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The two-night premiere of Better Call Saul kicks off the Saul Goodman origin story with an impressive and engaging beginning. When the idea of the spinoff was first floating around, it didn’t seem like a good idea. Let’s be honest, it just seemed like a money-grabbing ploy from AMC in order to cash in on Breaking Bad’s astonishing surge in ratings and cultural relevance. With the drama on its way out, the network surely felt like it needed to hold on to something pertaining to the show before all this attention and success slipped from its grasp.
However, the network was smart about its pursuit and instead of hastily slapping something together that they could flimsily attach the Breaking Bad name on, they did it right. Sure, fanboys would have loved to get a Jesse Pinkman spinoff even if it was slapdash, lazily produced and with almost anybody calling the shots behind the scenes. Just as long as they has Aaron Paul screaming, “yeah, bitch” every once in a while they would probably be content with the hypothetical TV show.
But AMC knew that without the involvement and cooperation of Breaking Bad creator, Vince Gilligan, any iteration of a spin off would be a no go, and they were lucky he was interested in expanding the universe. So the creator and writers’ developed what now seems as the only viable iteration of a Breaking Bad spinoff. Focusing on Walter White’s slimy lawyer, Saul Goodman, the show could retain similar themes and subject matter which drew so many to the original show, as well as explore a character familiar to us but with enough unknown history to inspire an entire series.
And so the saga of Saul Goodman begins, with an interlude showing his life post Walter White/Breaking Bad before narrating the commencement of the shady lawyer’s trajectory through the unethical world we have come to associate him with. At the series’ start he is known as Jimmy McGill, working as a public defendant and running a practice out of the back room of a nail salon. With these first two episodes the first stirrings of Saul Goodman can be appreciated in Jimmy’s gameness for deceptive methods and manipulative shenanigans.
It isn’t hard to see how the loquacious Jimmy McGill ultimately becomes the character we have come to know. And already in these first two hours the show has deftly incorporated familiar characters and introduced them in intriguing ways. It is fun to see how Saul basically was shoved into this world by the erratic Tuco, and to witness the first interactions he shared with Mike Ehrmantraut. The appearance by these characters not only give us a exciting jolt whenever they appear, but add layers of narrative intrigue and anticipation for the rest of the story.
Like the series that came before it, the show’s central performance is crucial for its success and Bob Odenkirk lives up to the challenge. There is a fine line he needs to tread between being truly sympathetic and a wily, opportunistic conman. There is enough humanity he instills in Saul/Jimmy that allows us to entertain his most despicable inclinations. The way his story unfolds makes us align with him so that we root for him even when he goes down a possibly objectionable path. Odenkirk has had enough time to develop this character and now that he knows him so well it is a great experience to watch him embody this mess of a person. With most of the screen time dedicated to him, if the performance had been off, the show would have crumbled, but alas, it is not so. Odenkirk shines as the driving force of the show with great aplomb.
Most importantly, following the success of the main character’s portrayal, is that Better Call Saul holds on to the wonderful combination of dark humor and intense, dramatic material. The tone that Breaking Bad took a while to figure out (yes even Breaking Bad had some fine tuning to do in its early days) is present here on day one. There is not only the absurd humor that derives from some of the seriously harrowing and depressing situations depicted but there is also pathos in the more quiet, contemplative moments that add significant substance.
Better Call Saul is off to an impressive start with its first two episodes. Introducing us to “Jimmy McGill” and establishing an evident trajectory for his development into “Saul Goodman.”