Breaking Bad 101 by Alan Sepinwall

Breaking Bad 101Breaking Bad 101: The Complete Critical Companion

by Alan Sepinwall

Hardcover, 281 pg.
Abrams Press, 2017

Read: November 15, 2017


So, I’m pretty sure I don’t need to explain what Breaking Bad is, do I? One of the greatest TV dramas of all time, Mr. Chips turns into Scarface, et cetera, et cetera. This book is a collection of brief essays about each episode, a critical companion, fan resource, and all around handy book.

Most of these chapters started out as episode recaps on Alan Sepinwall’s blog generally posted a day or two after the original airing — a couple were written just for this book because he didn’t recap each episode in season 1 and a later episode deserved a better recap (for reasons Sepinwall explains) — although the original version is included as well. He does take out some of he speculation and whatnot from the original posts to provide a nice, clean look at each episode. It’s more than just an episode recap, he looks at the arcs, the acting, writing, cinematography; in just a few pages he gets to the heart of the episode and helps you see all things that Gilligan et. al. were doing. The real gems are the footnotes and sidebar pieces that dive in a little further to the nitty-gritty details — why was this decision made, where’d actor X come from, and so on. Seriously, fantastic footnotes.

This is a quick and wonderful read if you do it start to finish — or you can just thumb through, stopping at random points to read up on an episode. The book works both ways. I imagine the best way to read it is with a remote in one hand, a DVD/Blu-Ray disc in your player and the book in the other hand. Watch an episode, read the chapter — skipping around in the episode to re-examine shots/sequences, etc. I haven’t done that, but man, I’m tempted to.

A few other things worthy of note: Damon Lindelof wrote a very amusing foreword; Max Dalton provided 12 black and white illustrations that are just perfect; the dust-jacket design is great; but more than that, the actual cover is even better; and lastly, the whole book is so well-designed and pleasing to the eye, it’s nice just to look at without reading. I don’t mention those kind of things enough, and need to get better about it.

Now, I’ve been a fan of Sepinwall’s recaps/writing since the days he posted about NYPD Blue on Usenet. I also read all these posts from Season 2 on within a few hours of their original posting (I didn’t start watching until after the season 1 finale — so I read all of those in a couple of days, still pretty fresh). So I was pretty predisposed to enjoy this book, but I’m pretty sure I would have anyway.

Sepinwall is a fan of Breaking Bad, most of the stories, most of the performances, etc. But he’s a thoughtful fan, not a mindless one — he is critical of some things, this isn’t just someone being a fanboy. I heartily encourage fans of the show to pick this up — or people who’ve been meaning to watch it, but haven’t (this book would be a much better companion than your friends who will be patronizing about you finally getting around to watching it).

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4 Stars

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