Friday, January 18, 2008

Breaking Bad and Cultural Meth-ology

AMC's latest offering Breaking Bad details one man's transformation from boring middle-aged chemistry teacher into a maker of the finest crystal meth in New Mexico. Why crystal meth, and why now? It was only a few years ago that meth labs were considered a serious issue in the news, but public interest has waned a bit, despite the increase in addictions. But while there are supposedly less labs out there -- thanks in part to a crackdown on sales of pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in a lot of cold medicine -- the news is littered daily with folks being busted for possession of that now-controlled substance.
Taxmen coming around the back with the kevlar vests
Militia men cooking up a batch of crystal meth.
There's a war going down in the middle western states
The kevlar vests against the crystal flakes.

"Knuckles" - The Hold Steady
Playlist: Songs About Crystal Meth

Creator and X-Files vet Vince Gilligan has been pitching and fine-tuning the idea for some time, and had to watch as a similar concept, Showtime's Weeds, became a cult hit series. Like Matthew Weiner with his long gestation for Mad Men, the series found it's way to AMC, and I'm sure, like HBO with Mad Men, FX will be kicking themselves for ultimately passing on the series. To be fair to FX, it does seem like a difficult show to market to advertisers, but following on the heels of the Gold Globe winning Mad Men during this strike-laden season, it has a chance to burn brightly, and I for one am excited for it's premiere.
Yeah we're all here, chewing our tongues off
Waiting for the fever to break.

"Letter From Belgium" - The Mountain Goats
Crystal meth has found it's way on to television before, and not just via eye-opening documentaries or news stories. For the most part, it's been limited to the story arc of an episode. In the past, it was users -- like in the case of NYPD Blue's season six episode "Don't Meth with Me,", or the memorable scene in Six Feet Under's pilot where Claire finds out her father's dead while high on meth -- but it's the meth labs that have been featured of late.
And I dreamt of a factory,
where they manufactured what I needed
Using shiny new machines,
and the headstones climbed up the hills

"Palmcorder Yajna" - The Mountain Goats
A couple exploding meth labs made there way on to tv this fall, as Grey's Anatomy recently aired an episode (episode 4.02, "Love/Addiction") that showed the effects on the innocent, as a baby gets a stroke from being exposed to it in an exploded home meth lab. CSI:Miami recently covered the subject as well (episode 6.12, "Miami Confidential"). Meanwhile, Friday Night Lights introduced a shady character who has a meth lab yet to explode, but one imagines that something more will come of his character as Tim Riggins and his brother just stole $3K from him this last episode.
Lost your family and your truck, I used to love you now you suck.
We were friends among the best, you and your crystal meth.

"You and Your Crystal Meth" - Drive-By Truckers
The only other series I can think of who's had a recurring character that dealt with the effects of the drug was Showtime's Queer as Folk, who briefly followed the character Blake Wyzecki on the downward path of his meth addiction, which makes sense given crystal meth's dangerous standing in the gay community as a club drug. For the best depiction of the crystal meth scene, we have to switch for a moment to the the big screen (or DVD, ie big screen on the little screen,) and the 2002 film The Salton Sea starring Val Kilmer as a tweaker jazz musician, who becomes a police informant and goes undercover to help find his wife's killer.
And Death came in a bloody mess,
with a left arm on the treble clef
and the right arm on the crystal meth;
seizured on the dance floor and slithered from her party dress.

"4Dix" - Lifter Puller
Breaking Bad premieres Sunday, January 20, on AMC at 10PM.


drake leLane said...

Songs About Crystal Meth

1. "You And Your Crystal Meth" - Drive-By Truckers
2. "Letter From Belgium" - The Mountain Goats
3. "Methamphetamine" - Son Volt
4. "Semi-Charmed Life" - Third Eye Blind
5. "Knuckles" - The Hold Steady
6. ""Crystal Queen" - East River Pipe
7. "Return To Oz" - Scissor Sisters
8. "Geek Stink Breath" - Green Day
9. "Sinaloa Cowboys" - Bruce Springsteen
10. "Methamphetamine Blues" - Mark Lanegan
11. "On The Tweek Again" - Primus
12. "4Dix" - Lifter Puller
13. "Go or Go Ahead" - Rufus Wainwright
14. "Sound Effects and Overdramatics" - The Used
15. "Palmcorder Yajna" - The Mountain Goats
16. "Crystal Meth" - Daycare Swindlers

Bob Andelman said...

You might enjoy this audio interview (and transcription) with Anna Gunn, co-star of “Breaking Bad” and “Deadwood.”