How do you follow one of the most successful television programmes of all time? Well, you don’t. “Better Call Saul” doesn’t try to pick up where “Breaking Bad” left off, and it’s all the better for that fact. That’s not to say that this series won’t draw from the show that created it’s titular character, nor is it to say that we’ll never catch a glimpse of Saul (Bob Odenkirk) after Walter White (Bryan Cranston), on the contrary, that’s how the season begins! However, the reason why I think this series will be a success, critically and commercially, is that it is telling us more about a beloved character that we’d like to get to know better. From what I’ve seen so far I would say that it is doing this in an interesting and intelligent way, because it has the creative power of some of those involved in creating one of the greatest pieces of television ever at its helm, as well as a welcome shift in tone when compared to “Breaking Bad”. This series has the potential to be both comedic and serious at certain points, and if it can blend the two together in the right way, we could have something special.
The first episode, “Uno”, gives us a small insight into what life is like for Saul following his dealings with Walter White. It’s a great way to start the series, because there’s no getting away from the fact that this is where Saul comes from, the title is taken from that series, so why not embrace it? This opening also gets those who loved “Breaking Bad” on board immediately, because they will hope to get more insight in the episodes to come, and it reminds them where the character will ultimately end up. This generates intrigue, and keeps the audience coming back for more, because we really have no clue why Jimmy became Saul, so it will be exciting to see him develop into the character we all know and love. There’s also bound to be some tragedy, we all know it, so the series is promising you action from its very first moment, even though that moment is a quiet, bleak, black-and-white scene, much like Saul’s life at that point.
Immediately after this great beginning, we are reminded of the character that we tuned in to see, the man who we will be rooting for in the episodes to come. “Jimmy” (A.K.A Saul) is introduced as a lawyer who is willing to defend any client by any means in order to get his pay cheque, so while there is room for development, he’s still the guy that everyone wanted to see. This is another fantastic scene, because although we know that Jimmy is spouting nonsense to the jury, just from the type of person that he is, we are all desperately waiting to find out just how crazy a story he’s telling. This predictable character trait could potentially have produced fear in the audience, because we might have expected some sort of cheesy reveal to follow, that actually these boys were the most pure form of evil there could possibly be, just like Walter White was at his worst, but instead what they were doing, while horrific, was hilarious in the context of the show. The comedic tendencies of the series were established immediately by this scene, but the audience was also made aware that much like “Breaking Bad”, things might get grizzly when the time comes.
I could go through each scene and say why they worked, because they all seemed so carefully thought out, and the episode itself was really well structured. In what followed from the scene I just mentioned, Saul’s relationships in the show were established, his character was shown to be just as conniving as always, and we were re-introduced to two great characters from “Breaking Bad”. All that in the space of an hour, and whilst the episode was slow, it was still as entertaining as we could’ve hoped for, considering the fact that a lot of world-building and character development had to go on.
As a character, Saul was the comic relief in “Breaking Bad”, but he still had a lot of depth and he was clearly more than a puppet for Walter White. He was intelligent, thoughtful and pragmatic, and that’s exactly what we see from Jimmy in this episode. Of all the characters at the heart of “Breaking Bad”, Saul was easily the most likeable, even more so than Jesse (Aaron Paul), so it’s great to see him get his own shot at the limelight. Saul was a great choice of character for further development, because for all his personality and charisma, we never really knew anything about who he was, or what had led him to be that person.
The most challenging aspect of getting this show right will be in maintaining a sort of backwards continuity with “Breaking Bad”, because Jimmy has to carry the spirit of Saul in his performance, but to have a meaningful character arc he also has to be a lesser man. He needs to grow and become the great character we know, which will be incredibly hard to do when this show needs to stay compelling week in week out, but from what I’ve seen so far I believe that the show runners can do it.
Jimmy is less confident than Saul, less self-assured, and he clearly has a lot of doubt. However, that doesn’t take away from his character, it simply makes him seem a bit more human. Now that we are seeing Saul outside of his element, we finally get to understand how he really feels about who he is, and we are starting to get a feel for what motivates him. He’s desperate for success and to be better than those around him, and it hurts him when he isn’t achieving; from this we come to see just why he helped Walter White for so long, and why he constantly put himself at risk, which is a wonderful thing. I didn’t think that “Breaking Bad” could get better, but this series feels as though it will enhance the show, because it’s making one of its main characters feel more real, and explaining what makes him tick.
Fans of “Breaking Bad” and of this character have been waiting for this season to start for a long time, I know I have, and I feel it was worth the wait. There was enough there to make me believe that “Better Call Saul” will have a level of quality that is more than worth my time, and Bob Odenkirk reprised his role with ease and confidence. I hope that this series can live up to what has come before it, but in all honesty that’s incredibly unlikely, so all that fans can ask for is an entertaining piece of television which gives further insight into the character. I believe that this show will succeed on both those points, and I am looking forward to next week when I can get my latest fix.
“Better Call Saul” has incredible potential as both a character study and a narrative, and it has all the right people involved to be amazing. It has the scope to be both dramatic and comedic, and because of the nature of the character and the people he will inevitably have to deal with, the tone of the show can turn in an instant, keeping the audience on the edge of their seat. The fact that Netflix is holding its episodes back like a traditional television series only enhances the experience for me, and by the end of the first episode I was dying to see the next one. Nothing is set in stone, the series could still turn out to be a complete flop, but from what I have seen so far I have confidence that this will be a great show, and I am hopeful for something special.