There’s a lot of good TV out there, and even the most dedicated viewer can fall behind on certain series. That’s where we come in: Zap2it’s Fake It Till You Make It will help you get caught up with, or at least develop a working knowledge of, shows you’ve been meaning to watch.
“Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan doesn’t really know if watching any handful of episodes will offer the full “depth and breadth of this story.”
“My personal philosophy is if it doesn’t interest you, stay away from it,” Gilligan tells Zap2it, laughing. “But if you are interested in it, you kind of have to be in for a penny, in for a pound. You really have to start at the beginning and pay attention.”
Nonetheless, Gilligan agreed to help make this list, confirming a couple episodes we already had in mind and suggesting a couple others. If you’re just starting with “Breaking Bad” but want to be more or less ready for Sunday’s (July 15) Season 5 premiere, the following 11 episodes should get you up to speed.
“Pilot”/”Cat’s in the Bag …”/”… and the Bag’s in the River”: Gilligan suggests watching the first three episodes of the series in one shot, as it introduces Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) dilemma — stricken with cancer, the high-school chemistry teacher decides to start cooking meth to earn extra money for his family — and “kind of set up who Walt is.”
“If you’re not into it by the third episode, it’s not for you,” he says. “No harm, no foul, and move on. That’s my best advice.”
“4 Days Out”: A Gilligan pick, the ninth episode of Season 2 (pictured above) finds Walt and his meth-cooking partner Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) stuck in the desert after the battery in their RV dies during a marathon cook. It’s a great look at what is becoming a very complicated relationship between these two unlikely partners.
“Phoenix”: Season 2’s penultimate episode is one where the show’s title really begins to manifest itself: Walt has a chance to help a dying woman but doesn’t take it. He’s horrified by what he’s done, but you can practically see him doing a cost-benefit analysis in his head as the situation unfolds.
“No Mas”: The third-season premiere is another of Gilligan’s favorites. The opening sequence alone, following two mysterious men literally crawling through the desert, is worth the price of admission and signals that Walt’s world is about to get much bigger and much more complicated.
“Half Measures”/”Full Measure”/”Box Cutter”: The final two episodes of Season 3 and the opener of Season 4 essentially tell one big story, with Walt and Jesse desperately working to get out from under Gus Fring’s (Giancarlo Esposito) thumb. Taken together, they’re also a master class in hold-your-breath storytelling.
“Problem Dog”: Episode 7 of Season 4 finds Walt hatching a plan to kill Gus, with Jesse as the triggerman; Gus trying to split Walt and Jesse by bringing Jesse into his confidence; and Walt’s DEA agent brother-in-law, Hank (Dean Norris), getting closer and closer to putting the pieces together. Norris gives a spellbinding summary of his case to close the episode.
“Face Off”: The (literally) explosive Season 4 finale puts Walt in a very different place from where he started the show and sets up the coming season, which picks up more or less immediately afterward.
“Breaking Bad” premieres at 10 p.m. ET Sunday on AMC.