Walter White (Malcolm in the Middle's Bryan Cranston) is a weary high school chemistry teacher with a bad mustache, a middle-aged, suburban drone. Until he's diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.
This sets him free. Or free enough to get into the crystal-meth business in order to raise enough money for his wife (Deadwood's Anna Gunn, nicely grumpy) and cerebral palsy-afflicted son (RJ Mitte, nicely smart-alecky) to live on after he croaks, and for him to have a few thrills while he's at it. Walt partners with grungy teen meth-head Jesse (Big Love's Aaron Paul), who's trying to launch his own tweak factory. With Walt's chemistry expertise, they cook up primo ice that attracts both profits and murderous enemies.
Breaking Bad is created by Vince Gilligan, who helped oversee some of The X-Files' most witty-rococo episodes (''Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space,''' fans?). This is AMC's stab at a Showtime-y, Weeds-like series which could have stunk. Instead, there are some twists you'll never see coming, and Cranston gives the kind of shaded, comic-dramatic performance that always bubbled just below the surface of his manic Malcolm dad. Breaking Bad mixes desperation and deviousness to yield a volatile, valuable product. B+