Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Better Call Saul (first impressions)

I'm not alone in calling Breaking Bad one of the most addicting, mind-blowing, and ridiculously intense television shows of all time.  When it ended about a year and a half ago, I was deeply satisfied and content for the story to end exactly where it did.  So as you can imagine, I was skeptical when I heard about a spin-off series featuring the supporting character Saul Goodman in the starring role.  However, I'm happy to report that (judging strictly from the two-episode premier) Better Call Saul is made with the same level of craftsmanship and loving care that its predecessor was.

That comes as a relief more than a surprise; after all, the series is still helmed by creator Vince Gilligan, without whom I'm sure the show wouldn't have that wonderful, darkly comedic tone that Breaking Bad perfected.  Still, there was plenty of room to be disappointed.  What if Saul's character became irritating when given the spotlight?  What if the show becomes too comedic?  Will any of this be as interesting as the story about the rise of Heisenberg? I think it's best to go into this show with Breaking Bad in the back of one's mind instead of the forefront.  I foresee cameos and references to the original show without outright parody or excessive character mishandling IF the opening two episodes are any indication.  Because, damn--these episodes were just great.

The show begins with a "where Saul is now" sequence that seems to take place after the events of Breaking Bad.  For people who haven't seen the original show (I know a few of you poor, unfortunate souls are out there), nothing is spoiled or even said about what happened to Saul.  For around ten minutes of screen time, there's hardly a word of dialogue amidst a dreamy black-and-white sequence that depicts Saul as a man living in fear, loneliness, and intense depression.  He reflects back on his life, seven years before meeting Walter White, and thus the real show begins.  Saul, whose actual name is Jimmy McGill, is a failing layer desperately looking for a break.  He supports his brother Charlie (Michael McKean), who once worked in a successful law firm but has since developed a mental illness.  After nearly being conned out of $500 by two fraudulent brothers (Jeremy Shamos and Daniel Spenser), Jimmy gets an idea that could save him from poverty.  However, the plan backfires when the two brothers get involved with a certain insane someone you might recognize.

I won't go to deep into the following episode for spoiler purposes, but I really like what I've seen so far.  Bob Odenkirk plays the same layered and intelligent character he did in the original show, but now he's given so much more to do.  It occurred to me right from the start how interesting it's going to be to see this "nobody" become the improbably powerful Saul Goodman we know and love.  I'm more interested to see that than I was to see C3PO being built by a young Darth Vader, anyway.  Man, the prequel pool is really shitty, isn't it?  The rest of the cast is great as well, with a nice recurring presence from Jonathan Banks (Mike from the original show) that should prove to be very promising.

All in all, I can't express how excited I am for the rest of Better Call Saul.  AMC's quality control is astounding, as they seem to be focused on creating smart and creative television as a priority.  Yes, spinoffs generally have the unfortunate connotation of being a cash-grab by nature, but thankfully this particular cash-grab is artistic in its endeavors.  Will it ultimately be as good as Breaking Bad? I suppose it's possible, but I wouldn't get my hopes up.  I'll just be happy to go along for the ride, which I can predict will be fun and intense in equal measures.