Breaking Bad: AMC

It’s hard to watch. And you have to wonder whether people seeking out classic films on AMC who stumble on it are going to stay. It’s one thing to get intoxicated on the lush beauty of "Mad Men" and quite another to watch a desperate, dying man cook drugs in his underwear while wearing a gas mask. Then again, let’s not worry about that. Once again AMC has put its money where its artistic ambition is, and "Breaking Bad" promises seven compelling and unique hours of drama - and who knows, it might get renewed - in a strike-damaged TV season. (San Francisco Chronicle)

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. (Entertainment Weekly)

Yet as polished as "Breaking Bad" is, in terms of long-term potential (or however long Walt has), it’s the sort of front-loaded affair that invites skepticism as to whether the idiosyncratic tone can be maintained. (Variety)

That said, "Breaking Bad" easily could have been one dreary slog, but Gilligan infuses the well-paced story with poised writing, clever twists and some real surprises. The show casts its spell on you and keeps you in its clutches (San Jose Mercury News)

Cranston, whom people remember as the hilarious dad on "Malcolm," blends seamlessly into his role as the generic Walter White, adding the right doses of nerdiness and anxiety. Paul also is great as the young punk who goes along with White’s outrageous plan. But perhaps the biggest kudos of all should go to American Movie Classics, a cable network showing classic movies that is now a nascent TV-series powerhouse that could give HBO and FX a run for its money. (Salt Lake City Tribune)

It’s the pacing that makes “Breaking Bad” more of a hard slog than a cautionary joy ride. It has good acting, particularly by Bryan Cranston (“Malcolm in the Middle”), who blends Walt’s sad-sack passivity with glints of wry self-awareness. But the misadventures of Walt and his slacker sidekick, Jesse (Aaron Paul), are a picaresque comedy filmed at the speed of a tragic opera — jokes, visual and verbal, are slowed down from 78 r.p.m. to 33 1/3 by an underlying earnestness, as if it were a foreign art film set in the American Southwest. (NY Times)

There is humor in the show, mostly in Walt’s efforts to impose scholarly logic on the business and on his idiot apprentice, a role Paul plays very well. But even their scenes lean toward the suspenseful, as the duo learns that killing someone, even in self-defense, is ugly, messy work. As can be acting, by the way, as witness those shots of Cranston in socks, shoes and skintight white briefs. It takes a brave actor to be shown like that, and a fine one to make the scene as poignant and moving as it is funny. (USA Today)

Cranston ("Malcolm in the Middle") is terrific but his character is disconcerting — Walter’s illness is so top-of- mind it negates any zaniness. He is more difficult to be around than Denis Leary’s tortured fireman. "Breaking Bad" may summon more humor in the future but, at the outset, it’s a rather sobering experience. Surely this isn’t the next-big-thing AMC hoped would follow its breakout drama, "Mad Men." (Denver Post)