NJATVS Preview: Breaking Bad Spinoff Better Call Saul Debuts

Better Call Saul business card
Courtesy of AMC

Warning: Mild Spoiler Alert

In this new “golden age of TV” that necessitated a site like NJATVS to cover it completely, there is one program that stands out, one that might be more likely than any of the rest to be named as the best of them all.  Because of the utterly unique journey that the show mapped out, as well as the overwhelming consensus that it “stuck the landing” as well as any show possibly could, that show is Breaking Bad.  When it departed in September 2013, fans were joyous about having been on that wild ride, but despondent about the prospect of departing the special world having been created in an alternate Albuquerque by showrunner Vince Gilligan.  However, plans were already in the works to extend the Breaking Bad universe to another project and its debut, Better Call Saul, is now upon us.

The incredibly gifted Bob Odenkirk (Saturday Night Life, The Ben Stiller Show, Mr. Show) leverages his sketch comedy writing and acting background to deliver a more fleshed-out story for Saul Goodman, Walter White’s outrageous lawyer and partner-in-crime.  One of the more memorable Jesse Pinkman quotes in the history of Breaking Bad came when Saul began representing Jesse’s drug-peddling flunky Badger and then began trying to insinuate himself into the heart of the blue meth operation.  When Jesse told Walt, “You don’t want a criminal lawyer.  You want a CRIMINAL lawyer!” he summed up the Saul Goodman character better than anyone else in the history of the program.

But Saul wasn’t always the brazen TV-advertising lawyer seeking shady ways to make money.  Back in 2002, when the backstory begins, he was trudging through a much less glamorous path as small-time attorney Jimmy McGill, with a better moral compass than his later alter ego, but much less money to show for it.  Just as Breaking Bad chronicled Walter White’s transformation to Heisenberg, this show follows Jimmy’s journey to fully becoming Saul.  Once potentially envisioned as a half-hour “dramatic sitcom,” the decision was subsequently made to retain the hour-long dramatic format, albeit with even more dark comedy than Breaking Bad.  And just as Bryan Cranston was breaking new ground for himself as the anchor of a dramatic series, so too is Odenkirk wading into new waters as the face of a franchise.

While other Breaking Bad characters may pop up from time to time – in a series guaranteed to go at least two seasons by AMC, which remains anxious in the aftermath of Breaking Bad and in the twilight of Mad Men to remain a network containing must-see programming – fans will be delighted to be treated to another of Breaking Bad’s beloved recurring characters, Mike “The Cleaner” Ehrmantraut, played again with menacing aplomb by Jonathan Banks.  Versatile comedic actor Michael McKean (Laverne & Shirley, This is Spinal Tap, Saturday Night Live) became the first on-screen talent retained with no connection to Breaking Bad.  He will portray Saul’s brother Chuck, who is also a lawyer and who becomes disabled by mental illness.  Patrick Fabian (Atlas Shrugged: Part 2), Rhea Seehorn (Whitney) and Michael Mando (Orphan Black) round out a talented cast.

Although primarily a prequel to Breaking Bad – at least in the narrow scope of following Saul and Mike through their earlier adventures – the timeline will not remain static, as reports have indicated that the pilot will flash forward to Saul, post-Breaking Bad.  Managing these jumps without disrupting the canon of the beloved mothership series cannot be easy, but Gilligan and Better Call Saul co-creator Peter Gould are certainly up to the task.  Early reviews of the initial episodes are nothing short of glowing, indicating even that fans holding the program up to the vaunted Breaking Bad standard will not be disappointed.  Achieving the closest to perfection that mere mortals can attain is supposed to be impossible to perform once and Gilligan, Gould, Odenkirk and Company are potentially poised to repeat the feat.  In some ways, the meta story of watching their attempt will be as compelling as the amazing story that they are going to be unveiling for us.

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