A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Breaking Bad isn't intended for kids; its intense, morally ambiguous characters and storylines are a much better fit for mature audiences. The main character starts out as an essentially good person who's driven to extreme negative behavior (manufacturing methamphetamines and more) by depression and desperation; over the course of the show, his good side becomes less and less evident. There's a good bit of swearing (though "f--k" is muted on the network airing, but not on the DVD or streaming versions), frequent violence (sometimes extremely graphic), and some sexual content (a woman is shown topless, but her breasts are blurred on the network version, though not on the DVD or streaming versions).
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What's the story?
Walt White (Bryan Cranston) is a high school chemistry teacher working a second job to support his family: his pregnant wife, Skylar (Anna Gunn), and his teenage son, Walt Jr. (R.J. Mitte), who has cerebral palsy. Desperately hard up for money and constantly put down by those around him, Walt reaches the breaking point when he's diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. He connects with former student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) to start making and selling methamphetamines in order to raise money for his struggling family.
Is it any good?
All of the characters in BREAKING BAD are flawed (many very deeply), and they all make mistakes and, sometimes, baffling choices. The line between good and bad isn't clear; in fact, nobody comes off looking particularly good here, including Walt's DEA agent brother-in-law, Hank (Dean Norris), who's brusque and often insensitive. Some episodes move a bit slowly, while others have more momentum -- sort of like Walt himself, as he tries to cope with the mess his life is becoming.
Cranston's phenomenal performance is the best thing about the show. Forget the spacey, clueless dad of Malcolm in the Middle. Walt may be tired and beaten down, but Cranston manages to bring enough dignity to the man that it's possible to believe him when he's acting like an idiot and being socially responsible at the same time (such as when he narrowly escapes the bad guys, then tells his drug dealing partner, "We have to clean this up").
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why it's interesting to explore what happens when good people go bad. Is Walt's behavior justified? How do you think you'd react in a similar situation?
Do you think the media is the right forum to explore this kind of negative behavior? Why or why not?
What's the impact of these anti-heroes on the greater culture? Do kids who don't watch the show know who these guys are?