Not often has a character with so many flaws been so endearing on TV. It has been three seasons and finally, Jimmy McGill is on his way to becoming Saul Goodman. Spin-offs rarely work, for every Frasier, there is a Joey and a Baywatch Nights (Yikes!). Better Call Saul, however, bucked that trend and is arguably home to some of the best performances on the small screen.
- The Plot
In many ways, Better Call Saul is a more difficult show to make than Breaking Bad. The stage is shared more evenly between the principal characters and the plots stay parallel, interweaving at the right times, creating a very cohesive storyline. There is the story of the scam artist, who as a lawyer negotiates situations using his old tricks, simply because there is no other way. There is the suffering brother who also happens to be a genius lawyer, fighting a sickness of the mind while he holds on to his legacy. The dynamics between these two is part of a larger canvas, that of two drug cartels on the brink of war.
Bob Odenkirk, hats off! You can see the angst and desperation in Jimmy McGill’s face, a man of weaknesses with a core that endures being good. There are only glimpses of the more caricatured Saul Goodman, as Odenkirk portrayed a more tortured and absolutely real character, as expected of an ‘origin story’. We know these guys in real life, and we absolutely hate them. On screen, however, it is a different perspective altogether.
- Stellar Support
When the show started, it looked like the underdog story involving a sick man. Turns out, it was anything but that. No spoilers here, but the wonderfully versatile Michael McKean stole the show many times over the last three years with his nuanced portrayal of Chuck McGill. And we are talking about an actor/musician who has Thundercats on his resume. Talk about versatility. Rhea Seehorn’s Kim Wexler is the beautiful, smart and ambitious Kim Wexler, an audience to the many faces of Jimmy/Saul. Michael Mando plays Nacho Varga, a gangster with ambition, with total conviction.
- Familiar Faces
Gruff old grandpa Mike Ehrmantraut was a Breaking Bad favourite and now has a central role in Better Call Saul. The ex-cop/parking lot attendant’s slow descent into the world of the cartels is played with sheer intensity and detail by Jonathan Banks. Not to mention, there are some subtly hilarious moments between his character and Odenkirk’s. Giancarlo Esposito’s Gus Fring was one of the standout characters in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul offers a deeper glimpse into this fascinatingly evil and yet, in many ways, fair character. Remember Don Hector Salamanca? He walks in BCS, played by Mark Margolis of course. Then there is the crazy Tuco Salamanca played by Raymond Cruz, him and many more obvious and not so obvious familiar faces.
- A Slow Burner
Okay, we were always going to bring up old Walter White if we have to analyze BCS. The one who knocks had one of the best character developments in TV history simply because showrunner Vince Gilligan decided that there was to be no hurry (machine guns, neo-Nazis and all, of course). Better Call Saul scores higher on the realism factor, allowing it to top Heisenberg’s saga on the slow burner scale. And it is the good type of slow, the one that builds up and makes you come back for more.
- The Images and the Silence
Let us not forget the cinematography. The desolate and dangerous beauty of New Mexico’s Borderlands was vividly captured in Breaking Bad, and visually that show created many memories for its many fans. Better Call Saul continues that trend without being a copy. The abrupt intro credits provide another small element that sets the tone for a really gritty show. Just like Breaking Bad, the show skips a traditional background score, captivating audiences with atmospheric sounds and eerie silence.
- The Shared Universe
One of the many reasons Breaking Bad fans will love Better Call Saul is the number of recurring characters, the inside references and the many timeline possibilities in this shared universe. One can already start imagining the fan fiction that can be derived from the desert home of Better Call Saul. The saga of the warring cartel families of BB was seamlessly played into our favourite sleazeball lawyer’s life. One of the best subplots of the earlier seasons was Mike’s own struggles with the death of his son and the manipulative frailty of his daughter-in-law.
The Legend Continues
Slippin Jimmy really did a number on us with this spin-off, and how we loved it. If you haven’t checked out Better Call Saul, you are missing a masterpiece. Three seasons is a crucial juncture for all good shows, and lesser works will succumb to the metaphorical shark of creative fatigue. It remains to be seen if Saul can maintain the spotlight as the characters around him grow and the plots start to scale up. As long as the show keeps it personal and complex with the now-hallmark intense Gilligan execution, I wouldn’t bet against the fourth season taking us for another wonderful ride.