Thursday, September 20, 2012

It's like a novel for the screen.

By Jay Stringer

I'm all caught up on Breaking Bad. I'm not going to spoil anything for those who aren't, but I do have a couple thoughts I'd like to share.

I've written about the show before, in comparison to The Wire, any my views haven't changed since then. I still love both of them. I still prefer The Wire out of the two, and I still think that Breaking Bad is going to end on a moral note.

Something we heard over and over during the years that The Wire was on the air was that it was 'like a novel, but on TV.' It never sat right to me, even thought I've probably used that description a few times when convincing doubters to stick with it during those first few episodes. It was never a novel. It was too intricate, to planned out and too perfect (for want of a better word.) It was precision TV.

Perhaps this only reflects my writing style, but I'm writing my fourth full-length book at the moment and on precisely none of them have I had an experience that seemed like the planning of The Wire.

But Breaking Bad? That fits. I can describe that as 'like a novel.'

With the exception of season 2, which was another dose of precision TV, the writers have approached this show the same way I've approached by books. They have an closing point in mind that they need to get to each year, they know a few big emotional and dramatic beats that they want to hit at some point along the way, and they dive on in to see how they get there.

They know in advance that they want some characters to die and some to live, but then they reach points when those characters surprise them, and they die earlier then expected or they decide to live. One of the main cast members was set to die at the end of season 1 but is still alive and kicking as we head into the final stretch next year. The big bad of seasons 3 and 4 only got elevated to that position because the writers realised that plan A didn't work, and they killed off the original big bad.

Along the way they'll drop in certain clues or plot devices, and they know they will return to them later, but they don't know exactly how until the time comes to use them. That's much like how I drop certain things into the books- I know it will play a part, but I need to get to the third act to discover how.

I had a similar feeling with Justified season 2. Which is one of the finest seasons of television I can remember. It constantly felt like it was adding up to a cohesive whole story, but it felt like the writers were sometimes discovering the road ahead only moments before we did.

And neither of these feel like The Wire, where I always felt there was an intricate schematic at the start of each season.

So, that Breaking Bad, eh? It's just like a novel.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite until BB and Justified ends. The last season of THE WIRE was my least favorite. Just like with THE SOPRANOS. Hope that doesn't happen with these two.

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