Talking Bad

In all the excitement for the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad, the fact that AMC’s post-Walking Dead discussion show would get a spin-off got lost for me. I got behind on The Walking Dead somewhere during the second season, so I never watched Chris Hardwick hosting Talking Dead, since I was entirely outside the intended audience. But I’m completely in the bag for Breaking Bad, so I knew I’d at least give Talking Bad a try to see what the celebratory talk show could be. This is a “For Fans Only” endeavor, like Talking Dead, but more along the lines of the reality discussion shows like Big Brother’s Big Mouth (which launched Russell Brand’s career), a place for light, tension-reducing bits of conversation that don’t dig too deep before the next pre-recorded segment.

The most-watched episode of Breaking Bad hit just a hair shy of three million viewers. Talking Dead pulled more than that once as a 30-minute show, and in every single hour-long episode once AMC made the switch (though it should be noted that number has only once even approached half of The Walking Dead’s ratings; it mostly hovers between retaining a fourth and a third of viewers). So I doubt that Talking Bad will be as popular as Talking Dead, simply based on the viewer pool it’s trying to draw from. But AMC designed this as a kind of victory lap for the show, a “celebration” more than an analysis that uses tiny nuggets of inside information and celebrity fan excitement to ignite more fan involvement.

Hardwick’s guests this week are Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan and Modern Family actress Julie Bowen, continuing the AMC aftershow streak of seemingly incongruous fans gushing about the episode they just watched. It breaks out the big guns early, but Gilligan seems to be there because he’s too nice to turn anything down as the show comes to its thunderous conclusion. The biggest weakness of having Gilligan on the show is that he just did an episode of Hardwick’s Nerdist podcast, one of the best in months, that delved far deeper than the less than 10 minutes he got to speak during 20 minutes of live television in a half-hour timeslot.

On Talking Dead, Hardwick operated as Fan In Chief, carnival barking whenever possible about a show he loves. But on Talking Bad, he’s fully aware of how that persona clashes with a prestige drama, and aches to give proper deference to Gilligan and the show. It’s awkward, but Gilligan is such a friendly guy and Bowen is more than willing to geek out enough to offset that undertone. I only rarely listen to Nerdist, and my experience watching Hardwick is similarly limited, so I wasn’t grinding my teeth every time he talked, like some detractors. If Hardwick as a host is a dealbreaker for viewers, Talking Bad is a deliberate attempt to scale back the unbridled glee of Talking Dead, which is more appropriate but also keeps a lid on the feeling of shooting the shit with friends and theorizing about the increasingly limited possibilities for the final episodes.

Gilligan offers a few cryptic bits of vague information—and Julie Bowen’s funniest moment is nitpicking how many people the ricin could kill when parsed out into lethal doses—but he’s appropriately tight-lipped. Bryan Cranston offers one fun little anecdote about saying to Dean Norris that the moment Hank turns to find Leaves Of Grass behind the toilet should be prompted by a lack of toilet paper. Aside from that, the supposedly recurring segments—Baddest Moments and Respect The Chemistry—serve as highlight reels and light trivia. Those moments suggest the show aims for the fan that isn’t obsessed enough to research extensively on the Internet. But at the very least, it’ll drag little bits of information out of Vince Gilligan previewing the next episode, even though that will divide the spoiler-phobic viewers from the rest.

Talking Bad has neither the running time to actually engage in meaningful discussion nor the episode order to correct that before the final season ends. For people who don’t frequent a website with free-flowing comments about individual television episodes, or listen to podcast interviews with showrunners—my parents, for example—Talking Bad offers one more opportunity to talk excitedly about the details in addition to when I call home. And that’s just fine. Fans who have elsewhere to go talk about the show will do that, and those who don’t like the sometimes intimidating echo chamber of the internet will find Talking Bad a welcoming place to think more about the show and get morsels of extra information.

For anyone taking advantage of the wide variety of outlets offering a place to discuss a favorite television show, Talking Bad is superfluous. And more cynically minded viewers might see AMC’s envoys into talk shows about their own programming as pure marketing devices. To a certain extent, that’s justifiable, given all the commercial breaks and self-promotion. But Talking Bad serves a small purpose, doesn’t grate or ruin the legacy of the show it worships, and will provide some unexpected celebrity opinions on the show throughout the final seven weeks.

Stray observations:

  • My roommate is the kind of television viewer who dreads shocking violence, and as such, welcomes any and all spoilers that decrease her jumpiness when watching a show as sad as Breaking Bad. I find her innate spoiler-phobia immunity inspiring.
  • Was the show seriously not allowed access to the “Half Measures” clip? That seems preposterous.
  • I want to know more about Charles Baker, the actor who plays Skinny Pete. And I would pay good money to see a spec production of Badger & Skinny Pete Are Dead. The Star Trek and Star Wars discussions on the fringes of this show are fascinating. And as our own Brandon Nowalk points out, that Star Trek conversation involves an episode centering on “believing or rejecting illusions.” It’s the little resonant things that make me love the pain of Breaking Bad.

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