Weeds vs Breaking Bad

Weeds cast

I’ll immediately point out that most of the promo shots (this one excluded) of this show were stupid, and just tried to make the leading lady look slutty. Very lame.

Um, is Weeds vs Breaking Bad even a fair fight? I’ll admit I thought this was going to be an embarrassingly brutal catastrophe in which Breaking Bad emerged as the indisputable victor over its pitiful enemies, but I have to say I’ve been enjoying Weeds.

Endlessly complainy and impossible to please as I so thoroughly am, it was something of a surprise, with strong performances and an explicit lack of overdramatic bullshit. I’ll confess that “suburban housewife allegedly-edgy drama” didn’t have me yearning for an introduction, mostly due to them having been rather overplayed in the media, and I find them tiring and stupid (and more importantly, poorly executed), but Weeds is utterly watchable. I have yet to cringe. Something I frequently do. Particularly when it comes to TV shows about upscale suburban rich people.

But it’s pretty tough going up against the likes of Walter Fucking White and Jesse Fucking Pinkman and company. Finding shows like Breaking Bad is a tough gig, but Weeds shares the same subject matter and basic moral predicament.

Let’s see how it goes.

Weeds vs Breaking Bad!

1) Characters

Walter White Breaking Bad

Yeah, he’s probably going to kill you.

Main characters: Apparently, I’m starting things off with a softball. Weeds isn’t inherently at a disadvantage here. It’s not like Walter White is a “better” character than Nancy Botwin, though I’d say he’s more developed. They’re both portrayed realistically, as people caught up in a difficult situation and engaging in potentially morally reprehensible behavior for the sake of their families. Walther White is troubled, lonely, and oddly well-meaning, if utterly incapable of displaying the kind of normalcy he probably should in order to maintain the illusion of being an upright citizen. Nancy Botwin is a high-strung mom whose predicaments are plausible and decisions understandable, and she has her own internal struggles as well.

You could easily say that Walter White is more nuanced, and far more troubled of a character; I’d say that’s true. He’s more thoroughly explored, though I wouldn’t necessarily say that makes him better developed. We simply get more time to understand his internal thoughts, which, though certainly useful for understanding a character further, is something I’d call better presentation rather than better characterization. Just because we know him better doesn’t mean he is a “better character,” but it does mean he’s portrayed better. Nancy Botwin is by comparison rather simple, but not so much that I’d call her simplistic, though you may feel that her lack of complexity makes her inherently lesser, which I’d say is probably fair enough.

Nancy Botwin Weeds

Doesn’t she look delightful? That’s because she is. Because Weeds is more about delight than bad things breaking out all over.

Supporting cast: As for the rest of them, I’d call it a point in Breaking Bad‘s favor. This is actually something that Breaking Bad does incredibly well; the background characters aren’t just background decoration. The portrayals and the directing are so strong that you feel like you could have a conversation with these characters, and you’d know exactly what they’d say, for example. Can you say the same of Kevin Nealon’s character?

Much of the supporting cast on Weeds feel like they’re playing a role, and as soon as the camera cuts away to something else, the plot will move on. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a problem with the actors, who turn in rather solid performances (the two kids are actually quite good); but it feels like the writers care more about Nancy and her immediate family than the rest, whereas, for the purposes of illustration, you can probably imagine Tuco in exquisitely vivid detail.

I’d point to Celia Hodes as an example of a stand-in without much else to describe her. She’s certainly no Cersei Lannister. Even the equivalent character on Breaking Bad, Marie Schrader, does a much better job of portraying a proper but uptight housewife without coming off as a cliché.

Point definitely goes to Breaking Bad, but I wouldn’t call it an embarrassing defeat for Weeds.

2) Performances

Jesse Pinkman Breaking Bad

In reality, he’s a Little League volunteer soccer coach who also enjoys knitting in his free time. Just goes to show what a great performance this is.

It’s tough going up against that performance of Bryan Cranston. Damn. Just…damn. I didn’t know he had it in him. I mean, I thoroughly enjoyed Malcolm in the Middle, but I didn’t know he’d be so damn good that I’d forget all about Hal. That’s a tough trick to pull.

I don’t think it’s even a close call. This is true of the rest of the cast as well, as it wouldn’t work unless Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman were up to par to stand alongside Cranston’s Walter White and not look silly (I know I didn’t include him in the section on actors, but I wanted to do a one-to-one matchup, especially since the characters are in the same predicament, and Jesse isn’t really). But even the background characters like Gus and Hector are still stellar performances, even if they only have brief moments to shine, shine they do.

Point goes to Breaking Bad. I actually like the performances on Weeds, as they’re certainly well done, but it’s like watching a promising blue belt in Karate walk into the ring with Bruce Lee.

3) Direction

See what I did there? I did a double meaning thingy. Oh I’m so clever!

Walter White Breaking Bad

Awww, look at him. Remember when he used to be so damn adorable?

But not really. I’d be happy to launch into a massive diatribe about how directors are far more important than actors, since nobody ever seems to realize that maybe it was the director telling a shitty actor to do it over and over again for a billion takes until he got it right and that’s what ended up on the screen and he gets a best actor award for it somehow but I actually want to discuss the direction of the show, as in the development of the characters.

Breaking Bad made a point of taking a perfectly reasonable and decent guy, and turning him into a rather ruthless murderer. What makes the show so damn good is not only the fact that it’s performed well, but the fact that viewers still go along with Walter White and his endless downfall into what we should think is horrible behavior, yet we’re still there. And I think it’s worth pointing out that pushing the audience to think, to the point where they no longer have an answer about what they’d do, is what makes it a far more powerful show. It’s not just that it’s darker and more serious; Battlefield Earth was dark and serious. Breaking Bad gets characters into situations in which there may very well be no answer at all.

I have a hard time bringing up specific points, so as not to get all spoilery, but suffice it to say that there is a moment, rather early in the series, when Walter White is stuck with the predicament of killing a guy, or letting him go and probably getting himself killed as a result. You can see him struggling with it, and although he wants to do the right thing, he just has no way of trusting the guy. It’s a tough call, and I doubt any of the viewers knew what the “correct” moral answer was.

Any points for Weeds?

Weeds, by comparison, is fun. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with it, but it’s pretty clear from the outset that it’s meant for entertainment, and although the characters do indeed get themselves into situations that require difficult moral choices and extremely loose ethics, it’s a show that’s much easier to watch. It’s a lighthearted comedy, despite any moralizing it attempts. There’s really nothing wrong with that, and I also think the setting of a mom looking out for her kids, and its satirization of upper-class suburbia, is worthwhile and enjoyable, but it’s simply not meant to be more than a fun ride.

Breaking Bad, by comparison, is heavy, challenging, pessimistic, and perhaps depressing. It’s a show that pushes the audience to discomfort, so they’re forced to answer, or attempt to answer, far more difficult questions. Part of the reason is the drug of choice in Breaking Bad (we can easily forgive Nancy when it’s just weed), as well as the far deeper look into drug dealing life (and death), so it deals with far more challenging issues. Very little on Weeds would make the average viewer uncomfortable. Practically everything on Breaking Bad does. Unless you’re a sociopath of course.

So, Weeds vs Breaking Bad? It’s pretty clear. Weeds is still a lot of fun, but keep in mind that’s what it’s about. It’s like a PG-13 version of the same subject matter, for audiences to enjoy, whereas Breaking Bad is the rated R drama that’ll pick up all the awards.

It’s no contest, really, but give Weeds a try. It’s fun. I think I could have been more detailed in the matchup, but it seems like such a hamster wheel sort of situation.

And damn, just look at those performances the Breaking Bad guys chip in:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4Qv2hCprbs]

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