Hooked with a Monkey on my Back

By Erika Hoffman

Whew! I’m beat. Am I worn out from digging up deeply buried granite rocks in my yard with which to build a retaining wall for newly purchased rich soil for a garden I’m hoping to create this spring? Am I exhausted from doing perpetual laundry, washing dishes from my book club meeting, chez moi, this past Monday? Am I weary from preparing for the Olli class I lead once a week where I’m trying to mold folks into writers who are currently mostly garrulous storytellers? Nope. I’m frazzled to the bone because I stayed up into the wee hours this morning binge-watching Breaking Bad.

Drama this good should be illegal!

When everyone rhapsodized about this series a while back, I shrugged it off, dismissing it. A plot line about a high school chemistry teacher, turned meth cook, was nothing that would ever interest me; so I thought.  Not that I’m a “Crown” anglophile. I have very low brow taste, but a story about degenerates and drugs in Albuquerque, New Mexico, didn’t lure me.

It was by mistake I watched the first episode. Because Hurricane Florence was bearing down on us, we were instructed by numerous newscasters not to leave the house that Thursday night. My daughter suggested we switch on Netflix and watch The Curious Case of Benjamin Button with Brad Pitt. I like Brad Pitt. My husband searched “Brad Pitt,” and because we don’t usually watch Netflix, I guess he got confused when he pressed the icon for the show.

“Heather says they really altered his looks in this movie,” I told my hubby. We started watching. But this show starred Bryan Cranston, not Brad Pitt.

“She’s right. I wouldn’t even recognize that character as Brad Pitt,” my husband remarked after we’d watched three or four hours.

“That’s because it’s not Brad Pitt!” I answered. In his defense, both names begin with BR, like some chemicals.

I didn’t get up to head to the fridge, take a bathroom break, or answer the phone. I was mesmerized. Similar to an addict, I needed my fix when that first episode was done. Every night consecutively, I’d tune in.

Like a meth user, I was hooked, transfixed by the intensity of the experience. Each time you turn it on, the initial scene grabs you. The unbelievable coincidences don’t seem fabricated or fantastical. The characters are believable. You swear Walt White was your fastidious chemistry teacher back in high school, and Jesse Pinkman was that suburban ne’er-do-well, whose parents didn’t know what to do to intervene in their son’s doomed trajectory toward destruction. We know that boy – his archetype. We empathize with those parents. Even the drug dealers, the DEA agents, the school principal, the sleazy lawyer, the ax murderers, and the hookers with bad teeth seem more three dimensional than caricatures. They seem real.

The plot has unexpected twists. The characters are quirky. The setting is eccentric and spooky. The dialogue gives depth to the scenes. Take-away messages abound. The flashbacks are neatly weaved-in back story, and the flash forwards provide foreshadowing. And when the episode’s over, you continue to think about it and are “jonesing” for the next.

You’re never bored.

I believe watching Breaking Bad should be required viewing for writing classes. Lessons in storytelling, brevity, authenticity, pacing, world-building, character development, realistic dialogue, replicating real life, and theme-creation all exist in abundance.

This series made me want to go out and find the book. Trouble is there is no novel, Breaking Bad. So tonight, when I turn on Netflix and return to my habit, I’ll justify the endless hours and subsequent fatigue tomorrow by telling myself I’m learning how to become a more gifted writer by watching the Faustian pacts made by these characters, who are fleshed out to be vulnerable and utterly human. The fellow who created this series can teach writers how to grab the audience by their necks with eyes bulging and not let go–ever.

About this writer

  • Erika Hoffman

    Erika Hoffman

    Erika Hoffman lives in North Carolina with her husband and two dogs. Her children are grown and becoming parents themselves. If you like her style of writing, buy her book, Erika’s Take on Writing. Like everything else, it’s on Amazon.

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One Response to “Hooked with a Monkey on my Back”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    I binge watch until my eyes close. Netflix IS addictive. Funny how you got hooked.

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