AMC’s Breaking Bad returned last night to ratings that doubled its previous high mark, beginning the end stretch of one of the finest series that television will know. A good chunk of that acclaim is thanks to the work of the stellar writing staff - so it’s no surprise that the guy who wrote some of the standout episodes is blazing a trail into Hollywood. Deadline reports screenwriter George Mastras has been hired by Universal Pictures to adapt Dean Unkefer’s 90 Church: The True Story of the Narcotics Squad From Hell. Basically, he will continue to write about good guys doing bad things in the name of misguided virtue, albeit on an entirely different level.
90 Church will be directed by Snow White and the Huntsman director Rupert Sanders, for whom Universal preemptively acquired the source material a year ago. Set to be published on September 24th of this year, the book is said to be a fictionalized take on the real-life events (despite its title), though Unkefer is indeed an actual former narcotics agent. You can expect the switch to cinema to involve quite a few more dramatic liberties, but if Mastras is able to write scenes that extract the same feeling of tense dread that his Breaking Bad episodes excel in, then will I stand behind his choices.
The book’s title refers to the New York City address of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, a unit targeting drug trafficking and organized crime from the mid-1960s until the early 1970s. Going well outside the range of what seemed possible, this group of 30 agents went against the Mafia and notorious drug cartels without outside help, unafraid to do whatever was necessary to enforce justice and bring the criminal element down. They amassed a small army of informants held by secret immunity deals, and once the bodies started falling heavily so did the curtain covering up their operation.
I know what you guys are thinking: that sounds pretty similar to Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad. But that film was written by Will Beall, who wrote a bunch of episodes of Castle, and while that show is a cleverly enjoyable piece of procedural drama, it isn’t in the same ballpark-themed meth lab as Breaking Bad (Is my love for this show saturating this article?)
Mastras was the first of the AMC drama’s writers to get nominated for an Emmy, thanks to the gut-wrenching suspense-a-thon that was the fifth season episode ”Dead Freight” (fun trivia: that episode aired a year ago today, giving this story synchronicity). He also wrote the episode Crawl Space - my personal favorite - and also “Crazy Handful of Nothin’,” in which Walt refers to himself as Heisenberg for the first time. He only wrote one of the episodes left in this half-season, “To’hajiilee,” which airs on September 8th. I’m willing to bet it causes at least three panic attacks.
Here’s a lengthy recent interview he gave where he talks in depth about the writing process on the show.