Dean Norris dishes on new sitcom ‘United States of Al,’ legacy of ‘Breaking Bad’

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Dean Norris (Part 1)

You know him as Walter White’s brother-in-law Hank Schrader in “Breaking Bad.”

On Thursday, you can catch Dean Norris on the CBS sitcom “United States of Al.”

“I wanted to do a comedy that was about something,” Norris told WTOP. “I wouldn’t do a comedy that was a light, fluffy piece, so the fact that this is about something works with this present COVID time. Something too light without any depth would have been jarring.”

Norris plays Art Dugan, the father of Marine veteran Riley (Parker Young), who adjusts to civilian life in small-town Ohio alongside his Afghan interpreter, Awalmir (Adhir Kalyan).

“It’s a serious issue bringing Afghan translators over here because they have targets on their backs once they’ve worked with the U.S.,” Norris said. “The comedy comes from Al, his views of America, our culture. It’s a heartwarming show, but also really funny.”

The 13-episode series premiered earlier this month on April 1. Episode 5 airs Thursday at 8:30 p.m., continuing to develop the father-son relationship as the weeks progress.

“Me and my son have an interesting relationship, trying to communicate,” Norris said. “We’re awkward guys trying to be sincere. That probably resonates with men. … I just want the best for him. He’s hurting, but I don’t know how to fix it. Dads always want to fix things.”

His character is a military veteran himself, bonding with his children over service.

“We’re a military family,” Norris said. “My daughter, who lives with us as well, she had a fiancé who lost his life in the war, so she’s hurting, too. It’s quite a group of characters.”

While these sound like heavy issues, Norris insists it’s first and foremost a comedy.

“That brings a truer laugh because these are characters that you love because of their failings and sadness, but they deal with it through comedy,” Norris said. “You have great [serious] moments where you’re like, ‘Aw man,’ then it’s released by the comedy.”

Norris relates to the Midwest setting, having grown up in South Bend, Indiana.

“You have no choice but to be a Notre Dame fan,” Norris said. “I’m glad I grew up in the Midwest and have that background to bring into the character. I know Art Dugan very well.”

You can also catch him in AMC’s “Better Call Saul,” a prequel to “Breaking Bad.”

“It was always interesting where certain [viewers] would fall out with Walter White and say, ‘I’m not on his side anymore,'” Norris said. “Enough people were until the end, which says a lot about you guys; you’re rooting for the psycho killer! How far could he go and the audience stay with him? … Vince Gilligan is a genius to thread that needle for five years.”

Viewers will never forget Hank discovering the “W.W” clue on the toilet.

“That scene was just so genius,” Norris said. “Right prior to that, Walt had really tied up everything and it looked like he was going to get away with it, and just because old Hank had to take a crap at his brother-in-law’s, at that moment he just happens to find that book! I thought it was such a great way for that reveal to happen. When I read that I just fell over.”

He’ll never forget filming Hank’s death scene in the final season.

“Everything came together in that final scene,” Norris said. “Everybody was out there, Vince, a big goodbye. It was filming the famous final scene: dead, character’s gone, show over. That was a very emotional day and one I’ll always remember very fondly.”

Where does “Breaking Bad” rank among the best TV shows of all time?

“I think it’s No. 1, brother!” Norris said. “I love ‘The Wire.’ I’d put ‘The Wire’ up there, but I think ‘Breaking Bad’ is its own animal. It will hold up to the test of time.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Dean Norris (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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