Breaking nice

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 6:15pm

“I don’t like Walter, and the writing is weak since Gus died. I don’t like this program, anymore.” This is how the hit series “Breaking Bad,” ended in our household. It was not a negotiation for the bride to continue for a few more episodes to see how the writers would wrap up the hellacious shambles, and mayhem of Jesse Pinkham’s and Walter White’s lives as entrepreneurial dudes breaking bad out in the hard scrabble desert of New Mexico. So close, yet so far. I’d hit pay dirt since I had convinced my wife to watch just a few episodes of this show and she gladly rolled with it for 50 — then, she bailed. She was done; there would be no more episodes. And, when I dangled the idea of at least watching the movie “El Camino,” so she could see how Jesse’s character played out in the narrative, she wouldn’t budge from her position. Sigh.

There is so much product on the tube these days, that it’s getting exhausting just trying to figure out what to even watch. Hell, you’ve got a pu pu platter of choices: comedies, tragedies, love stories, historical stories, zombie/horror stories, and a documentary for just about every available topic. When my wife actually dialed in to watch the aforementioned program, I was gob smacked. “I love this show,” she said. We even started referring to money as “fat stacks,” as Jesse did with his boyos. Cindy liked Mike — the can-do bad guy — and how he fixed things for the ineptitude of Walter and Jesse. She thought Gus, was cool and got a big kick out of Saul. She never liked Skyler — at all. We were having a blast watching this thing — together — and we were in for a penny or a pound, ahem, so I thought. When things came to an abrupt halt, I was perplexed; however, I agreed with her on the writing. She felt they could’ve wrapped up the show when Gus was gone and she had a good point. At the same time, I can understand how Netflix would offer to grease the wheels of a successful series like this and ride that train until the end of the line. My wife is inquisitive and my gut says she’ll want to see “El Camino,” to see how the story is resolved. Hey, cup half full, right?

As surprised as I was that we ended up watching 50 episodes of a dark, hilarious, depressing and brooding story, my wife was completely unhinged by what she witnessed regarding my own viewing habit during this past Christmas season. It all started with me simply inquiring about what she was watching on the tube one night until way past mid-night. She said it was a “Hallmark Christmas thing” that she just couldn’t stop watching. I thought Hallmark-made cards; never heard of a television show. I figured I’d watch an episode but that turned into five — I couldn’t stop watching this stuff. Ahem, I came to find out that Hallmark has learned to crank out their programing in a big way — and they’re very smart about it. It’s a winning formula.

Artist Norman Rockwell painted pictures of how he wanted America to be; small town familiarity espousing sound values. The Hallmark folks are right in Rockwell’s wheelhouse when it comes to what they represent. The programs are very formulaic. The stories take place in small towns with quaint names, with lots of local characters. There’s lots of cookie making and gingerbread houses being erected in the warm and welcoming homey kitchens with people clad in L. L. Bean togs. “More hot chocolate, dear?” says a husband to his wife. There is usually a love interest in the narrative. For example, a woman comes home for Christmas — she’s a writer — and is conflicted about her fiancé who is joining the family for the holiday. It turns out that the pretty writer has cold feet with the guy and also has writer’s block. Of course, there is a sister — a pretty sister — who knows something is wrong, “Something’s up, sis, I know it. Let’s have some hot cocoa and have a talk.” Oh yeah, the fiancé looks like a J. Crew model. Finally, the conflict is resolved with a Christmas bow wrapping up all the dramatic elements of the story. Next!

I dialed right in to these shows and my wife was truly shocked because she knows her husband is a snaky, wiseass, shanty Irish guy, who couldn’t possibly watch this stuff. It got so bad that I was “shushing” my wife during the programs. In one marathon session of watching these shows, my wife asked me “You want some soup?” “Shush!” “Are you shushing me? Aw gee.” I couldn’t get enough of this corny story telling. It’s like listening to Garrison Keillor talk about the wonderful folks down at Lake Woebegone where the folks are kind and the “children are all above average, each and every one.”

Besides the great settings for these shows — many are shot in Canada for short money—there are near perfect looking people. The guys and girls all look like they’re out of Julliard. They have perfect teeth and hair. They can sing, too. The writing devices have lots of almost kisses and almost breakups which illicit comments from me and the bride. “Dump him, he’s a jerk!” “She’s too needy!” “Watch out for that fireman, he might be a player…” But all the stories end on a sweet note with every actor’s hair in place — there’s never any wind in these quaint towns. Just sayin’.

In the world we now inhabit which is filled with vitriol and invective at nearly every turn, it’s exhausting to even turn on the evening news — we all need some slack. These Hallmark gigs are a balm for our weary media-soaked brains. They are a break from reality and give us a glimpse as to what life could be, or how — like Norman Rockwell — want it to be, with all of its corniness and hot cocoa.