Five Reasons You Should Be Very Excited for Univision's 'Breaking Bad' Remake
A nation wallowing in Breaking Bad withdrawal received some light relief last week when Univisión released the first images of its Colombian remake of the television masterpiece, Metástatsis. Here’s why you, English speaker, should be excited.
The latest trailer shows many scenes iconic to fans of the original: Walter Blanco driving his roving meth lab in his tighty-whities, Hank Schrader busting Jesse's cooking partner Emilio with the Colombian equivalent of the DEA, and even Walt Jr. getting picked on for his handicap at a clothing store. You can watch the trailer below:
Releasing the trailer in English indicates that Univision hopes to draw at least some eyeballs of the curious American variety, likely providing closed captioning subtitles for non-Hispanophones. Beyond that, however, there are a number of signs that Univisión is looking to do this remake right, and not just sell a telenovela version of a beloved drama.
1. The Actors Are Very, Very Good
When Univisión first announced the remake, I immediately feared the worst: a sappy tearjerker starring Saúl Lisazo as Walter White and Niurka Marcos as Skyler (just trust me on this: those people are horrible actors). The casting for Metástasis, however, appears to be stellar.
Diego Trujillo will be playing Sr. Blanco—a theater, film, and telenovela actor best known for his role in El Capo, a gritty crime story that signaled a sea change in the way Spanish-language television presented their dramas. While El Capo still fell in the telenovela genre, it resembled American dramas much more than the Mexican romances audiences were used to and targeted a young, male demographic. No one in Latin American TV has a better shot at getting Walter White right.
As for the others? Julián Arango, the man playing Henry Navarro (Hank Schrader), had a pivotal role in Betty La Fea, the far superior original of Ugly Betty that often reached The Office-levels of awkward genius. His cousin, Sandra Reyes—an experienced actor in drug-themed films and TV shows—will be playing Sra. Blanco. Roberto Urbina, who will be taking on Jesse's "Jose Miguel Rosas" mantle, has ample experience on American TV, including Grey's Anatomy and Heroes.
2. A South American Setting Lets Writers Openly Deal with Religious Undertones
While never mentioned overtly on the show, Breaking Bad, by nature of being a character study, touches on many religious themes. Sacrifice, moral compromise, trust, redemption—every character (yes, even Spooge, Steve Gomez, and Skinny Pete) suffers through enough to challenge their conception of what these words mean.
In an explicitly Catholic society, the Walter White character arc can shine through a different prism in which his cautionary tale permits him to go not from “Mr. Chips to Scarface” but from impoverished youth to village thief to the man on the cross next to Jesus who chooses to beg forgiveness before he expires. That’s not to say the writers of Metástasis will give their characters sermons to deliver or shoehorn a village priest into the mix, but with an audience much more likely to be actively seeking these narratives, the writers have a deeper pool from which to cull them.
3. Colombia Is the Perfect Place for Walter White...
Colombia is the perfect setting for a story about a middle class man who chooses to get involved in the drug trade to provide for his family. Univisión could have easily told the tale in New Mexico and kept it Latino-centric—how many of the characters on Breaking Bad were of Chicano or Mexican (or, in Gus Fring’s case, Chilean) backgrounds?—but it would not have been a better fit.
It’s not the first time this sort of tale has been set in the South American nation; for those interested in Latin-American cinema, the mind-blowing Addictions and Subtractions tells the story of a man who, much like our Walt, sells drugs to make his family money, though he manages to save his soul. Many have joked that Breaking Bad in any other country would have lasted less than one season because of universal health care laws—an impossibility, given that Walt never sold drugs to pay for his cancer treatment ("I did it for me"). But in Colombia, the kind of social immobility that could keep a highly-educated man in a low-skill job makes crime all the more alluring.
4. ...And Hank Schrader
The Colombia of Addictions and Subtractions, however—the 1980s— is no more, thanks to a series of crackdowns on the drug trade by the government under the stern hand of former president Álvaro Uribe and continuing into the term of current president Juan Manuel Santos. By targeting the left-wing paramilitary group FARC, which had its hand in a great deal of violence involving the drug market, and allying with the United States government, Uribe managed to reduce production of cocaine in his country by an order of magnitude.
All this is to say that, compared to the chaotic Mexican law enforcement that played a role in Breaking Bad or the notoriously corrupt forces in Venezuela, Bolivia, and other countries in the region, Colombia is the most welcoming to a character like Henry Navarro (née Hank Schrader; no word on whether Steve Gomez will go the full Esteban).
5. Bogotá Is as Dynamic a Character as Albuquerque
And then there's the city itself—Bogotá, a spiraling mountainous capital with just the right kind of outskirts for vivid time lapses and far-off shootouts. Setting the tale in Bogotá also permits the creators the privilege to maintain another Breaking Bad staple: the lush cinematography that made of Albuquerque a character in its own right. Bogotá is no desert, but it sits on a plateau looking out onto elevated wilderness perfect for hiding a roving meth lab or tracing the sun’s path as it creeps over the deep greens and stark, rocky grays of the Andes.
As with any remake, this one has about as much of a chance to bomb as it does to succeed. But for those of us still reeling from withdrawal after the series finale, there are a great number of reasons to get excited to relive the adventure all over again.