Andy Chalmers reviews One Man Breaking Bad for the Sydney Comedy Festival.
A lot, possibly too much, has been said about the cultural behemoth that is Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad. It’s the series that spawned a million thinkpieces, on everything from misogyny to American healthcare policy, and it is certainly not undeserving of such attention; Gilligan crafted a narrative that was at once contagiously energetic and immensely thoughtful.
However, it is currently April of 2015, ap- proximately 19 months after Badfinger’s track Baby Blue played Walter White and company off for the final time, so if you’re coming to the table with commentary on Breaking Bad, you’d better have something important—or, at the very least, new—to say.
It is pretty easy to be sceptical of a comedy show that first received mainstream attention via a YouTube clip in which the show’s sole cast member, LA actor Miles Allen, disguises himself as a homeless person and performs (admittedly great) impressions of Breaking Bad characters in exchange for food.
But as the saying goes, ‘don’t judge a one-man show by its viral marketing campaign’. Maybe Allen has something unique to say about the series. Maybe his show will consist of more than just one-dimensional impressions, and that clip was merely a bait-and-switch to lure in the bros who saw Breaking Bad as the story of a beta male’s triumph over his ‘bitch wife’.
Any hope of witnessing something even remotely challenging is immediately quashed, however, when Allen opens the show by running onto the stage in a HAZMAT suit and yelling, “Yeah, bitch!” It is clear from the outset that this hour-long re-enactment of Breaking Bad is going to be aiming for the broadest, easiest laughs possible. One Man Breaking Bad is pure fan service, which isn’t an inherently bad thing, but it is an approach from which it is hard to mine an hour’s worth of comedy—a fact that becomes increasingly obvious over the course of tonight’s performance.
One Man Breaking Bad is in many ways the opposite of Gilligan’s masterpiece. Where Breaking Bad favoured delayed gratification, and trusted its audience to stick around, Allen’s script frantically leaps from one obvious punchline to the next and then back again, engaging in an hour- long game of ‘The Audience’s Silence is Lava’.
The feverishly animated performer draws upon every well-worn, mildly amusing Breaking Bad reference you can think of—Jesse says ‘bitch’ a lot, Walt Jr. likes breakfast, Hank collects rocks (sorry, minerals)—and continues to return to those wells repeatedly, each time with diminishing returns.
Allen is so desperate for constant audience response that he even blatantly plagiarises some pretty well-circulated internet memes, presenting them as his own material (‘What if Breaking Bad were set in a country with universal healthcare?’, ‘Todd = Meth Damon’).
Perhaps the most problematic aspect of the show, however, is its treatment of Skylar White. Much was made of audience reactions to the character of Skylar at the time of Breaking Bad’s airing, with many commentators, including Vince Gilligan himself, calling out the oft-misogynistic criticisms of the character.
Here, Allen appears to be catering directly to those fans that Gilligan denounced, referring to Skylar as “Walt’s bitch wife” at every opportunity, and presenting her as nothing more than a nagging speed-bump on Walt’s road to deserved success.
There is no doubt that Skylar was at times an obnoxious personality (as was nearly every other recurring character in the series), and it is a bit much to expect a fully fleshed-out portrayal of any character in what is essentially an impression showcase, but presenting Skylar as nothing more than ‘Walt’s bitch wife’ is lazy and sexist, especially considering she is the only female character to be afforded more than a single line of dialogue over the course of the hour.
In some ways, One Man Breaking Bad plays perfectly to Allen’s strengths. He is a charismatic performer who has no trouble commanding an entire stage on his own, and his manic persona perfectly complements the breakneck speed of the performance. There is also no denying that the man is an expert impressionist, with his impersonations of nearly every character being exceptionally accurate in voice.
Unfortunately though, Allen’s infectious stage presence is let down by some rather lazy and at times desperate writing. Die-hard Breaking Bad fans will likely get a kick out of the familiar voices and references on offer, but shouldn’t go in expecting anything other than the most instantly disposable of laughs.