Breaking Bad Never Got Me Addicted

At the risk of having serious television fans throw things at my head, I have to confess I’ve never seen a full-episode of Breaking Bad. I know, I know! Listen, I love Bryan Cranston as much as the next person. I liked the first few seasons of Mad Men so it wasn’t an AMC phobia that kept me away from it. Although the old movie queen in me misses the Bob Dorian days. No, oddly enough this drug addict couldn’t never really get excited about the concept.

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Maybe it’s like doctors who don’t watch Grey’s Anatomy or chefs who can’t stand Food Network. But I was never intrigued enough by the premise of the show to tune in. Granted, I never made my own drugs or even sold drugs for that matter. Okay I made flavored vodka once with Green Apple Jolly Ranchers but it was disgusting and hardly an enterprise idea to pay for my cancer treatments. As a user and frequent customer, the idea of a drug dealer/family man I guess should have been an interesting one. Perhaps the 4 mind-numbingly bad seasons of Weeds that I watched turned me off from drug dealer tv shows. Or maybe it’s because on some level as a connoisseur I know that television could never capture the real-life sketchiness of the drugs dealers I have known. (Reminder: Pitch ‘Drug Dealers I Have Known’ as a coffee table book.) I never ever, once bought weed from somebody who looked like Mary Louise Parker. They usually looked more like Mexican versions of Al Roker and the guy I bought meth from I never actually saw. He was like Carlton the doorman. We’d call and someone, not him, would run it out to the car. Still, I feel like I’m missing out on something. The oddest assortment of people I know love this show. From bank employees and actors to retirees and teachers and beyond, everybody loves it. Everybody but me. It could be the drug dealer thing but I also don’t like watching shows about assholes.

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That early 2000’s trend of building an entire television show around reprehensible awful people seems bland to me now. Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Dexter and countless more pounded us over the head with this “Hey aren’t we subversive by having a polarizing character as the lead?” Um, no. It’s titillating  a couple of times but when every show has a drug dealer, hooker, heroin addict, gun smuggler then it becomes boring.  Personally if I hate every character, I’m less likely to want to spend an entire hour with them every week. I worried that Breaking Bad would just make me feel yucky instead of actually caring about what happened to the Walter White.  And don’t give me the “Well, what about Seinfeld?” argument. Seinfeld was a comedy and laughed at the worst of humanity. Plus, Jerry and the gang always got theirs in the end. And oh yeah, Seinfeld was genius.

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In reality, my aversion to the show might have more to do with timing more than anything else. The show premiered in January 2008, the first year I really tried to get sober. By ‘really tried’ I don’t mean going to rehab or even meetings. This stab at sobriety consisted of smoking a lot of cigarettes and watching endless marathons of Real Housewives (a program I also no longer watch due to the high asshole factor.) Just watching people even drink wine or do blow on television was tough back then. It was like having your jaw wired shut and being forced to watch people eat Thanksgiving dinner. Staying away from Breaking Bad might have been more strategic at that point than anything else. Not surprisingly, this fragile time on the sobriety merry-go-round didn’t last. breaking-bad-all-characters

Being sober for over four years and with my days of  dealing with dealers long behind me, maybe I’ll finally catch up with Breaking Bad. Or maybe not. Now that it’s all over, I feel like I’ve missed the party. Which is okay. For a pop culture junkie like me, television addictions are picked up and let go with regularity.

But friends am I missing something? Is Breaking Bad worth watching? And what other shows are you addicted to? And what show does everybody love but you? Tell me in the comments section below!

Humanizing the Goddess

Before starting work on a new show, I do all kinds of wacky shit. From lurking in the library for hours to watching random shows on DVD, I try to dig up inspirations and try to get my brain fired up. Sometimes, an idea will happen right away. Other times, it takes months to simmer. I also mess around with numerology and etymology for characters names. I like naming characters things that mean something, even if it’s just to me. In this quest, I stumbled on website of goddess names. I was recently told that I write women very well. And I was humbled and relieved by that comment. After all, women have been my constant companions since I was little which is odd seeing as I grew up in a house with major macho energy. I’ve always looked up to women as goddess, heroes and saviors. Nevertheless, my relationships with women are many and storied but that doesn’t mean they’re any less complicated.

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From my mom and sister to childhood friends and teachers, I identified with women at an early age. Yet my life with women isn’t just a big episode of Will and Grace. My most tumultuous relationships with bosses, friends and family members have all been with women. The biggest fights, the nasty breakups, the wounds that didn’t heal? All with women. People would say when I was a kid, “There’s Sean hanging out with the girls again.” And this little gay kid loved his dolls and the goddesses he saw on TV like this one:

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or these gals:

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and of course my all time favorite goddess– Wonder Woman!

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My admiration for women is so great that maybe that’s part of the problem. The ones in my life don’t fly invisible planes or fight crime. They’re human beings who make mistakes and inevitably let me down. I had a dramatic altercation with a work colleague last fall (a woman of course. Can somebody say pattern?) which made me rethink the way I handle my relationships with women. I asked myself some serious questions. Did I have problems with women as authority figures? Was there still stuff from childhood that I didn’t forgive my mom for? And was I Sean Paul Mahoney, that Sean from “Sean & the Girls”, a little bit sexist? Gasp! It’s hard to admit this stuff but my repeated history with these matters suggest they require further investigation. These bombshells might not seem like the things that would make for hilarious comedy but they certainly have me inspired. The ability (thanks, recovery!) to reexamine the way I’ve always done things and relationships serves me well as a playwright. I think societally we lump gays and girls together because we do love each other but also just because we both sleep with men. We forget we are still mortal men and women who speak different languages. And now all of this is starting to sound like a very interesting and very funny show.

All I know at this very, early stage is that is one gay man and 10 women with goddess names. The rest I’ll find out as I keep writing.  I’m looking into myths, anger management classes, books on rage and watching womencentric films. All in an effort to know this story better than before. As a sober writer, I’m lucky enough to work these questions out in a script and not back away from the truth about myself. The best case scenario? It all makes for a hilarious hit play. The worst?I gain a little perspective and forgiveness for the goddesses in my life. And maybe even for myself.

Nashville: A good television show about country music & a terrific one about alcoholism

My jaw-dropped at a particularly brilliant piece of writing during a recent episode of ABC’s Nashville. “I know a dry drunk when I see one” quipped Juliette Barnes, the pampered country diva, who shows up to help her friend Deacon Claybourne out. Claybourne, for those who haven’t been watching the ridiculously good musical-drama, is a sober guitarist whose life is still unmanageable, thanks in large part to a super dysfunctional relationship with his ex, the queen of country music Rayna Jaymes. Juliette goes on to tell her friend that even though he hasn’t picked up a drink in years, he needs to be taking care of himself, doing what he loves, and going to meetings. The exchange is written not in the ‘very special episode’ manner that recovery used to be handled on television but with  realism and humor. Nashville creator Callie Khouri, who won an Academy Award for Thelma and Louise, knows her way around this subject and doesn’t back away from it. And why should she? Recovery makes for great drama.

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As a kid from an alcoholic home who grew up in the 70s and 80s, I didn’t ever see my family on TV. Other than the occasional episode of Facts of Life or that random after-school special about ‘angel dust’, TV like the rest of planet avoided talking about how ugly and complex alcoholism and addiction really were. Besides, we tuned into shows like Knight Rider or Charlie’s Angels not to be bummed out but to be entertained. Corny television shows aside, my childhood was probably not the different from the fictional Juliette’s. See, our little country star does know a lot about this disease as her own mama struggles to get and stay clean. In Juliette, Khouri has created a difficult, temperamental, strong willed and ultimately sympathetic character. Like a lot of us from alcoholic homes, Juliette pretty much raised herself and was lobbed disappointments by the bucketful since an early age. As a friend of mine in the program recently texted, “Juliette’s not a bitch. She’s just an ACA!” The character even admitted on a recent episode that she wanted her mother to die after she screwed up her ninth birthday party.  Played by Hayden Panettiere with tart combination of heart and steel, Juliette Barnes might look like Taylor Swift to tabloid reporters but to kids who grew with drunk parents, she certainly looks an awful lot like one of us.
But back to that line about being a “dry drunk.” This zinger left a mark on me because not only had I grew up like Juliette but at four years sober I know thing or two about dryness also. Deacon may have the ready-for-primetime problems like the “is he or isn’t he” the baby-daddy to Rayna’s oldest daughter that I thankfully don’t know anything about. Yet like him, I know the struggles of staying emotionally sober and how tricky self-care can be. Since my second year of sobriety, I’ve vacillated with great regularity between being a happy, respectable sober fellow and a dry uncomfortable mess. Staying sober is a tough and tricky task that isn’t always met with the drama of relapse. A lot of the time, the drama comes with just staying afloat and getting back to the things that saved our lives in the first place. The character of Deacon seems to confirm what many of us in recovery have discovered. Just because we got sober and our lives got better, it doesn’t mean this whole life thing ever gets easier.
Leaving drugs and alcohol out of a show about country music would be a mistake. Country music might be the soundtrack of America’s heartland but it has a long tragic history with alcoholism and addiction. What alcoholic can’t relate to famous country songs like Whiskey River, Friends in Low Places and I’m so Lonesome I could Die?  Legends like Hank Williams, Keith Urban, Tammy Wynette, Merle Haggard, Randy Travis and even Saint Johnny Cash are as famous for their problems with drugs and alcohol as they are for their music. Just last month troubled country singer Mindy McCready lost her decade-long fight with addiction and was found on her porch by her neighbors. McCready had shot herself and in sad country song fashion, she also shot her ex-boyfriend’s dog.

While Nashville the city is still turning out the hits, it’s hard to say if Nashville the television show will last. Can normal, non-country fans relate to a show dedicated to the juicy side of the music business? Probably not.  Viewers need to identify with what character’s are going through, even on the most remote level. Most of us don’t know what sleazy managers are like or how to deal with slumping record sales. What might keep Nashville on our television sets for a few more seasons, however, is it’s no apologies and distinctly human look at an epidemic that continues to rock country music stars and everyday people alike.