“Pick Up the Phone”: “Better Call Saul” Dials Up the Right Number

saul

A blog by: Thomas Domol

“Money is not beside the point, money is the point”- Bob Odenkirk as James McGill in “Better Call Saul

These days, hype can make or break a television series before it even begins. This is in part due to the 24 hour cycle that is social media, and, in this particular case, due to the sterling pedigree of the program for which this particular series is a spinoff. As the above photo explicitly indicates, I’m talking about AMC’s hotly anticipated “Breaking Bad” spin-off “Better Call Saul”, featuring everyone’s favorite fleabag attorney, Saul Goodman

A lot of questions preluded the arrival of this series. Questions like: Is this a good idea? What identity will this show have? Can I stream it on my Roku stick? Well, I am pleased to announce that while that the two-part series premiere is not without its flaws, Vince Gilligan and company have largely delivered on bringing viewers back into the beloved, if not ultimately tragic universe of “Breaking Bad”.

good to be bad

If you have not watched the original series, first off, what is wrong with you? You’re missing out on one of the greatest American dramas of all time. But secondly, in the case you have not seen “Breaking Bad”, there really will be nothing for you here as the series is predicated on the viewer’s prior knowledge of established characters and events. That said, if you are familiar with this program’s predecessor then there is quite a bit to sink your teeth into right from the pilot’s opening scene.

Fans of “Breaking Bad”, the saga of chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin and monster Walter White, surely know where the characters on “Saul” are headed, even ones that have not yet been introduced to the show. But more fascinating is how we get there, and the inherent heart break in witnessing characters who wish to be decent men, to do right by the people they hold dear, descend into a world of utter chaos and despair. By the way, did you get over to your local Cinnabon yet?

The character of Saul Goodman, whom at the outset of the program is seen in a “flash forward” working at a Cinnabon in Omaha, Nebraska, was at one point James McGill, a mild mannered low level criminal lawyer, struggling to make ends meet in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He does anything, largely within the confines of a strong moral compass to attempt to improve his lot in life, while being emotionally available for his recluse brother Chuck, played by legendary comic actor Michael McKean. Therein lies one of the most impressive aspects of the show, in the fact that our two main protagonists in a show that will certainly trend darker over time, are played by two of the funniest men on the planet.

Odenkirk is known for his work with David Cross on the HBO comedy series “Mr. Show”, while McKean starred alongside Christopher Guest in the classic “Mock rock doc”, “This is Spinal Tap”. The two actors have superb on-screen chemistry and together serve as the emotional backbone of the show.

“Better Call Saul” looks amazing. This will come as a surprise to no one who is familiar with the work of Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, who own a mesmerizing command of each desert, strip mall, and concrete slab that make up the composition of Albuquerque, New Mexico. As a viewer it shows me a place I do not wish to go yet makes me feel as if I’ve been there before.

This is a show intended to be for fans of “Breaking Bad”, so most the compelling moments from the first two episodes will be lost on anyone without a framework to go off of in terms of who these characters are, and why we should care about them. Taking that notion into account however, knowing that an awful lot of you watched the original series, you will adore this program. For as long as this series runs, the audience will be treated to an enthralling and tragic tale that shows even those with the best laid plans, can see their lives descend into an unfathomable nightmare.

8.5/10

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