I was watching a rerun of Breaking Bad the other night, and after one of the ad breaks a couple of the actors came on and offered a few comments about what made the show special to them. Bryan Cranston, who plays chemistry teacher/coke cooker Walter White, says one of the things he likes about the show is that it's not for everybody. "If you like vanilla ice cream," he says, "then Breaking Bad is not for you."
What he's insinuating, of course, is that vanilla ice cream is for boring people who have mundane taste, who like things that are bland and insipid. And Breaking Bad is anything but bland and insipid. It's bold, edgy, violent, sometimes downright shocking.
I agree with Cranston about Breaking Bad. It's not for everybody. B wouldn't watch it. She doesn't like violence in movies or TV shows. She doesn't like stories that are creepy or scary, or that glorify immorality. And Breaking Bad is all of the above.
But I do not agree about the vanilla ice cream comparison. Vanilla ice cream is for people who have, not boring, mundane taste, but fine discriminating taste. People who are sensitive and can appreciate delicate, understated flavors. For vanilla is a subtle flavor, but in that subtlety it is exotic and haunting. After all, the vanilla bean, like the cocoa bean, originates in the tropics, where the trade winds blow, the palm trees sway, strange animals lurk in the forest, and drums beat in the distance.
Chocolate ice cream is more like Breaking Bad. It, too, is exotic. But while vanilla is soft and seductive, chocolate is more obvious. It's strong, dark, with a bolder flavor.
People like Bryan Cranston look down their nose at vanilla, passing it off as routine and uninspiring. But most people disagree with him. Virtually every survey ever taken concludes that vanilla is the favorite flavor among ice cream consumers. The food channel ranks vanilla the favorite of 29% of ice cream lovers, followed by chocolate at only 9%; and butter pecan and strawberry at 5%.
Meanwhile, Baskin-Robbins reports that its top-selling flavor is -- you guessed it -- vanilla. Followed by chocolate, mint chocolate chip, then pralines and cream.
One reason vanilla is so popular is that it can also play a supporting role. With pie or cake, for example, as a la mode. But vanilla ice cream is also strong enough to take on the leading role, with other flavors in supporting positions. Vanilla ice cream makes a wonderful summer treat when topped with blueberries, strawberries or raspberries.
I like peach ice cream. But I like vanilla ice cream with fresh peach slices better.
But most of the time I like my vanilla ice cream straight up. Nothing in it, or on it. Just the pure thing. Neat.
Now, there's nothing that says a person can't like different things, for their different moods. I also like mint chocolate chip ice cream, and pralines and cream. I used to like coffee ice cream -- until I tried vanilla ice cream with a drizzle of espresso over the top. Boy, is that good!
But I cannot abide peppermint ice cream, which tastes medicinal to me. And I'm not much of a fan of cookie dough ice cream. Whoever ginned that one up must have thought people can't taste anything at all unless you bomb them with everything you've got. Kind of like Breaking Bad. So what are you? Are you a Breaking Bad fan, or do you tilt toward vanilla?
Or . . . there's no reason why you can't like both the subtlety of vanilla ice cream, but then on occasion, for a change of pace, also like the boldness of chocolate or mint chocolate chip. Or even (gag!) cookie dough.
For there's no law that says you can't like vanilla ice cream, and also like Breaking Bad -- as I realized the other night while I was riveted to an episode of the in-your-face drama, while at the same time enjoying the refreshing summer delight of vanilla ice cream.