Tweetable Takeaway: Before Saul was Saul, he was Jimmy McGill. Things are changing fast on #BetterCallSaul.Tweet
Airtime: Mondays at 10pm on AMC.
By: Jeff Iblings, Contributor
After all the build up, BETTER CALL SAUL has finally arrived. This Breaking Bad Spin-off is trying to do something that isn’t successful very often, but with the majority of the Breaking Bad team involved, they may just pull it off.
Bob Odenkirk, who in Breaking Bad was the confident shyster lawyer that helped get Walt and Jesse out of jam after jam, plays Saul Goodman. Better Call Saul presents us with a different iteration of his character. This is Saul before Saul was Saul. Here we know him as James McGill, a desperate, and dead broke lawyer struggling to make ends meet. In moments, there are still glimmers of the swagger we remember from Breaking Bad, but here it’s a mask he wears. He’s projecting the lawyer he wants to be, not the lawyer he is.
I should back up a moment though. The show opens with a black and white sequence of the bland and bleak life Saul has carved out for himself after going into hiding to escape the events and responsibilities (criminal and otherwise) in the aftermath of Walt’s last stand. He’s now “Gene,” the manager of an Omaha Cinnabon. The drudgery of his new existence and the anxiety of always having to look over his shoulder has taken a toll on him. All of the life and animation he once exuded is gone. The only color in his life comes from when he watches a VHS tape of his old law commercials from the glory days while alone in his townhome.
Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have bookended the series with Saul at his lowest points in life. Now we get to watch Saul’s rise as he stumbles and finds his way. Judging from the first episode, it’s going to be a fun ride. Seeing as he has an office in the back of an Asian nail salon, fakes an Irish accent to sound like a receptionist, has a maxed out credit card, and desperately tries to sign a county treasurer accused of embezzlement even if it means setting his wife up to black mail them into becoming clients, the shenanigans are going to be fun to watch.
The writers also wisely show us a softer side of Saul. He’s not all desperation and subterfuge. Part of the reason he’s so tapped out, is he’s taking care of his brother Chuck (Michael McKean) who’s become a shut in over psychological fears of electromagnetism. The big law firm Chuck helped to create (Hamlin, Hamlin, & McGill) is trying to screw him out of his share of the company. Saul is the only person standing in their way.
The pace of the show is a lot slower than Breaking Bad, but that’s just fine. This isn’t Breaking Bad. Better Call Saul is its own beast. For the show to be successful it needs to break out of the shadow of Breaking Bad and be its own thing. This isn’t a comedy, in fact it’s dark right out of the gate. Sure there are moments of humor and levity, but I think Saul’s journey is going to be more darkness than light.
There’s a couple of nice cameos in the pilot episode. We know Mike was coming back in some capacity. He shows up as the parking lot attendant at the courthouse where Saul just lost a case as the public defender for three teenagers who broke into a morgue, cut off a cadaver’s head, and then had sex with it. Saul drives a shitty Suzuki Esteem, and immediately butts heads with Mike when he attempts to leave the parking lot without enough validation stamps.
The big cameo surprise comes after Saul devises a scheme to win back the business of the embezzling treasurer by hiring a couple of twin skateboarders to stage a car accident. The problem is, they choose the wrong car, and instead are hit by an old Latino woman. When Saul arrives to sort out what happened, he finds himself staring down the barrel of Tuco’s gun.
Talk about the luck of the Irish.
- There is a shot in the beginning sequence when Saul is watching his old commercials that caught my eye. Everything is in black and white, yet the commercial reflected in his glasses are in color. This is the only color in his life now, living in the past.
- I really hope they explore more of what happened to Saul when he changed his name and went into hiding. There is a lot of rich material there, and it would be a great counterbalance to the show.
- It sounds like Saul has worked for Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill is some capacity before. Chuck mentions his “cronies in the mail room” and his friend Kim who I would assume is the blonde he shared a cigarette with after his meeting at the law offices. It will be interesting to see how Saul emerges out of his brother’s shadow. Is Kim his love interest?
- The two scheming twins who try and extort money out of Saul for hitting one of them are hilarious. I hope they have more scenes in the show and aren’t just murdered by Tuco.
- Saul just can’t catch a break. He has to fight for every scrap he gets. The first court case goes hilariously bad, and after having the Kettelman’s poached from him by his brother’s old law firm, I just don’t see how he forges his own path.
- The scene in Chuck’s house is gorgeously lit by lanterns, and sets a wonderful tone. It’s a nice touch since he can’t use any electricity or electrical devices due to his mental illness and phobia of electromagnetism. The world they’ve created for this show is already very rich.
- How the hell does Saul get out of his situation with Tuco? I bet we’ll find out during tonight’s episode.
For six months out of the year Jeff is holed up in his home with nothing to do but shovel snow, watch television, write, and dream of warmer climates.