“Breaking Bad” lead actor Bryan Cranston said he was humbled, delighted and slightly embarrassed to have statues of his character Walter White and supporting actor Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman unveiled inside the Albuquerque Convention Center last week.
The actors were clearly in awe of the detailed work. Super fans warmly embraced these adopted favored sons, despite their fictional characters being methamphetamine makers and dealers.
The show cuts close to New Mexico’s real struggles with drug addiction, crime, poverty and unemployment. Too close for Republican state Rep. Rod Montoya of Farmington, who said the statues bring the wrong kind of attention. “I’m glad New Mexico got the business, but really?” Montoya said. “We’re going down the road of literally glorifying meth makers?”
Montoya’s off on this one. The statues are not tributes to meth makers. The statues honor the people of Albuquerque. They represent the mutual benefit – the success of the show and the wide reach of its impact.
Yes, gifts of statues are a little weird. But the statutes were well-received because New Mexicans lay claim to this show. And New Mexico became its own gritty, beautiful and complicated character in “Breaking Bad.” The state’s cultures and bold, luminous colors were shared around the world.
“Breaking Bad” follows White, a high school chemistry teacher who learns he has cancer. White teams with Pinkman, a former student, to make meth to provide a nest egg for White’s family. The cinematography is artful, the writing masterful in the development of characters, especially protagonist White. Viewers are conditioned to empathize with him along the narrative arc that brings White to becoming irredeemable. White is like a sun with every other character affected by his light and shadows. Families become undone.
Nothing there to glorify in this cautionary tale of consequences of choices, and murky lines of good and evil. White and Pinkman have deeply conflicting feelings for each other as business partners, friends and enemies. The characters are tragic figures.
While the show is fictional, “Jobs are real every single day,” said Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller.
On Twitter, Keller wrote: “The positive impact that the cast and crew of ‘Breaking Bad’ have had on our economy and film industry can’t be minimized. The franchise has had over $385 million in economic impact, helped elevate local businesses, and employed over 200 locals per episode.”
Can’t argue with this. Casting and production calls energized the city. Most everyone in Albuquerque knew someone who had a hand in “Breaking Bad.”
“Breaking Bad” was originally set to shoot in California, but New Mexico’s film production rebate between 25% and 35% for in-state spending sealed the deal. For the fiscal year ending in June, that spending peaked at $855 million. Colorado offers 20%.
Much of Netflix’ “Stranger Things” was filmed in New Mexico. B.J. Novak of “The Office” fame filmed a lot of “Vengeance” in New Mexico. That’s not all Texas there.
“Breaking Bad” is absurd and darkly funny, and locals were in on the joke. For example, “Breaking Bad” doughnuts at one bakery were topped with sugar resembling the show’s fictional blue meth as a salute to the series ending. To each his own on taste and humor. Albuquerque loved “Breaking Bad.” “Breaking Bad” loved it right back.
Now streaming on Netflix, the show aired on AMC from January 2008 to September 2013, with five seasons and 62 episodes.
Series creator Vince Gilligan commissioned the statues with sculptor Trevor Grove and, along with Sony Pictures, donated the art as a thank you for the city’s hospitality. And Albuquerqueans couldn’t be happier.