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SILVER SCREEN FEDS: ‘Breaking Bad,’ ‘Seinfeld’

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Hank Schrader, "Breaking Bad" (photo courtesy of AMC Networks)

We began our new feature Silver Screen Feds last week with a look at the heroic postal workers in “Miracle on 34th Street” and the smug Environmental Protection Agency agent from “Ghostbusters.” This week, we examine a far less-honorable mailman — Newman from “Seinfeld” — and the surprising heroism of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Hank Schrader in “Breaking Bad.”

BEST FEDS: Hank Schrader, DEA, “Breaking Bad” (Stephen Losey)

The main character of the dark crime drama “Breaking Bad” is Walter White, a once-milquetoast high school chemistry teacher who uses his genius and cunning to cook crystal methamphetamine after learning that he has terminal lung cancer. But season after season, as the increasingly amoral Walter transformed into his criminal alter ego Heisenberg, the true hero of “Breaking Bad” has become his brother-in-law — DEA agent Hank Schrader. [Spoilers for the entire show follow.]

Hank’s character has changed almost as much as Walter. When the show debuted five years ago, Hank was a boorish, casually racist loudmouth, fond of humming “Ride of the Valkyries” while descending on a meth lab. But his character soon developed surprising facets. After narrowly surviving a parking lot ambush by The Cousins, a pair of chilling cartel assassins (link contains graphic violence), the temporarily-paralyzed Hank was forced to hone his detective skills as he hunted the shadowy, mythical Heisenberg. In the process, he became a far more effective cop than he ever had been, and closed the net on unassuming fried chicken restauranteur and philanthropist Gus Fring’s hidden drug empire.

DEA agent Hank Schrader and his brother-in-law, meth kingpin Walter White (photo courtesy of AMC Networks)

Hank began by examining crime scene photographs of a murdered meth cook and vegan, noticed a discarded bag from Fring’s Los Pollos Hermanos franchise and asked a simple question: “Since when do vegans eat fried chicken?” He began following the thread, eventually tracing a number scrawled on that bag to a multi-national corporation Fring used as a front. He slyly obtained Fring’s fingerprints, and used them to prove Fring had been at the slain meth cook’s apartment. Hank’s finest hour came in the season 4 episode “Problem Dog,” as he meticulously — and devastatingly — walked his boss through the meat-and-potatoes detective work that led him to Fring.

At the midway point of “Breaking Bad’s” final season last year, Hank stumbled on a piece of evidence that definitively links Walter to that murdered cook. Now that Hank realizes Heisenberg has been in front of his eyes the whole time, a showdown between the two is inevitable. When the show concludes this summer, we will finally learn who truly is The One Who Knocks.

WORST FEDS: Newman, USPS, “Seinfeld” (Andy Medici)

He’s a weasel, a scoundrel and not to be trusted. He’s lazy but clever, devious but careless and has been described as “pure evil.”

And he is a United States postal worker.

The character Newman on “Seinfeld” was the embodiment of all things hated by Jerry Seinfeld, who called him Lex Luthor to his Superman. And in many episodes, Newman spoils Jerry’s plans or ruins someone’s life. But he also talks about his work. We see him at various times at the post office and with Kramer, but we mostly learn about his work ethic through off-hand comments that make it seem like the things he does are normal.

Here’s a short list of how he shirks his duties as a postal worker:

  1. He doesn’t deliver mail when it rains.
  2. He withholds bills until they are way past due and uses them to blackmail people.
  3. He sometimes just throws the mail out or stashes it in his basement.
  4. He uses the Postal Service to get himself out of jail after kidnapping a dog.

He also sprinkles in many references to convicted serial killer and former USPS worker David Berkowitz, also known as Son of Sam. Newman claims to have once walked the same mail route as Berkowitz, and said a letter carrier bag he owns once belonged to the killer. At one point in the show the police come to arrest Newman, and he asks them, “What took you so long?” which is allegedly what Berkowitz said when he was apprehended.

Why is he like this? While Newman seems a little unhinged at times he has an explanation.

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Though he had moments of rhetorical flourish that made millions — including myself — laugh, and he added a crucial villainous element to the show that it was otherwise missing, I was still glad when “Newman” was killed by the spitting dinosaur in “Jurassic Park.”

Goodbye, Newman.

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Comments

  1. Penny Says:
    March 4th, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    How about the IRS reps in the “April Fool’s Day” episode of “Roseanne”? And let’s not forget the SEC and Postal Inspection Service agents waiting in Charlie Sheen’s office in the original “Wall Street”.