CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I am more excited for Sunday night than for anything else so far this summer -- and possibly for the rest of it. At 10 p.m., "Breaking Bad" returns on AMC.
Technically, Sunday is the start of the final season. However, since "Breaking Bad" is one of the shiniest jewels in AMC's crown, the network wants to delay the end as long as possible. Thus, the expanded 16-episode season is actually two shorter seasons, with eight episodes airing this summer and eight next summer.
"Breaking Bad," for those who don't know, is a dark drama about Walter White, a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher-turned-meth maker (Bryan Cranston, worlds away from his other big role as the dad on "Malcolm in the Middle"). As seasons have gone by, that meek educator and family man has all but disappeared as Walt has grown into a power player in the New Mexican drug world thanks to his ultra-pure product.
Populating Walt's world are his former student/partner in crime, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul); wife, Skylar (Anna Gunn); disabled teenage son, Walt Jr. (R.J. Mitte); DEA agent brother-in-law, Hank (Dean Norris) and sister-in-law, Marie (Betsy Brandt). The Whites also have an infant daughter, who's not seen much.
Also figuring into the picture are Mike (Jonathan Banks), a fixer whose role in the regime is uncertain given the events of last season's finale; shyster lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk); Jesse's girlfriend, Andrea (Emily Rios) and Andrea's son, Brock (Ian Posada).
Creator Vince Gilligan ("The X-Files") has always said his intention was to take Walt "from Mr. Chips to Scarface," and while Walt is not as ruthless as Tony Montana yet, he's a hardened criminal now. The only trace of the Walter White we were first introduced to is his fierce protection of his family. (In fact, it's a bit disconcerting watching early seasons and seeing just how different he used to be, even physically. The transformation made by Cranston, a triple Emmy winner for the role, is remarkable.)
Through meticulously woven plots and plenty of action, his rise and the impact it has had on everyone around him has been deftly chronicled. The characters and story are vivid, leaving us as viewers thoroughly invested in the final outcome and bracing ourselves for whatever carnage will come between now and then.
It's too late now to get caught up on the show before season five unless you pay to watch the episodes online and spend about 37 hours this weekend having a marathon (in which case, would you like some of Walt's meth with that?) Still, that doesn't mean you shouldn't ever watch. If you're a fan of gritty, quality TV, I feel certain you will enjoy "Breaking Bad."
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On Sunday, USA debuts its six-part miniseries, "Political Animals," at 10 p.m. Created by Greg Berlanti ("Everwood," "Brothers and Sisters"), it stars Sigourney Weaver as Elaine Barrish, a divorced former First Lady and the current Secretary of State, who is making her second bid for the presidency.
She's backed by a strong cast that includes Ciaran Hinds ("Munich") as her ex-husband and the former president, James Wolk ("Lone Star") and Sebastian Stan ("Captain America") as her sons and Ellen Burstyn ("W.") as her mother. Outside the family, Carla Gugino ("Spy Kids") stars as a reporter and Elaine's unlikely ally, Adrian Pasdar ("Heroes") is the president and Dylan Baker ("Spider-Man 2 and 3") is the vice president.
I'm a big USA fan, so I've seen plenty of previews while watching my shows ("Royal Pains," "Burn Notice," "Suits" and "Common Law"), and they look pretty good. There's such a wealth of talent both in front of and behind the camera that I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do. Of course, it's on opposite "Breaking Bad," so I'll have to see it via DVR.
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Series premieres: "Small Town Security," 11 p.m. Sunday, AMC (family-run private security firm); "Black Dynamite," 11:30 p.m. Sunday, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim (blaxploitation cartoon); "Market Warriors," 9 p.m. Monday, PBS (antiques hunters); "American Gypsies," 9 p.m. Tuesday, National Geographic (a Romani clan in NYC); "Mama Drama," 11 p.m. Wednesday, VH1 (youth-obsessed moms and their daughters).
Season premieres: "Big Brother," 9 pm. Thursday, CBS; "Leverage," 8 p.m. Sunday, TNT; "Strange Sex," 10 p.m. Sunday, TLC; "History Detectives," 9 p.m. Tuesday, PBS; "The L.A. Complex," 9 p.m. Tuesday, CW.
Season finales: "The Choice," 9 p.m. Thursday, Fox; "Mountain Men," 10 p.m. Thursday, History; "Men at Work," 10:30 p.m. Thursday, TBS; "Pregnant in Heels," 10 p.m. Tuesday, Bravo; "Around the World in 80 Plates," 10 p.m. Wednesday, Bravo.
Series finales: "The Firm," 10 p.m. Saturday, NBC; "Eureka," 9 p.m. Monday, Syfy.Specials: "Infinity Hall Live: The Smithereens," 10 p.m. Friday, PBS2; "An American Girl: McKenna Shoots for the Stars," 8 p.m. Saturday, NBC (gymnastics-themed TV movie); "Mobbed," 8 p.m. Saturday, Fox (flash mob surprises).
Reach Amy Robinson at flips...@wvgazette.com.