Categorised | US TV reviews

Review: Better Call Saul 1x1-1x2 (US: AMC; UK: Netflix)

Posted on February 12, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Better Call Saul

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, AMC
In the UK: Netflix. New episode every Tuesday

So before we start, let’s be clear what this isn’t. This isn’t a review for anyone who loved Breaking Bad, of which Better Call Saul is a spin-off. For starters, I didn’t love Breaking Bad, and I gave up midway through the second season. I didn’t mind it, I thought it was good, but it felt too much like hard work with not a huge amount of reward.

I don’t even really remember Saul Goodman in the original show either. All I know is what’s available in the Wikipedia article on him.

Already many of you will be getting ready to declare me “Unmutual”.

That’s fine. Because you’ll be watching Better Call Saul whatever I say and if you really need someone to tell you if the show's any good for a Breaking Bad lover or not, you can peruse any of the dozens of reviews on the Internet by people who’ve watched every single episode and have "Bitch” tattooed on each of their biceps.

No, this is a review for people who either didn't like Breaking Bad or never quite got round to watching it. Because there’s bound to be a whole bunch of you out there like me who are potentially interested in watching Better Call Saul but want to know if they’ll be lost and mystified and whether they’ll enjoy it or not. Those people need someone like me.

So with that out of the way, let’s go see if we’d Better Call Saul or not. I’d recommend reading that Wikipedia article I linked to first, though - it’ll help a lot.

About
Better Call Saul is the prequel to the award-winning series Breaking Bad, set six years before Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) became Walter White’s lawyer. When we meet him, the man who will become Saul Goodman is known as Jimmy McGill, a small-time lawyer searching for his destiny, and, more immediately, hustling to make ends meet. Working alongside, and often against, Jimmy is "fixer" Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), a beloved character introduced in Breaking Bad. The series will track Jimmy's transformation into Saul Goodman, the man who puts "criminal" in "criminal lawyer."

The series also stars Michael McKean as Chuck McGill, Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler, Patrick Fabian as Howard Hamlin, and Michael Mando as Nacho Varga -- characters that will represent both legitimate and illegitimate sides of the law.

Breaking Bad creator and showrunner Vince Gilligan and Breaking Bad writer and producer Peter Gould created the show together and serve as co-showrunners of the premiere season. Gilligan directed the first episode of the series, which has already been greenlit for a second season of 13 episodes. The debut season will consist of 10 episodes.

Is it any good?
To be honest, I thought it mildly funny at best. In fact, the thing I enjoyed most about it was the excellent direction of episode two by Michelle MacLaren, which suggests that the Wonder Woman movie she’s directing is going to be pretty good.

Essentially, this is Breaking Bad again but with less universality. Saul Goodman isn’t yet Saul Goodman - he's Jimmy McGill and doing his best to be an honest lawyer, which means he’s poor, lives in his office most of the time, has a crappy car and has to take whatever work he can scrounge from helpful clerks. He also has to deal with his strangely ill older brother Chuck (Michael McKean of Spinal Tap fame).

But when his first transgression into criminality goes wrong and his attempts to get money from a staged hit and run go awry, McGill is introduced to the world of drug dealers and finds he has something of an aptitude for begging for his life and those of others.

Guess what happens next. If you’ve not even seen Breaking Bad, you can tell he’s going to end up crooked because of the all-tempting nature of money. Certainly, that’s what Wikipedia would suggest.

Now, if you’re coming to all this afresh, Better Call Saul doesn’t have much going for it yet. It’s got a few fun moments, some good lines, some decent acting and the occasionally intriguing actor (Orphan Black actor Michael Mando as the non-stereotypical drug dealer Nacho Varga). You feel sorry for Jimmy/Saul (less so if you’ve read the Wikipedia article), but that’s about it.

Because this is very much a show with Breaking Bad fans in mind. My 1.5 seasons’ worth of viewing plus the occasional press release meant that I recognised a couple of characters from the original show either still alive (Raymond Cruz’s psychotic Tuco Salamanca) or in a very different role (Jonathan Banks’ Michael Ehrmantraut). Had I not known about them in advance, a lot of the jokes and situations would have gone right over my head. More so if I hadn’t read that Wikipedia article.

So, if you’re like me and have resisted the Breaking Bad black hole that’s ever-trying to suck you in, you can pretty much steer clear of Better Call Saul, since you won’t be losing much if you don’t watch it. It’s beautifully made and written, and it somehow manages to make 2001 look like a very slightly more technically advanced version of the 1970s, but so far, it’s not doing anything you won’t get from plenty of other shows.

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  • November 19, 2015: Review: Into The Badlands 1x1 (US: AMC; UK: Amazon Instant Video)
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  • February 3, 2016: Third-episode verdict: The X-Files (season 10) (US: Fox; UK: Channel 5)
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