Not unlike Charlie Brown’s attempts to fly a kite or kick a football with Lucy’s help, every summer I return to a new season of “Breaking Bad” (9 p.m., AMC) and wonder, just what do other critics and Emmy voters see in this show that I can’t?
In the season four opener there is significant blood spilling, a pathetic scene involving a bedpan, and a lot of unrelieved tension, pregnant pauses and awkward silence. Teacher-turned-meth-cooker-drug dealer big shot Walter (Bryan Cranston) seems more laconic than ever and doesn’t say a whole lot in the opening hour. And understanding much of what he does say requires a degree in advanced chemistry.
Superior dramas (say, “The Sopranos” or “Mad Men”) and even middling ones (think “Rescue Me”) leaven moments of tragedy with dark comedy, much of it involving a tragic or doomed male interacting with a sensible wife, girlfriend or other woman. Tonight’s season opener has about three minutes of action involving females. And they’re hardly respites from the gloom.
Now some folks may say that “Bad” is a profound statement about America’s state of medical care, the scandal of Big Pharma or the war on drugs. Call me old-fashioned, but the duty of any series is to be entertaining. Or at least bearable. I frequently feel bludgeoned by “Breaking Bad” and more than occasionally bored. If that makes me a bad critic or a shallow person, so be it.
• Rufus Sewell stars in the new “Masterpiece Mystery!” (8 p.m., Sunday, PBS, part one of three) offering, “Zen.” The title has nothing to do with Buddhism or Eastern thought. Zen is the nickname of Detective Aurelio Zen (Sewell) of Rome. He’s an honest cop in a system beset with corruption. He’s a handsome guy who lives with his mother, catches the attention of a fetching colleague and finds himself pressured to free an apparently guilty mass-murderer to prevent political embarrassment to higher-ups. And, by the way, a vicious killer is out to get him.
Too often “Zen” seems like just another British police procedural, complete with London, Cockney and Yorkshire accents. The fact that it’s set in front of gorgeous scenery in Rome and Venice is pleasantly distracting, but not without confusion.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (6 p.m., CBS): murder in Mexico, sports betting, the elusive jaguar.
• Scheduled on “Dateline” (6 p.m., NBC): child laborers among migrant farmers.
• A teen finds herself harassed online in the TV drama “Cyberbully” (7 p.m., ABC Family).
• Alcide helps Sookie on “True Blood” (8 p.m., HBO).
• “Big Rich Texas” (8 p.m., Style) examines the shopping habits of mothers and daughters in Dallas.
• A new recruit, another warning on “Falling Skies” (9 p.m., TNT).
• Reeling in a recently released offender on “In Plain Sight” (9 p.m., USA).
• Consultants and experts try to save watering holes from extinction on the new series “Bar Rescue” (9 p.m., Spike).
• A murder in the sideshow demimonde on “The Glades” (9 p.m., A&E).
• Larry inspires battered women on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (9 p.m., HBO).