This Sunday marks the fifth season premiere of Breaking Bad. It's a milestone that anyone with an Internet connection would be hard-pressed to miss whether they watch the show or not, given the crush of articles, early reviews, interviews, video previews, tweets and Facebook posts that just keeps growing the closer we get to July 15. But another show is hitting the exact same milestone on the same night, to much less fanfare. It's called Leverage, and to the best of my knowledge, it does not actually exist.
I may be overstating the case a little with Leverage specifically. Supposedly, over 4 million people watch it every damn season. But I've never seen a review of it, never spoken to anyone about it, never seen a second of it myself, never read an article that even alludes to it. I have not encountered a single person on the planet who has acknowledged that this thing exists.
There are other shows that fit this mold even more snugly. Hell on Wheels. In Treatment. HawthoRNe ("HawthoRNe"!). They're not Hidden Gems or the kind of thing that your friend who still collects DVDs will inaccurately describe as a "cult classic" just because it went off the air at some point. They're not little-seen productions that seem to spontaneously generate Slate articles exhorting you to watch them, nor are they shows that have escaped critical notice but have a devoted following in some corner of the Internet. They don't have their own wiki communities. They don't even get unceremoniously canceled. They just hang around, these weird little orphans that will never, ever be the topic of a single conversation. If you happen across an episode when it's the day after Thanksgiving and you've run out of things to say to your uncles, you will watch it with your family, never discuss it, and then never watch another episode again -- not because you hated it, but just because it takes as much time to fade from your memory as a dream.
Obviously, not every TV show or movie can capture the zeitgeist. In any given year, you're not likely to have more than a handful of shows like Mad Men or Game of Thrones or Downton Abbey that grab people and inspire nauseating New York Times trend pieces about a bunch of repulsive, sheltered interns throwing viewing parties. But these are shows that don't capture anyone or anything; they just sit there.
Again, these aren't bad TV shows, at least not by definition. They're just shows that don't appear to have been watched by a single human being on planet Earth. Not in the "Yipes stripes, who the fr*ck watches this crap???" vein of Two and a Half Men or whatever, but in a profound and weirdly lonely way. Hundreds of people toil for thousands of hours making something like Flashpoint, and then it isn't just greeted by silence and tumbleweeds when it's released on the public, it is the tumbleweed! It skitters through dusty streets and lonely canyons and settles on TNT or ion, never to be acknowledged again. The people who work on these things don't even get the perverse validation of criticism. Just crushing silence.
But it's not just TV shows. There are movies like this too, films that seem to have been made by no one in particular and then just euthanized instead of being released in theaters. You've never met anyone who's seen one, never read a review, never even seen a DVD case for one except for maybe in front the checkout aisle at Target. There's also one person who is the absolute king of these movies.
50 Cent made headlines a couple years ago for losing like a thousand pounds for a movie about a star football player whose terminal cancer ravages his head until it has the exact dimensions of Homer Simpson's. The movie was hilariously called Things Fall Apart, until Chinua Achebe's lawyers forced a name change to something that wasn't already the name of a classic of 20th century literature. Even more hilariously, the title that the studio settled on was All Things Fall Apart (can't wait for 50 Cent to star in a remake of Radio called All Up Under the Volcano).
At any rate, this thing was made, and between the weight loss and the legal issues, it was covered by the media for nearly two years, and yet when it finally did come out, I'm not sure a single person saw it. The closest I have ever come to seeing someone acknowledge its existence was when the "whoa, 50 Cent looks gross" pictures made the Blogosphere rounds in 2010.
The rest of 50's film career has just been a long string of the same. The similarly mawkish Troubled Veterans melodrama Home of the Brave? Also a movie that may not exist. And it's not like his resume is padded with a bunch of Steven Seagal movies going straight to the Wal-Mart bargain dumpster. Did you know he was in a big action movie last year with Bruce Willis and Ryan Phillippe? It was called Setup, and no you didn't know he was in it, because you've never once encountered any evidence of its existence until now. In a move possibly even funnier than All Things Fall Apart, he was in a movie called Twelve in 2010, and then turned around and starred in 13 the very same year. The universe has thus far given no indication that either movie was ever actually made or released.
In a parallel universe, Breaking Bad is living out a quiet life in obscurity while roving bands of crazed fans chant Timothy Hutton's name and overturn cars, losing their minds at having to wait just a few more days for the season-five premiere of Leverage. 50 Cent is playing Batman in The Dark Knight Rises. In our own, though, Leverage and 50 Cent's entire filmography trudge their way to join the comatose ranks of 'Til Death and Everybody's Fine, like they're somebody's private shame. Just more tumbleweeds, waiting for 50 Cent in: 34 to be released to empty theaters nationwide and then join them.