I'm a huge Breaking Bad fan. I want to get my biases out of the way right up front.
I put it up at the top of the television mountain with "The Wire" as the two dramas that didn't overstay their welcome, didn't compromise their storytelling and embraced change as an integral part of their storytelling process. They treated their audiences like adults and rewarded us for paying attention. They elevated tv drama to art.
Not bad, when you consider I first had written off Breaking Bad as a farcical novelty show (the early ads presented it as a comedy with Bryan Cranston running around in his skivvies and the wacky premise of the high school chem teacher turned meth cook). It wasn't until I heard friends and co-workers talking about it that I gave the show a second look.
All of this is a lead up to say I was apprehensive about the prospect of a Breaking Bad spin off. Especially one centered around the goofy comic relief lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) who was effective as a supporting character, but could he carry a show himself? Would a more comedic show still work in this universe?
Oh me of little faith. The premier episode of BCS put to rest any apprehensions I had going in. Better Call Saul not only pays reverence to Breaking Bad, more importantly, the first episode immediately sets up the show as it's own entity. It has a tone all it's own and a much sharper comic tongue (not surprising considering Bob Odenkirk co created the criminally underrated HBO sketch comedy series Mr. Show which you should totally go and watch right now) than it's fore-series. It makes a lot of sense considering that the biggest mistake this show could have made would have been to turn Saul Goodman (or Jimmy McGill, which I'll get too) into a Walter White clone.
The biggest surprise in Better Call Saul is the lack of a Saul. The character of Saul Goodman we met previously doesn't exist yet in this series. And indeed, the word "character" is entirely appropriate as Odenkirk gives a lot of interesting depth to conman/schyster Jimmy McGill by adding a layer of theatricality to Jimmy's personality that feels so right based on what we know about Saul Goodman. We are first introduced to Jimmy as he is going over his closing argument in a mensroom, rehearsing what he is going to say. The Jimmy we get to know in this first episode is a very different creature than Saul Goodman. He's a mutt trying to run with bigger dogs, and that has always been his appeal. Jimmy/Saul is always in over his head and while Walter White was at his best being two steps, I can see Jimmy always being two steps behind and running to catch up.
This does bring up one problem the show is going to have to overcome. Indeed the problem is that we know that ultimately Jimmy will survive to become Saul Goodman. Whether or not he survives the series in the time frame post-Bad is still up for grabs though. Without having the omnipresent threat of death that hung over Walter White's head, Saul will have to find other ways of creating tension. Let's just say, I wouldn't get too attached to the supporting cast.
Speaking of which, Michael Frickin' McKean is in this show and he is amazing. He plays Jimmy's brother Chuck, who is on an extended sabbatical from his law firm due to an unspecified medical issue. He is eccentric and suffers I can easily see Chuck becoming a central point of tension in the show. McKean is going to be the big revelation on this show. Chuck McGill is eccentric, good hearted, brilliant and has an aversion to electricity. He is also mentally ill, and harbours delusions that he will be able to return to work. This will be a career revitalizing role for McKean and watching he an Odenkirk together is a pleasure.
The most exciting part of discovering Breaking Bad was the revelation that the guy who played the doofus dad on Malcolm in the Middle capable of playing such a dark and complex character as Walter White. There's something truly amazing about watching an actor completely defy expectations. Seeing two comedic actors like Bob Odenkirk and Michael McKean blow us away will be the real treat of BCS.
I'm specifically being vague with my descriptions of the episode to avoid spoilers. That said, I'll simply wrap up with some other stray observations.
-Much of the style of Breaking Bad remains intact. I always love the little incidental moments such as the court prosecutor slowly wheeling a tv stand into place, Jimmy's car antenna flopping around when he pulls his briefcase down from the roof and Jimmy nearly getting wiped out by skateboarders while telling the "Ginger Twins" about his shady past.
-There are wannabe con artist Ginger Twins and they are excellent. I'm really hoping they stick around because they are very entertaining.
-One of the parts of Breaking Bad I loved was the long scenes showing the processes of things. Of course, those processes were usually involving cooking meth and other criminal activities, but it's still interesting. This time we get a nice long scene of showing how cinnamon buns are made. At least's it's not meth.
-Without giving too much away, the two cameos run from "Hey! It's that guy!" to "Holy sh*t!"
-Jimmy's combative relationship with the tollbooth attendant (Breaking Bad return #1) promises to be fun going forward
"Now I'm on your speed dial. Right next to your weed dealer."
"You've gotta stop putting bacon on your list. It's like a trichinosis stew in there."
"The only way this car is worth $500 is if there's a $300 hooker sitting in it!"
"Chuck helped build one third of this place. There are are what...twelve chairs in here? Four of them are Chucks."
Hi, my name is Mitch and I write things sometimes.