With so much attention going to AMC's series Mad Men, it was gratifying to see Bryan Cranston (best known for playing Hal, the father, on Malcolm in the Middle) win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama for the series Breaking Bad. This darkly comic series is held together by Cranston in the starring role of Walter White.

Poor Walter. As he turns fifty, he teaches high school chemistry in New Mexico to students who don't care. Supporting his pregnant wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) and disabled teen son Walter White Jr. (R.J. Mittle), Walter supplements his income with a humiliating job at a car wash. His cool brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) is a D.E.A. agent whose crystal meth bust is shown on tv during Walter's birthday party. Oh yes, and Walter just found out he has terminal lung cancer.

So what's a guy to do? Walter decides that he has to raise enough money to secure his family after he's gone. And so, through a series of encounters and coincidence, Walter hooks up with former student and current crystal meth dealer Jesse Dupree (Aaron Paul) and spends all his money on an RV -- from which he'll cook crystal meth for Jesse to sell.

Unfortunately, nothing works for Walter. By the end of the first episode the RV has crashed in the desert, sirens are getting closer, there's a dead body, and Walter is in his underwear brandishing a pistol. And things get worse from there.

Breaking Bad is as much comedy as drama. Walter is a modern-day Job who can't ever seem to catch a break, but there is plenty of twisted comedy here, from Hal's attempts to reinvent himself as a professional criminal to the absolutely wrong was to dispose of a body with acid. The supporting cast is solid, but like the show Dexter this revolves around the star -- and Bryan Cranston delivers. He manages to handle the comedy and tragedy adroitly, making us almost root for Walter while seeing how he manages to make the wrong choices over and over.

Breaking Bad is certainly dark, and its free interplay between depressing drama and black humor may be a bit bleak for everyone. If you can handle that, I highly recommend checking out Breaking Bad. It's funny, it's tragic, and it's very original.

Overall grade: B+

Reviewed by James Lynch

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