by Matthew Thompson
As much as I loved Breaking Bad, I wasn’t exactly clamoring for more when it was over and the idea of a Saul-based spinoff didn’t really light my world on fire when I first heard about. Of course, I was going to watch it and with the talent involved it was hard to imagine it not being a quality new series. After watching both episodes of its two-night premiere, I think Better Call Saul is off to a good start even if I’m not blown away by what I’ve seen so far.
It is clear Bob Odenkirk can handle taking on the lead role. This show focuses on the days before Breaking Bad, before his character became known as Saul Goodman, when he was just Jimmy McGill trying to scrape together a life as a lawyer. The show isn’t nearly as funny as I thought it’d be. It does get more humorous towards the end of the first episode when he begins his latest scam, but it feels more in line with its parent show than I thought it’d be based on the marketing I saw. Saul isn’t the only person to appear from BB either. I’m an even bigger fan of Mike. His appearances in these first two outings are pretty sparse, but I look forward to seeing more of him as the series rolls on. Tuco also makes a surprise appearance and it is worthwhile just for the desert scene. Watching Saul negotiate with Tuco for the lives of the dumb kids he got involved in his latest scheme is very entertaining. It is those kinds of skills that will allow Saul to shine as the main character in this series.
It will certainly be interesting to see how much they go to the cameo well throughout the series, but I’m more curious about the supporting characters of its own that Better Call Saul develops. We get a good taste of two in these first couple hours. I think if anything isn’t working for me so far it is Saul’s brother Chuck. The whole electromagnetic sensitivity angle and the little bits that went along with it kind of fell flat for me. Their relationship could be interesting though and I at least look forward to Saul clashing with Chuck’s asshole partner in future episodes. Another character to watch is an associate of Tuco’s, Nacho Varga played by Michael Mando. Those who stop by my blog for games will recognize Mando as Vaas from Far Cry 3 while those who come for TV stuff might remember him from Orphan Black. I enjoyed him in both and Nacho seems like the kind of character Gilligan and Gould could do good things with.
Few shows on television are or have been as well-shot as Breaking Bad and that brilliant cinematography carries over to Saul. It is evident in small understated scenes like one in the opener that sees Saul in a dimly lit parking garage stealing a drag off a cigarette from a woman who works at his brother’s law firm. It comes through in flashier sequences like a montage in the show’s second hour that sees Saul in the courtroom as well as psyching himself up for trials in the men’s room beforehand. It felt a little like the law version of BB’s drug cooking scenes if not quite as mesmerizing. I also loved the excellent cold open that showed Saul in his life post-Breaking Bad. It was a great way to kick off the show in style and I’m intrigued to see more if we check in on this time period again. I suspect we will, just not all that often.
The more I thought about it and wrote about it, the more I appreciated the many positive aspects of Better Call Saul’s first two episodes. I think the worst thing I could say about it is that I wasn’t exactly enthralled the whole time watching it. Time will tell if that changes, but its first few steps out of the gate this week were definitely good ones and I look forward to spending more time with Saul and company as this series unfolds.