Sunday, February 8, 2015

Review - Better Call Saul


Many a successful series has tried to continue magic created by spinning off a regular or popular character into their own show.  Some have succeeded (The Jeffersons and Maude came from All in the Family, Mork & Mindy from Happy Days, Frasier from Cheers, Xena from Hercules, The Flash from Arrow, multiple Law & Orders,CSIs and NCISs from the originals), some not (A Different World (The Cosby Show), Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior (Criminal Minds), some of the aforementioned Law & Orders and CSIs).  So when AMC announced that it was spinning off Bob Odenkirk's sleazy, fast-talking lawyer character Saul from the Brilliant Breaking Bad into his own series, I personally wondered if the character could carry a show on his own.  I mean, it's a great supporting character that added a lot to BB, but is it an interesting enough one with enough individual story to carry on as the lead?  Tonight, we got to see.


Created by Vince Gilligan (who also created BB), Better Call Saul is a prequel to BB, taking us six years before Saul became Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) lawyer. When we meet him, he's not yet Saul, but instead is Jimmy McGill, a small-time public defender searching for his destiny, and, more immediately, hustling to make ends meet.


Working alongside, and often against, Jimmy is "fixer" Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), the popular hitman introduced in BB. The series tracks Jimmy's transformation into Saul Goodman, the man who puts "criminal" in "criminal lawyer" and "the guy who knows a guy who knows a guy ... who knows a guy."  The series co-stars Michael McKean (Smallville, The X-Files), Rhea Seehorn (Franklin & Bash), Patrick Fabian (Big Love), and Michael Mando (Orphan Black).

The pilot opened with a beautiful black-and-white vignette.  At first you're not sure of the time period because of the music played and vague close-ups, but eventually we see its a modern day mall, specifically a Cinnabon.  We see a balding, bespeckled, mustached man making the rolls and doing his job.  He looks like any average joe.  But knowing the show we're watching, we know it's actually Saul, in his new, unflashy, mundane life as Joe Nobody, having had to ditch his old persona for his own freedom and safety after the events that happened in BB's final season.  As we later see him in his sparse little home, we see that he still longs for his old life as he watches an old tape of his Better Call Saul cemmercials.  Man, the guy has a sad existence.


But then we're taken back to an undisclosed year (a time when VHS still existed) where we see Saul, or Jimmy, in his lawyer years, feeling like the king of the courtroom, showcasing with confidence and bravado.  No denying we're in for a fascinating trip from A (Jimmy) to B (Saul and his current life).  The series has already been picked up for season 2, so we'll get pretty far on that path).

Odenkirk lives and breathes this character and it shows.  You kinda wanna shower after contact with him - I mean, the desperation alone - but you also feel for the guy (he drives a piece of crap car and his office is in the back of a manicure shop, for cripes sake!).  I love the way the show is shot (at least the pilot, which was helmed by Gilligan).  There's a particularly brilliant car accident shot from inside the car that makes you feel shaky like it happened to you. 

While this isn't Breaking Bad - a must-see series for anyone and everyone - it does have a draw that makes you want to take the ride to see just how Saul's progression came about and all the ups and downs that will inevitably be involved, though seriously, how can things be any lower for him at time we first meet him here?  There were so many surprises in BB you never saw coming, you can trust in Gilligan and his team to continue that brilliance here, though maybe in a different way.  For that reason, and for its great cast, I'll commit to this 10-episode run and look forward to the unfolding of Saul's story.

Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 10pm on AMC.

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