'Breaking Bad' Fans Get Their Fix In Spanish

Sep 17, 2014
Originally published on September 17, 2014 6:50 pm

How do you remake the award-winning AMC series Breaking Bad in Spanish?

Well, all you need — as the show's chemistry teacher-turned-drug dealer, Walter White, might say — is "a little tweak of chemistry."

Turn Walter White into Walter Blanco. For the show's theme music, swap out bongos for a guitar and an accordion. And change the scenery from Albuquerque, N.M., to Bogotá, Colombia.

For the most part, though, producers of UniMás' Metástasis used the if-it-ain't-broke method for their Spanish-language remake, which re-creates all 62 episodes with much of the original dialogue translated almost word for word.

It took Metástasis about three months to blow through Breaking Bad's five seasons with new episodes airing almost daily, telenovela-style, since June. The series finale is set to air Thursday night, almost a year after Breaking Bad ended its run.

Like the English-language version, Metástasis begins with the midlife crisis of Walter Blanco, played by Colombian actor Diego Trujillo.

"He starts with his 50th birthday, underestimated in his work. He's got a sick son. He's expecting a baby they never planned. And then suddenly he finds out he's got cancer," Trujillo explains. "I've always worked in television, doing soap operas here in Colombia. And the characters I've played are always predictable. But the character of Walter White is so complex."

Walter's cancer diagnosis acts as a wake-up call that eventually leads him to cooking crystal meth with a former student, José Miguel Rosas. (Breaking Bad fans, that should translate as "Jesse Pinkman.")

Roberto Urbina, who plays José, says Metástasis changes some details to make the story more believable in Latin America. For instance, Walter teaches at a private — not public — school, and he and José cook meth inside an old school bus instead of an RV, which would be harder to find in Colombia. Setting the show in Bogotá rather than Albuquerque had other implications on the storyline.

"The drug dealing aspect of it had to be very carefully thought out because Colombia is a country that has a history of drug dealing," Urbina says. "So people there, in our reality, we're very touchy when it comes to that subject."

Drug dealing is a major plot point in the series, but its themes about morality and family are what hooked viewers like Laura Martínez, a Spanish-language media critic and editor for CNET en Español. Martínez says she was skeptical when she heard about Metástasis.

"My first reaction was, 'This is ridiculous! I don't need a Hispanic Breaking Bad; we already have a regular Breaking Bad,' " she explains.

But after watching the show, Martínez says she's changed her mind.

"It is not the first time we adapted a series in Latin America. But I think it is the first time that it's done with such care," she says.

The remake's production values also impressed Brian Delgado, a high school senior in Los Angeles who's been following Metástasis since it debuted in June. He says he's seen Breaking Bad five times and even got his parents, who grew up in Mexico, to start binge-watching with him — although they weren't accustomed to waiting months for the last episodes to air.

"Once they finished the first half of the Season 5 [of Breaking Bad], it was hell for them! Because they were so used to watching telenovelas," Delgado says.

Unlike Breaking Bad, Metástasis follows the Spanish-language soap opera tradition of airing several times a week. But Delgado's parents prefer the original version of Breaking Bad when it's dubbed in Spanish. Delgado says there is no wrong choice.

"Either way — Breaking Bad or Metástasis — I think you're in for a treat," he says.

In February, AMC will treat Breaking Bad fans to a spinoff series about Walter White's lawyer, Saul Goodman, called Better Call Saul -- though Metástasis viewers better call him Saúl Bueno.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

TV junkies who like their anti-heroes will recognize this next voice...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BREAKING BAD")

BRYAN CRANSTON: (As Walter White) I am not in danger Skyler. I am the danger. A guy opens his door and gets shot and you think that of me? No, I am the one who knocks.

CORNISH: And the one who knocks is, of course, Walter White from the AMC series "Breaking Bad." We have some good news for fans looking to get a new fix of the show. Walter is back in Spanish.

(As Walter Blanco, speaking Spanish)

CORNISH: Hansi Lo Wang of NPR's Code Switch team reports on the Spanish-language version of "Breaking Bad" that will air its finale tomorrow night.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: How do you remake an award-winning cable-TV masterpiece in Spanish? Well, all you need is, as Walter White might say...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BREAKING BAD")

CRANSTON: (As Walter White) A little tweak of chemistry.

(SOUNDBITE OF METASTASIS THEME SONG)

WANG: You can start with a new theme song but keep the original dialogue and translate almost word for word.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BREAKING BAD")

CRANSTON: (As Walter White) That's right.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "METASTASIS")

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BREAKING BAD")

(As Walter Blanco, speaking Spanish)

(As Walter Blanco, speaking Spanish)

CRANSTON: (As Walter White) Now...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "METASTASIS")

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BREAKING BAD")

(As Walter Blanco, speaking Spanish)

(As Walter Blanco, speaking Spanish)

CRANSTON: (As Walter White) Say my name.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "METASTASIS")

(As Walter Blanco, speaking Spanish)

WANG: OK, fine. I'll say your name, Walter Blanco. Or at least that's what they call you in UniMas' "Breaking Bad" remake "Metastasis."

: It's kind of an analogy of how the drugs expand the same way as cancer does.

WANG: Diego Trujillo stars as the chemistry teacher with lung cancer who becomes a drug dealer in Bogota, Colombia.

: I've always worked in television, doing soap operas here in Colombia. And the characters I've played are always predictable. But the character of Walter White is so complex.

WANG: Just like the English-language version, "Metastasis" begins with Walter facing a midlife crisis.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "METASTASIS")

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Speaking Spanish) Sorpresa.

: It starts with his 50th birthday. Underestimated in his work, he's got a sick son. He's expecting a baby they never planned. And suddenly he finds out he's got cancer.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "METASTASIS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Walter, Walter.

WANG: Walter's cancer diagnosis acts as a wake-up call that eventually leads him to cooking crystal meth with a former student.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "METASTASIS")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Spanish) Jose Miguel Rosas...

WANG: Jose Miguel Rosas - that's the Spanish-language version of Jesse Pinkman, for "Breaking Bad" fans. In "Metastasis," in Jose is played by Roberto Urbina, who says he's a diehard fan of the original series. Did you binge-watch or what?

ROBERTO URBINA: Binge-watch completely. I would stay up until five o'clock in the morning.

WANG: Urbina says "Metastasis" changes some details to make the story more believable in Latin America. Walter teaches at a private, not public, school. And he and Jose cook meth inside an old school bus, instead of an RV. Setting the show in Bogota rather than Albuquerque, New Mexico had other implications.

URBINA: The drug dealing aspect of it had to be very carefully thought out because Colombia is a country that has a history of drug dealing. So people there, in our reality, we're very touchy when it comes to that subject.

WANG: Drug dealing is a major plot point in the series. But its themes about morality and family are what hook viewers like Laura Martinez. She's a Spanish-language media critic and editor for CNET en Espanol. When she heard about "Metastasis"...

LAURA MARTINEZ: Well, my first reaction was this is ridiculous. I don't need a Hispanic "Breaking Bad." We already have a regular "Breaking Bad."

WANG: But after watching the show, Martinez says she changed her mind.

MARTINEZ: It is not the first time we adapted a series in Latin America. But I think it is the first time that it's done with such care.

WANG: The remake's production values also impressed Brian Delgado, a high school senior in Los Angeles, who's been following "Metastasis" since it debuted in June. He says he's watched all 62 episodes of "Breaking Bad" fives times and even got his parents, who grew up in Mexico, to start binging with him although they had trouble waiting months for the last episodes.

BRIAN DELGADO: Once they finished the first half of the Season 5, it was hell for them because they were so used to watching telenovelas.

WANG: Those Spanish-language soap operas air several times a week. And so has "Metastasis." But Brian Delgado's parents prefer the original version of "Breaking Bad" when it's dubbed in Spanish. For Brian though, there is no wrong choice.

DELGADO: Either way, you know, "Breaking Bad" or "Metastasis," I think you're in for a treat.

WANG: AMC will treat "Breaking Bad" fans to a spinoff series in February. It follows Walter White's lawyer, Saul Goodman.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BREAKING BAD")

BOB ODENKIRK: (As Saul Goodman) I'm Saul Goodman and I'll fight for you. So you better call Saul - or else.

WANG: Though "Metastasis" viewers better call him Saul Bueno. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF "BREAKING BAD" THEME) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.