consumed when a toddler, or the four hours trapped in a freezer during a game of hide-and-seek, but his physical and mental ages aren’t exactly in sync. Yet any guy would tell you he is a true mate, and none of his shortcomings matter to the ladies.

Next in the family is tall, blonde and beautiful Pascalle (Siobhan Marshall), fashion junkie and self-confessed slut, who at 18 is distressed that she still hasn’t broken into modelling, since her idol, Rachel Hunter, had become a star at 17. None too bright, and often quite snappy and nasty, her dimwittedness and emotional instability are a joy to behold.

Last but certainly not least is 15 yo Loretta (Antonia Prebble), a would-be film director whose tomboyishness has the rest of her family convinced she is a lesbian, even though she sees sex of any kind as an abomination. Undeniably clever and devious beyond her years, this little lady is pure evil, and a wonder to observe. Skilfully she manipulates all around her, yet not everything goes as she plans, and her reactions to realising she isn’t bulletproof are often as funny as the disastrous outcomes themselves.

Oh, and let’s not forget Ted, a.k.a. “Grandpa” (Frank Whitten), who comes to live with the family at the beginning of the series. Theodore West, the finest safe-cracker of his generation, still has a keen mind, at least when he isn’t suffering bouts of dementia. He is basically the only person Loretta feels understands her, so they have a close bond, but he is less than friendly to other members of the clan, most notably Cheryl, whom he calls “Slutty Pants”.

Many other characters come and go throughout the seasons, but the main players are Munter (a simple but likeable Māori, and Van’s best mate since childhood), Falani (a friendly but sneaky Samoan who deals in stolen goods), Eric (who works for Wolf while continually trying to sleaze onto Cheryl), “Sparky” (a speed-addled professional pyromaniac who gets way too much enjoyment from it), and Det.Sgt. Wayne Judd (the “D-Sarge” who makes the Wests’ life hell).

So if you’re into crime-related drama, like a few good laughs and plenty of surprises, and appreciate watching the evolution of characters (who are played by talented actors), you really should check out Outrageous Fortune. And ladies: there are quite a few heated love scenes, which apparently you get into more than us guys, who generally prefer the crime and “mateship” aspects. Whatever your reason for checking it out, I’d be surprised if you don’t get hooked, so grab Season 1 and join the West family on the crazy ride that is their life.

Outrageous Fortune Seasons 1 – 5 are currently available on DVD.