TV Review: A matter of getting the chemistry right for Mr Church and Mr White
As Breaking Bad makes an explosive return, David Walliams’s new sitcom is less positively charged
Explosive, violent and surreal: Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad
You know when you miss a crucial episode of your favourite TV show, and now you don’t know how the crew came to be stranded on that desert planet, or why Britney slapped Beyoncé at Kylie’s engagement party? Well, it’s too bad TV3 cancelled its planned transmission of The Night Ireland Went Bust on Tuesday, because it would have been nice to learn how the hell the government of the day allowed a bunch of bankers to hold the entire country to ransom – and then scoot off to Marbella on the Nama tab.
Every episode of the award-winning Breaking Bad (Netflix) is crucial, and as this explosive, violent and surreal series heads towards its conclusion, viewers wouldn’t dream of missing a moment of the nefarious goings-on in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Until it comes to regular TV, you’ll need to sign up to Netflix to follow the moral descent of Walter White, the chemistry teacher turned meth dealer turned murderer played to ambiguous near-perfection by Bryan Cranston.
The fifth and final series is divided into two mini-seasons of eight episodes each. At the end of the first of those seasons, shown in September 2012, Walter’s brother-in-law Hank, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent, found a Walt Whitman book, Leaves of Grass, at Walter’s house and saw the inscription inside.
The first episode of this final season, Blood Money, opens with a bedraggled Walter pulling up at his house, now derelict and fenced off. The inside of the house is gutted and covered in graffiti, his meth-dealer code name, Heisenberg, scrawled on the living-room wall.
It’s a flash-forward: we rewind to the moment Hank has twigged his brother-in-law is the shadowy figure he’s been hunting.
Meanwhile, Walter is feeling sick – his cancer has returned – and his partner Jesse is feeling conscience-stricken. Becoming increasingly unhinged, Jesse starts tossing wads of his “blood money” into his neighbours’ front gardens. The episode ends with a tense confrontation between Hank and Walter, and the scene is set for the mother of all series finales.
David Walliams is also a chemistry teacher in Big School (BBC One, Friday), but that’s where the resemblance with Walter White ends. Walliams plays Mr Church, the bumbling, uptight deputy head of chemistry at Greybridge School. He wouldn’t make an illicit firework, let alone a truckful of methamphetamine.
It’s the start of term, and Mr Church, disillusioned with teaching, has decided to hand in his resignation – until he meets the new French teacher, Ms Postern, played with ditzy aplomb by Catherine Tate.
And so begins the rivalry between the prim and proper Mr Church and the sleazy PE teacher Mr Gunn (Philip Glenister) for Ms Postern’s attentions. It’s got all the ingredients of a classic British sitcom – the closed environment, the unresolved tension, the characters straight from a stereotypical school staffroom – and Walliams and his cowriters are clearly nodding towards the golden age.
A few jokes are stale, but some well-set-up gags, while not laugh-out-loud funny, bring a wry smile. The fine cast – including Frances De La Tour as the boozy, splenetic headmistress – might just save this one, and Walliams proves he can be (slightly) funny without having to gross us out.