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BETTER CALL SAUL is a worthy heir to BREAKING BAD and maybe then some…

Posted on February 13th, 2015
Posted on February 13th, 2015

by Coop Cooper

Anyone who regularly watched “Breaking Bad” through most of its run remembers how the shady ambulance-chasing lawyer character of Saul Goodman helped former chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) manage his crystal methamphetamine empire. While Saul was an amusingly good-natured and funny guy, he was a crook, but it was plain to see he had no stomach for the violence his job sometimes required. Now in a genius stroke, “Bad” creator Vince Gilligan has opted to tell Saul’s story which takes place before, during and after the timespan of “Breaking Bad” with the new series “Better Call Saul”.

The pilot of the show takes place in 2001, years before the events in “Breaking Bad” begin. ‘Slippin’ Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk who has apparently has yet to take the pseudonym ‘Saul’) is a down-on-his-luck public defender who constantly gets himself into bad situations but can usually weasel out of them with the help of his wits and fast-talking mouth. His superstar lawyer brother, Chuck (Michael McKean) has become a paranoid agoraphobic who refuses to cash out of his multi-million dollar firm while Jimmy cares for him and barely scrapes by. Frustrated with his horrible luck, Jimmy employs a pair of identical twin skateboarders to run a false injury scam on a wealthy former client. But when the twins accidentally scam the grandmother of a gangster, Jimmy finds himself using his fast mouth to keep them all from getting killed.

Why isn’t Jimmy called ‘Saul’ yet? Will this show eventually intersect simultaneously with “Breaking Bad”? Will we discover what became of Jimmy, aka Saul, after the events of “Breaking Bad” other than becoming a baker at a Cinnabon chain? I have no idea but judging by the first two episodes of “Better Call Saul”, I can tell it’s going to be a fun ride. The show is dripping with humor, both light and pitch dark. ‘Saul Goodman’ was the comic relief in “Breaking Bad” but he was such a memorable character, it is evident he can carry his own series. I’m happy to say that through skillful writing and the skill of the already established lead actors, this one is bound to be another huge hit.

So far, here are the elements to savor in this show: 1. Jimmy’s long-running feud with courthouse parking lot attendant Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) who “Bad” fans know will eventually become his go-to bagman and right-hand partner. 2. Jimmy’s anguished facial expressions and private tantrums when things go wrong. 3. His sudden and reluctant gallantry in order to save his clueless partners from getting killed. 4. His masterful – yet hilariously sleazy – manipulation of dim-witted gangsters in order to save his own skin. 5. His cheesy, yet effective courtroom bravado and antics. 6. His Don Quixote-like crusade against his brother’s powerful, arm-breaking firm and the fact that despite the fact they send him generous 5-figure checks regularly, he always tears them up… that’s just the first two episodes and I’m leaving a lot out.

I wouldn’t recommend this to people who haven’t seen “Breaking Bad” if I didn’t think they could get into it without watching the original show. Luckily Gilligan has found a way around this. The strategy of starting the timeline of “Better Call Saul” before the events in “Bad” grant for an easy, obligation-free ingress into this show. Delving into “Breaking Bad” as you simultaneously watch “Saul” would certainly be a fun strategy for diving into this twisted, fun and morally bankrupt world.

I have no doubt star Bob Odenkirk is swinging for the fences here. He will get an Emmy nomination for this as easily as Bryan Cranston did in “Bad”. He’s such a lovable loser, he becomes an even more natural protagonist than Walter White did early on. In fact, he may eventually eclipse the popularity of White if these first two episodes are any indication. The writing has been honed steel sharp since the team’s “Breaking Bad” days and the creators are fully immersed from the get-go. The greatest indication of this how such much is ‘said’ without characters saying a thing. They show their emotions and intentions without uttering a word. Masters create, write, act and direct at this level and this show has it.

As of writing this article, “Better Call Saul” has scored the ‘highest debut ratings in cable history’. This is the prequel/sequel/spinoff that “Breaking Bad” fans deserve. Don’t miss it.

5 out of 5 stars.

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