The Biggest Stars on TV #9: Bryan Cranston

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This ode to Bryan Cranston does not begin with Breaking Bad. Don’t worry, we’ll get there. But it would be a shame to skip over all the excellent work he did before donning a porkpie hat and permanently altering the face of TV.

Take his recurring stint as Dr. Tim Whatley, Jerry’s dentist (and a suspected “re-gifter”) on Seinfeld. Or his 2000–06 run on the Fox sitcom Malcolm in the Middle. In less capable hands, Hal — a well-intentioned but simple-minded family patriarch — might have been one-note.

Then, in 2008, he broke bad on a new AMC drama. Holy smokes, were we unprepared for Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who, upon receiving a diagnosis of terminal cancer, starts making meth. Cranston’s five-season (d)evolution from defeated milquetoast to the merciless, megalomaniacal kingpin Heisenberg was pure vitriolic brilliance. (His pronouncement “I am the danger” still sends a chill down the spine.)

(Credit: AMC)

He won four lead actor Emmys and — along with James Gandolfini‘s Tony Soprano — helped spawn a generation of fatally flawed protagonists. These days, it’s practically impossible to find an ambitious series that doesn’t revolve around an antihero.

Since then, he’s pursued an ambitious and eclectic slate of work, like the Lyndon B. Johnson biopic All the Way and Prime Video’s slick con-man drama Sneaky Pete, which he cocreated. Next up, he’ll star in Showtime’s legal thriller Your Honor as a New Orleans judge whose son is involved in a hit-and-run. Something tells us Cranston didn’t pick his latest alter ego based on his ability to remain fair and just — after all, he is the danger.

This is an abbreviated version of TV Guide Magazine’s latest cover story. For more, pick up the issue, on newsstands now.