On paper, maybe, but practically, spinoffs almost never work as intended. For every successful attempt, there are many more failed one. “Friends” spinoff, “Joey”, was a disaster, losing out before it’s first season ended. Thoughts of “X-Files” spinoff “The Lone Gunman”, although it followed my favorite conspiracists from the show, was pulled even faster. There are many successful spinoffs, like “Saved by the Bell”, or “Frasier”, and we can discuss the merit of old people staples, like the “CSI”, “NCIS”, or “Law and Order” franchises another time.
However, when you have a massively supported, critically astounding, Emmy award-winning, Spanish soap opera spawning (yes, it’s real, see here), smash mouth television drama, helmed by Vince Gilligan and marketing masterminds at AMC, the tables are turned. How can you follow-up one of the greater character dramas told on television within the last decade or so?
“Better Call Saul” follows Jimmy McGill, who “Breaking Bad” fans know as scummy TV lawyer, Saul Goodman, who squeaks his way into Walter White’s drug kingpin trade early in the second season. Jimmy is interesting, I can imagine the lead up to “Better Call Saul” has been a heavy burden on Mr. Bob Odenkirk (seeing as how many interviews I’ve read have ended up about “Breaking Bad” and not “Better Call Saul”).
Walter White was clearly our main focus in a different era of television, but now we hone in on a post-Bad world. Aside from managing a Cinnabun in Omaha, which Jimmy said he would be lucky to do, what else is going through his mind? A beautifully shot black and white opening give us a grim look into Jimmy’s future, containing as much fear, paranoia, and regret that Jimmy felt while under Walt’s fingertips. The funky opening credits scream “Hotline Miami”.
It is impossible to for fans and critics alike to not make “Breaking Bad” comparisons here, but I must implore you to instead think of “Better Call Saul” as it’s own piece. Yes, we aren’t surprised Tuco has wire cutters around Jimmy’s finger, and the nail salon Jimmy hides his office in is also where he tries for Walt and Skylar to hide out their money laundering, but despite our psychic foreknowledge that sets us apart from the casual TV goer, I beg of you to see this show in a different light.
If we compare these two, “Better Call Saul” will unravel, unless we give it more time to develop. I’m enamored by the open New Mexico desert where negotiations seem to always take place. I’m astonished by wonderful, maybe over-the-top montage pieces, and smart editing to compare bread sticks with broken legs. It’s all good. I love it all. Yes, it holds a “Breaking Bad” poster in front of my face, and Walter’s head explodes out of the center screaming, “SAY MY NAME! SAY MY NAME!”
I get it. It’s great. I’m a huge fan.
I said earlier, Jimmy is very interesting, and to be quite frank, most of the characters from the “Breaking Bad” universe would make for a lovely spinoff, because Gilligan and crew worked so hard to develop each character individually. We cared so much for even insignificant characters, like Huell, or Badger. We can thank the groundwork laid by the writing team for that, and it’s abundantly clear that if Gilligan continues his involvement to the level he has thus far, this show could potentially develop into levels of cliff-hanging, character developing excitement that “Breaking Bad” did. Or “Dexter” did. Or maybe “The Wire”.
I’m encouraged by “Saul’s” intriguing cinematography that helps to tell the story, rather than just throw characters on-screen, like cough-Gotham-cough. I love that Dave Porter is reprising his previous role to put more great music together for this series. I’m understandably excited to see flash forward episode openers of behind-the-scenes meetings with Jesse, Walt, and Saul that we never saw in “Breaking Bad”. Cameos? Who doesn’t want that?
All of this to say, “Better Call Saul” is off to a great start. There is plenty of mystery between who Chuck is, and why he’s messed up in the head. I’m curious about Saul’s relationship with that chick at the law firm he was smoking with in the parking lot. Tuco’s buddy, who might be the only human to talk him down from murder (aside from Saul), knows where Saul works now, so that’s interesting. There is a lot going on already, and I can only expect the stakes to continue to rise as the season continues.
Be thankful that “Saul” is serialized, and not a villian-of-the-week model, like plenty of other reduced, reused garbage television shows. I know I am.