Like many others, I love Breaking Bad. It’s one of my favourite television shows ever. When I heard that they were doing a prequel to the show, centred around quipping fan favourite character Saul Goodman, I started to worry. Breaking Bad is perfect as its own thing. They completed the arcs, finished the story and left it without compromising quality. Prequels almost never work and to re-open the Breaking Bad story with possibly only financial gain motivating the decision to do so struck me as a terrible idea. However, as it was the same people behind it, I knew I had to give it a shot. I’m glad I did.
Better Call Saul opens on lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) working at a fast food place, far from his comfy legal office we’re used to seeing him inhabit. We flashback to Saul in his younger days as an upstart low-rent lawyer then named James McGill. We follow “Slippin’ Jimmy” through his early stint of lawyering before he became the sort of person to afford cheesy television spots and bench ads. Familiar faces from Breaking Bad do show up, but it never feels too fan service-y. Best yet, it actually adds some depth to certain characters like the surly Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks). He was already one of my favourites, but Better Call Saul gives him more room to breathe. It’s no accident that many of my top moments in the series involve Mike in some way.
Bob Odenkirk grounds the whole thing. He completely knocks it out of the park. You can’t help but feel for Jimmy, even when he’s forced to engage in shady legal dealings because legit work is hard to come by. Odenkirk also gets some fantastic monologues over the course of the series. My favourite has to be the “Chicago sunroof” story, which had me in stitches.
Of the new blood, I like them already. I love Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler. She and Bob Odenkirk have great chemistry together and it really sells that these two are old pals. I wasn’t sure what to make of Michael McKean‘s more comedic presence as Jimmy’s older brother Chuck, at least initially, but as the series went on, I started to understand him better. It’s tempting to say more, but some of the joy in Better Call Saul is how your opinion of certain characters changes over the series and I don’t want to influence your opinions or accidentally pre-empt any character shifts.
I think the best thing about Better Call Saul is how well it compliments Breaking Bad. It’s very much its own thing, It turns one of the greatest weaknesses about prequels into a strength. We know that McGill is going to end up as the sleazy Saul Goodman and it’s fascinating (and sometimes heartbreaking) to watch his metamorphosis from a criminal lawyer to a CRIMINAL lawyer. The Goodman persona is a Sword of Damocles hanging over his head and it’s going to be unbearable (in a good way) to see it finally drop, I can already tell.
I have nothing but praise for the first series of Better Call Saul. It’s a fantastic human drama that has filled the Breaking Bad shaped hole in my life. Highly recommended.
Television | USA, 2015 |18 | Sony Pictures Home Entertainment | 9th November 2015 (UK) | Dir.Vince Gilligan| Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Rhea Seehorn, Patrick Fabian, Michael Mando,Michael McKean | Buy: Season 1 [DVD]