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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Breaking Bad Fever in Albuquerque I

            Breaking Bad is over on AMC but not in Albuquerque. Exactly one month after the show ended, the Albuquerque Journal ran a front page opinion piece entitled “Why We Love ‘Breaking Bad’” and had a 12-page insert, “Breaking Bad Leaves Its Mark on Albuquerque”. Reportedly over 1,000 fans pass Walter White's house every month, the majority presumably Albuquerqueans. Nearly three weeks after the show ended, a mock funeral was held in a real Albuquerque cemetery, where
Bryan Cranston, who played White, was the first to throw dirt into the grave. Not everyone is happy with this latest development; there have been protests from families whose loved ones are buried at Sunset Memorial, folks who don’t want the place to become a tourist attraction. And who did Albuquerque kids want to be for Halloween? You guessed it—Walt and his sidekick Jesse. Their images have become iconic. There are Breaking Bad tours here now as well.
            Breaking Bad (BB) was not only popular in the Q. Over the course of five years it became a national and international phenomenon. Author and journalist Allen St. John wrote in Forbes that BB was the best television show ever, mainly because creator Vince Gilligan, sets Walt’s character “in motion.” In other words, Walt is a different person at the end of the show than he was in the first episode. St. John contrasts this with characters from such shows as The Sopranos. Consummate actor Sir Anthony Hopkins was so impressed after binge-watching BB that he wrote Cranston a fan letter. Entertainment critic James Poniewozik felt that the show did the country a service because it got people engaged in some deep discussions on the nature of morality.
            Just for the record, I did not watch BB during its run. When my daughter first told me about it, I said that I’d had enough dealings with drug addiction and the violence it wreaks in my work as a counselor. As enthusiasm for the show ramped up in its final seasons, I couldn’t help noticing that people whose opinions I respect were praising it to great heights. Of course, there were also people whose opinions I respect, who like me wanted nothing to do with it. Curiosity got the better of me in the end, and after the final episode aired, like Hopkins, I began binge-watching. I got depressed. As one friend commented, the show is very noir, and the title alerts us to this fact. I tend to avoid the dark in my reading and watching, and somewhere in the fourth season I’d had enough. Commentary kept coming my way, however, and based on what I had already watched, I had some strong opinions—not so much about the drugs and violence. I had complaints about plot and character development. Never mind the ethical questions. Eventually I decided that if I wanted to share my opinions, I could only do so honestly if I watched the entire show. The final episode proved that to some extent.
            I will share some of my opinions about the show itself in my next post. Right now, though, back to the Q’s enduring obsession with BB. Albuquerque and its wild and beautiful surrounds definitely became a major character in the show. Admittedly that was one of the attractions for me and
other denizens of my town. It was fun to identify houses I’ve walked past and eateries where I’ve had a meal or many meals. The Dog House, where Jesse made his drug connections, stands behind Washington Middle School where I worked as a counselor for four years. Jesse’s house is in the same neighborhood, and I passed it often on my lunchtime walks. Tuco Salamanca’s office is upstairs from Java Joe’s, a cafĂ© I’ve frequented. The Navajo Reservation of Tohajilee, with its resplendent red rocks where several episodes take place, is where I cofounded an alternative high school in the 1970s.
Aside from the nostalgia bit, BB brought money into a state that lies near the bottom of the US economic pile. Money to the tune of a $1 million direct-spend per episode—for 52 episodes. Not bad. It gave jobs to a lot of New Mexicans, including some major TV roles to New Mexico actors as well as extras. It also brought notoriety (often of the infamous kind) to a city in a state that many Americans think is a foreign country (“It’s like Puerto Rico, isn’t it?” “Can you drink the water there?”). As Tufts University senior Madeleine Carey wrote in a Time Ideas column, it has given her a way to explain Albuquerque without saying a word." She goes on to report some of Albuquerque's saddest statistics.
So, did I like BB? Did I admire it as so many fans (more than 10 million watching the finale) and critics did? Stay tuned for my next post, Breaking Bad Fever in Albuquerque II.


  1. seeing Tuco's office above a place where you get coffee must have been trippy! i can't wait to see what you think of the show.

  2. Yes, the whole show was a trip in that way. Stay tuned, Mr.


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