‘Better Call Saul’ Truly A Superb Spinoff

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LOGO“Breaking Bad,” which ran for five seasons on AMC from 2008-2013 is inarguably one of the best series in the history of television. Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) also are among the most memorable fictional characters ever created, but in season two of “Breaking Bad” we met another fascinating character who became a vital part of the series through its final season.

Jimmy McGill aka Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) is a smooth-talking and amusingly corrupt attorney who ultimately becomes Walter’s on-again-off-again lawyer. When Jimmy meets Walter for the first time, he says that he goes by Saul Goodman so that people will think he’s Jewish instead of Irish, which is his natural heritage.

“My real name’s McGill. The Jew thing I just do for the homeboys. They all want a pipe-hitting member of the tribe, so to speak.”

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Despite his idiosyncrasies Saul actually is a very skillful lawyer with the ability to think quite quickly on his feet, and he has a line of bullshit that enables him to talk his way out of practically any situation. His love-hate relationship with Walter is one of the key elements running through the final four seasons of the series, and his ads stating simply “Better Call Saul” are ubiquitous.

The good news for “Breaking Bad” fans and anyone else who enjoys a show that’s a superb mix of comedy and drama, is that Saul now has his own spinoff show appropriately titled “Better Call Saul.” The series made its two-night debut last week, and it is simply superb.

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When “Breaking Bad” ended, Saul made a statement to the effect that after all he had done in Albuquerque, he’d be fortunate not to wind up in prison or dead and that maybe he would find a job at a Cinnabon in Omaha. Incredibly effective, the first episode of “Better Call Saul” is filmed in black and white as we see Saul, now sporting a mustache, closing up shop in an Omaha Cinnabon. He then goes home, pours himself a strong drink, and plops down in front the TV set. But he soon grows restless and breaks out a videotape of his old commercials. From this point we flash back to Albuquerque in 2002 before everything in “Breaking Bad” started, and we learn about Saul’s early career as an attorney. Thus, this new series is really a prequel to “Breaking Bad.”

Before his Albuquerque days Saul worked in Chicago running small cons, but his older brother, Chuck (Michael McKean), a highly successful attorney in the Land of Enchantment, convinced Saul to move to the West and go straight. Subsequently Chuck suffered a mental breakdown leaving him with a fear of cell phones, and now Saul is trying to hustle enough business to support them both.

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Most of the first episode deals with setting up things to come, but the big surprise occurs at the end as one of the more notable characters from “Breaking Bad” shows up, and the storyline involving him continues into episode two. By the end of the second show we have a good idea of how things are going to go (or not going to go) for Saul, and we realize what an interesting and complex character he’s going to be.

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Saul has a lot on his plate because he’s trying to look after his brother’s welfare and at the same time find enough petty cases to keep them in food and shelter. His brother had a good job with a multimillion-dollar firm before his mental breakdown, and now that firm is trying to buy the guy off with insultingly low checks. In the first two episodes Saul is so desperate that he tries to manufacture a case for himself, but that goes awry with tragically humorous results.

Although “Better Call Saul” was spawned by “Breaking Bad,” Odenkirk pointed out in a recent online interview that his new series is not going to be just a carryover.

“It’s not going to be ‘Breaking Bad’ 2.0 or whatever. It’s a different show, and it’s going to have a different energy and we’re not going to try to just extend ‘Breaking Bad.’ That can’t be done. That show is great, it’s done, it’s all wrapped up and delivered, and now we’re going to do something fresh and new with a character that is rich and funny, and everyone’s excited about it. And we want to make sure the audience sees right away that it’s not a continuation of ‘Breaking Bad’ but rather its own thing that hopefully is going be entertaining on its own terms.”

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And in a different online interview, Odenkirk explained why the show will appeal to fans of “Breaking Bad” and the difference they will see in the two shows.

“Fans of ‘Breaking Bad’ are going to find the kind of writing and the tension and the story excitement of ‘Breaking Bad’ in ‘Better Call Saul.’ These are the same writers from ‘Breaking Bad,’ and I think what people see is different about ‘Better Call Saul’ is that it’s kind of funnier throughout. He’s a funnier character than Walter White. He’s a loudmouth, and he gets himself into a lot of scrapes and trouble.”

“Better Call Saul” is a legal drama unlike any you’ve ever seen before because of the great balance it achieves between drama and humor and because Odenkirk imbues his character with an irresistible quirkiness. While we may not always agree with the way Saul does things, we can’t dislike the guy. His ability to talk his way out of tight spots is consistently entertaining, and some of his pearls of wisdom are priceless. (“Lawyers are like health insurance. You hope you never need it, but not having it…no.”) And wait until you see his office!

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“Better Call Saul,” which airs Mondays on AMC at 10 p.m., has the green light for 10 episodes during its first season, and I hope it finds enough support to continue after that. It’s fun and entertaining, and it earns the final score of a solid nine because it was a bit slow coming out of the gate, but it could very well be a 10 before the season is over. Give Saul a look. I guarantee he’ll grow on you.

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