Column: All Shows Should Be Breaking Bad, Fall 2011 Edition

The fall 2011 season premieres have almost drawn to a close, and in this flood of new shows we’ve learned two things. One, despite a couple bright spots here and there, this is not a strong season for new television shows, as the majority don’t go far enough in their weirdness, offer utterly uninspired plotlines, or have Eddie Cibrian cast as their male lead.

Second, none of these new shows are as good as Breaking Bad. I haven’t written about the fourth season of AMC’s critically acclaimed drama since my recap of the first three episodes, partly due to time commitments but mostly because I have felt entirely unequal to the task of capturing just how good this show is. The performances have been typically stellar – Aaron Paul, Jonathan Banks and Giancarlo Esposito in particular are delivering their finest work yet – the tension remains like a snake coiled around your spine, and a slow start is yielding great dividends going into the last few episodes.

And I’m not the only critic who’s realized this. A couple of weeks ago, HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall observed that watching Breaking Bad in between screeners of fall pilots wasn’t doing the latter any favorites, and this led to speculation (and a hashtag) on how much better shows would be if they were more like Breaking Bad. Amongst the theories – Walt knocks on Veronica Mars’ door instead of Duncan or Logan, Sheldon and Walt have a meth cook-off on Big Bang Theory, Mike completely outmatches the entire spy team on Chuck.

In that context I did a little thinking about this fall’s new shows, and came up with my own crop of proposed pilots that I think would sell much better than any of the existing ones – even though I do in fact like some of the ones listed below. Some of them add characters from Breaking Bad, while others just modify the original premise with the latter’s plot. Call them crossovers, call them spinoffs, but I think compared to what’s on the air now there’s a much more respectable chemistry.

Here’s an example using a returning show that we all love: Community. Annie’s established drug problem wasn’t just Adderall, as she’s coming off a crippling addiction to the blue meth, which she could only avoid by changing her name and fleeing to another state – but leaving owing the Chicken Man a lot of money. To locate her Mike goes undercover in Greendale as the study group’s new ethics professor, where he’s regularly frustrated by the rigid morals of Britta and Shirley and the non-existent morals of Jeff and Pierce. Abed, meanwhile, forms a partnership with the equally emotionless Gus Fring, once again taking control of the cafeteria by supplying Los Pollos Hermanos to the student body.

See how much fun that is? Now let’s dive right into it.

The New Girl (FOX)

Zooey Deschanel plays Jess, a young teacher who is forced to move out of her apartment after her boyfriend cheats on her. However, due to her poor economic situation, the only place she can afford to rent is a run-down home owned by three guys, who periodically disappear into the desert on “camping trips.” Stowing away on the roof for one of those trips, she discovers that they’re not just camping, they’re cooking crystal meth. Her suggestions to add some brightly colored chemicals to the meth to make it “shinier” for customers turns out to purify it to an unheard of degree, and the guys begin to treat her as a lucky charm. What follows is a young woman getting drawn deeper and deeper into the drug trade, and yet somehow managing to still make it adorable. (Suggested title: The Blue Girl.)

Person of Interest (CBS)

Gus Fring, fresh off his multimillion dollar success of a meth superlab, turns his finances toward shutting down all competition. To that end, he organizes the design and construction of a supercomputer that can predict the identity of people who will be interfering with his operations. To shut these people down, he recruits former DEA agent Hank Schrader, down on his luck after (ironically) failing to shut down Gus’s operations. Receiving assignments from Mike via the Social Security Numbers of involved parties, it’s up to Hank to shut down Albuquerque’s minor players while never once stepping on the major one who backs him. (Suggested title: Investigative METHod.)

2 Broke Girls (CBS)

Jane Margolis, having just survived a near-fatal heroin overdose, decides that it’s time to get out of Albuquerque and moves to New York City, where she takes a job at a diner so she can moonlight as a tattoo artist. There, she makes the acquaintance of Max Black, an equally acerbic waitress, and the duo’s tendency to insult everyone who comes into their Brooklyn restaurant turns it into the hot hipster hangout for customers looking for witty repartee. Inspired by this, the two team up to raise $250,000 necessary to move to New Zealand, so Jane can paint landscapes and Max can open a cupcake shop. (Suggested Title: Do The Meth.)

Revenge (ABC)

When he was a young scientist, Walter White saw his research in crystallography and photon radiography usurped by his partners, who went on to found a multimillion dollar company and cheat him out of every bit of funding he felt (in his mind) he deserved. Ten years later, enter Hartwell Black, a scientist flush with millions of dollars, who moves into the high circles of the American Southwest chemistry. Now with a shaved head and goatee, Walter has the means to take vengeance, starting when former lab partner Elliot Schwartz drops dead of ricin poisoning. Will the others catch on to his scheme, and how will his relationship with Elliot’s widow Gretchen come into play? (Suggested title: Crystal Clear.)

Whitney (NBC)

Much as the original, this focuses on Whitney, an attractive woman with a brash attitude who is in a long-term relationship. However, in this case her live-in boyfriend happens to be Jesse Pinkman, a slacker and drug dealer who can’t seem to go two weeks without getting beat up by someone. But to her, how he makes his living is secondary to making sure they can keep their relationship going after nearly three years together. Scenes include her trying to spice up their sex life with a hazmat suit, her berating him for wearing trashy T-shirts and apparently living off Funyons alone, a hilarious misunderstanding involving an ATM and regular feuds with his “Uncle Mike” who shows up periodically. (Suggested title: Methy Relationships.)

H8R (The CW)

Someone who spends their time mocking celebrities online receives a knock on their front door from someone purporting to be that celebrity. They open the door, only to discover that the one who knocks is none other than Walter White. Walter than proceeds to spend an hour berating them and explaining why their views are wrong – most of which takes the form of him emphasizing his own superiority and playing off their weaknesses in a way that seems completely oblivious to their own feelings. He continues to push until they finally snap and punch him in the face, which somehow leads them to realize they were wrong all along to berate another person.

And over the closing credits, Gus Fring slits Mario Lopez’s throat with a box cutter. The end.

Those are just a few of them that I’ve come up with off the top of my head. How about anyone else – ideas for new or returning shows? Could you swap out Anna Gunn for Poppy Montgomery in Unforgettable? Should Saul Goodman be the new ADA on Law and Order: SVU? Feel free to add your own in the comments.

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About Les Chappell

The Mad Hatter of media criticism. Co-founder of This Was Television, contributor to The A.V. Club, founder of A Helpless Compiler and The Lesser of Two Equals.
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