Sunday brings the highly-anticipated (I suppose) premiere of AMC’s Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul. When this idea was first brought up by Vince Gilligan a few years ago, I almost wet myself I was so excited. Bob Odenkirk’s Saul Goodman was one of the many highlights of Breaking Bad. He injected some much needed levity into the show’s darker seasons and was always a delight to watch. The best ‘criminal’ lawyer in New Mexico, Saul seemed like the perfect character to spend more time with. However, as the project came closer and closer to reality, my excitement began to wane. Would this comedic character really be able to carry his own show? Would Gilligan and co-showrunner Peter Gould be able to capture lightning in a bottle twice? I reminded myself that Fraiser was a great spin off and that made me feel better until I remembered Joey. Then the trailers for Saul started being released and I found them to be distinctly…underwhelming. Then again, the first trailers for Breaking Bad didn’t do anything for me either. With the premiere just a day away, I find myself split down the middle. I hope it’s a good show but a lingering sense of doubt is sitting in the back of my mind. So, let’s take a look at what we know so far about Better Call Saul and see if we can figure out whether or not it will be any good. I took the approach of trying to answer the general public’s questions about the show.
First of all, what the hell is the show exactly about? And when does it take place? Past? Present? Future? What’s the deal?
Well, according to the early reviews, the show starts off in the post Breaking Bad world. We find out what Saul’s been up too since Walter White bit the dust and it’s apparently…nothing good. And by nothing good, I mean he’s become a hollow shell of his former self. The show then uses the narrative device of having him reflect on his past to tell his origin story. We go back to 6 years before he met Walter and find him practicing law under his given name, Jimmy McGill. He hasn’t become a corrupt shyster yet and is basically just struggling to get by.
Huh. So will we go back and forth between the past and present?
Fuck if I know. I’m not in the writer’s room. But if we learned anything from Breaking Bad, it’s that Gilligan likes to play around with time. I’d say it’s a safe bet to assume we’ll see Saul in several different phases of his life. Just maybe not anytime soon.
But I want to see Jesse Pinkman again!
No you don’t. Jesse Pinkman had his time. His story is over. It wouldn’t make sense to bring him back in the past or the present and Gilligan has confirmed neither Aaron Paul nor Bryan Cranston will appear in Saul’s first season. If this show has any chance of succeeding, it needs to stand on its own and not succumb to shameless fan service.
Whatever. Will anyone from Breaking Bad besides Saul be in it?
There’s Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut, everyone’s favorite hitman! We’ll see how he developed his PI relationship with Saul. The trailers show him working as an embittered parking attendant. My guess is it won’t be long before Saul discovers where Mr. Ehrmantraut’s skills really lie.
Cool! So Gus Fring will show up at some point too then right? RIGHT?!
Maybe. I don’t know. Look, you gotta let go of Breaking Bad. It was great but it’s done. Move on.
Okay okay. So who else is in the show then?
Well, Michael McKean plays Saul’s brother, Chuck. Chuck is already a successful lawyer at a prestigious firm but is struggling with some ‘affliction’. Saul comes to help him out and probably bungles the job a bit because that’s what Saul does.
‘Affliction’?! Could it be lung cancer?! And could he then decide to make METH?!
What did we just talk about?
I’m sorry. It’s hard to let go. So who else is in it?
Well, Patrick Fabian plays one of the partners in Chuck’s law firm. Looks like he’s going to be an oily villain. There’s also Rhea Sheehorn as a lawyer who Saul teams up with and a low life thug played by Michael Mando. I’m not sure how he factors into the show yet.
Great. You don’t know much do you? What will the tone be like?
Gilligan and Gould have said it will be more drama than comedy and that’s probably a good thing. I don’t know how long we would be able to tolerate Saul if he was just cracking jokes all the time. We need to see him as a human being, not a caricature. If the main question of Breaking Bad was, ‘how did Mr. Chips become Scarface’, then I guess the main question of Better Caul Saul should be, ‘how did Jimmy McGill become Saul Goodman?”
That’s not even half as interesting a question.
I know. But maybe it doesn’t have to be. If they try to top Breaking Bad, they’re setting themselves up for failure. And give it time. We might mind Jimmy McGill to be a radically different guy than Saul Goodman. It will also be interesting to explore other aspects of crime in New Mexico besides the drug business.
Hmmmm. That could be interesting. What do the reviews say so far?
So far, they’re all good. Some say it struggles to get out of Breaking Bad’s shadow but when it does, it’s really good. They all say Odenkirk is great and that the show’s main storyline is suspenseful and engaging. One review said the show was even better than Breaking Bad.
WHAT?! HOW DARE THEY?!
Calm down. It’s just one person’s opinion.
ONE IDIOT PERSON!
Relax will ya? We’ll see on Sunday. I sincerely doubt it will be better than Breaking Bad. But I do have hopes for it. I thought Breaking Bad effectively closed the door on the modern TV anti-hero but maybe Saul has more to say. If anything, I’m thinking I trust Vince Gilligan.
Yeah I guess. What are the chances of it getting a second season?
It’s already been renewed for one. But I think that has more to do with the lack of good shows on AMC than with the quality of Better Call Saul. They need more hits, plain and simple. Mad Men is ending, Turn is shit, everyone hated Low Winter Sun, and nobody watched Halt and Catch Fire. The only hit they have is The Walking Dead. They need something to bring the viewers back.
Yeah geez. Halt and Catch Fire? What the fuck was that?
Some 80’s nonsense about people building a computer? Like an unfunny Silicon Valley? I don’t know, I couldn’t get past the pilot. Seems like it should have been called ‘Stop and Don’t Watch’.
That’s not funny.
Sorry. Anyway, this has been helpful. I’m feeling better about Better Call Saul. Seems like it’s got a lot of promise.
I suppose. Wait a minute, do you think Hank Schrader will be in it? Cuz that’d would be awesome!
Sigh. There’s just no helping you is there?