12 Feb TV Recommendation: Better Call Saul
Better Call Saul’s highly anticipated premiere kicked off with a new episode on back to back nights this past Sunday and Monday (“Uno” and “Mijo,” respectively). Fans of AMC’s wildly successful Breaking Bad have eagerly awaited the spin-off series revolving around Walt and Jesse’s scumbag lawyer, Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk). Better Call Saul is a prequel to a show that is widely regarded as one of the very best of all time, so there is quite a bit of pressure of the back of Vince Gilligan.
Although it’s technically a spin-off, Better Call Saul has shown in its first two episodes that it intends to be anything but a “knock-off” of it’s predecessor. The show also intends to chronicle some of the events that take place after the story of Breaking Bad. The Better Call Saul pilot picks up right around where we last left off with Saul; his law career is over and he is forced to take a new identity as the manager of a Cinnabon following the proceedings that occurred in Breaking Bad’s final season. The black and white introduction was amazing, with close up shots of Saul’s (or whatever his new name happens to be) creepy mustache and growing bald spot. His work is mundane and he appears miserable up until he catches a glimpse of an intimidating figure in the mall that he thinks recognizes him as Saul Goodman. You can really feel the tension as Saul is overcome and paralyzed with panic; that is, until the imposing man walks right by him to meet up with family in the mall. After his shift, he returns home, makes a drink, and watches some of his old commercials on loop; still a bit paranoid, and trapped in some kind of personal hell.
After the intro scene, the color is restored and we are taken back to 2002 and the familiar setting of Albuquerque, New Mexico. As a huge fan of Breaking Bad, it’s great to see some of Gilligan’s signature shots again and to be back in those sketchy, yet strangely nostalgic desserts. While Better Call Saul has a similar aesthetic feel to Breaking Bad, and while there will be characters to appear in both series, that is where the similarities end. Breaking Bad was by and large a drama, whereas Better Call Saul has more comedic tendencies being based around a Breaking Bad character who generally served as the comedic relief of the show.
Saul, still known as Jimmy up to this point, is a down on his luck lawyer who is struggling to make enough money working as a public defendant so he can pay his ever increasing pile of bills. We catch our first glimpse of Jimmy McGill psyching himself up in the bathroom before triumphantly strolling into the courtroom. We get a classic, long winded Sual-esc speech in which Jimmy bends and twists the story of his “near-honor” students’ defense. It’s later revealed in the video evidence that Jimmy’s “knuckle-head” clients are being tried for decapitating a corpse and having sex with the severed head. Naturally, Jimmy loses this case, and his payout is a measly 700 (he anticipated getting 2100; 700 for each of the three kids).
The episode “Uno” was a lot of building. We see Jimmy’s lackluster office/apartment, located in the back of a nail salon and attached to the laundry-room. We also see that he is within arms reach of fixing his financial problems, if he could just convince his brother (Michael McKean) to use his electromagnetic hypersensitivity to get a buyout from his successful law firm. Jimmy estimated his brother’s share to be worth millions, so he would have hit the jackpot there. Chuck, however, believes that he will get over his illness and return to work soon enough. Jimmy doesn’t seem to believe it and I’m not sure I don’t either. Also, to add insult to financial injury, Chuck tells Jimmy that he can no longer use his real last name, and he should focus on creating an identity of his own rather than riding his brother’s coattails. With seemingly no other options, Jimmy is forced to reprise his old ambulance-chasing scam “Slippin’ Jimmy” (in which he used to work lawsuits for people who slipped on ice when he was back in Chicago). He enlists the help of a pair of skateboarding twins in a well-thought-out plan for a big payout; however, when things go awry, Jimmy encounters a familiar face that Breaking Bad fans will be excited for and will shutter to see again.
It has been “so far, so good” on the Better Call Saul front. The show may have started with an existing fan base from the Breaking Bad era, but it seems as though the series is already forming an identity of its own. Saul is unlike Walt or Jesse. His mouth often gets him into trouble, just as easily as it gets him out of it. We’ve seen him wrestle with morality already in just the first two episodes of this series, and are left wondering if Saul/Jimmy with break bad like the others, or if he’s been in the game all along. I don’t know what is going to happen in this story and I can hardly wait to find out. It looks like Vince Gilligan may have just struck gold yet again with this show.