My box-setting is generally limited to nice, calm storylines about beautiful people undertaking largely legal pastimes, often residing in unrealistically large Manhattan apartments. Regular shoe voyeurism is an added bonus. Over the last few years, I’ve smiled-and-waved my way through many a conversation about whichever legal/medical/political drama my friends have been watching (remember the episode of Friends where Joey bought one volume of an encyclopaedia? That’s me). But as the summer days stretched before me with no confirmation of SATC the movie 3, I couldn’t help but wonder if I should give the grittier shows a go. Breaking Bad seemed like a good place to start since it had rave reviews from everyone who mentioned it and I’d not watched other shows with the same actors, so there’d be none of that confusing ‘How has Ally McBeal moved to California and discovered that Sally Field is her mother?’ stuff.
I borrowed the Breaking Bad DVDs from my friend Thomasina, who advised watching during the day with easy access to tissues and alcohol in case of emotional distress. She encouraged me to remember that there were always good reasons for the terrible things that I would be seeing. For additional security, I started watching Season One on a 13-inch laptop, clutching a 14-inch cushion for protection from unpleasant images. I spent a lot of time looking at the cushion. Breaking Bad is essentially a dramatization of all my fears: Chemistry lessons, cancer, murder, overdose, gun crime, mass-produced poultry, getting locked inside a portaloo. I finally cracked near the start of Season Three, when a small storyline clashed with one of my most core beliefs. A perfectly cooked pizza was thrown, uneaten, onto a roof. This upset me greatly.
I won’t lie to you: I almost stopped watching then. But it was a sunny day and, as I lay in the garden ostensibly reading, my mind kept returning to Walt and Jesse. I really wanted to know what happened next. So I went inside for the laptop and set it up next to the sun lounger. The bright light made it very hard to see the picture clearly. Five minutes in, I considered moving back inside, but the sunshine was so cheering and positive. After another five minutes, I realised that I was enjoying Breaking Bad without any cushion intervention or feeling of impending doom. Not being able to clearly see the gruesome bits was a definite bonus! And, let’s be honest, none of the male characters are exactly crush material (unless you go for boiler suits, bad tattoos or axe-wielding), so I wasn’t missing out there. I powered through Season Three in under 24 hours and am about to crack open Season Four.
Why, then, was I so compelled to keep going? Partly because I’ve learnt a great deal about science and business studies, legal and otherwise, partly because I want to prove to my friends that I am brave enough to watch something where bad things happen. Mainly, though, because I care about the characters. Are they likeable? Often not. Engagingly realistic? Yes – although I have insufficient experience of Mexican drug cartels to make an educated comparison. So if you don’t hear from me during the next few days, it’ll be because I’m in the garden listening to Breaking Bad. It’s a bit like The Archers, but with meth instead of milk yields.