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EntertainmentColumnistsVerne Gay

ON TV: 'Breaking Bad' gets really good

THE SHOW "Breaking Bad"

WHEN|WHERE Second-

season premiere, Sunday at 10p.m. on AMC

REASON TO WATCH To see why Bryan Cranston won the Emmy for best actor with

his Walter Mitty-cum-Tony Soprano portrayal of Walter White.

CATCHING UP "Breaking bad" is a colloquialism from out West that means

"going bad," or breaking the law. Walter H. White, a high school chemistry

teacher in New Mexico who had to wash cars to make ends meet, discovers he's

got terminal lung cancer, even though he never smoked. No life insurance, to

speak of, so to provide for his pregnant wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn, "Deadwood")

and son, Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte), who has cerebral palsy, he starts a meth lab

with a former student, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul, "Big Love").

Walt decided to amp up the operation in the first-season finale, but to get

a key ingredient - methylamine - he and Jesse stole a 30-gallon canister from

a chemical supply company. The final product was sampled by crazed Mexican drug

kingpin Tuco - harrowing portrayal courtesy of Raymond Cruz, of "The Closer."

Stuff was so potent that after sampling, Tuco went really crazy and killed one

of his associates.

WHAT HAPPENS SUNDAY The episode is entitled "737," as in "$737,000," which

is how much money Walt decides he needs to get Skyler set up and two kids

through college. With the new and improved meth production line, Walt figures

he needs to work only 11 more weeks to make that wad. Only problem: He and

Jesse witnessed the Tuco murder. Drug agent/Walt brother-in-law Hank (Dean

Norris) has videos of Walter and Jesse's chemical company heist, and while

watching the comical figures on film struggle with the methylamine barrel - he

has no idea who they are - observes: "Hope we catch 'em before the boys from

Juarez do." Uh-oh.

As for Skyler? She's getting suspicious. Uh-oh, again.

BOTTOM LINE Comparison with Showtime's "Weeds" is justified (and pretty

commonplace, too) but "Breaking Bad" is a far darker and more bleakly funny

show; it's also a better one, with a compelling core mystery. Who is this

shrouded, conflicted, strange man, Walter H. White? A brilliant, sensitive

fellow? A loving (indeed, lascivious) husband? A stone-cold killer? Evil? Good?

Each of them, and Cranston brings it all home. Meanwhile, what a supporting

cast. There's a scene Sunday night between the two seasoned pros, Norris and

Gunn, that's flat-out stunning. "Breaking Bad" is extraordinary, and if the

rest of the season matches Sunday, an Emmy nomination for best drama seems

certain.

GRADE A(+)

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