Can ‘Better Call Saul’ Break Out of Bad’s Shadow?

Can ‘Better Call Saul’ Break Out of Bad’s Shadow? February 10, 2015

(Jonathan Ryan posting on behalf of The Rogue’s newest writer, Jenn O’Mara.)

For the last two nights, I’ve stayed up way too late to watch the two part premiere of AMC’s newest original series, Better Call Saul, co-created by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould. Saul is the prequel-spin off (prin-off? Is that a thing?) of AMC’s smash hit, Breaking Bad, of which I was also a huge fan. Saul is shifting the light away from drug-cooking teachers and focusing on Saul Goodman, the lucrative, money-laundering crook-lawyer that managed to elude many criminals, including Jesse and Walt, from prison for a very, very long time.

I was excited to get a chance to revisit some of Heisenberg’s old pals but I was concerned. Could this show find its way out of the shadow of its predecessor? And an even bigger question – could Saul carry on by itself? Can you watch this show – and truly get it – without the knowledge of the events, and the characters, from the show of which it originates? My short answer – yes. My long answer – keep reading.

Better Call Saul introduces us to Saul Goodman before Saul Goodman even exists. We catch up with him in 2002 while he’s still living under his apparent given name, Jimmy McGill. McGill is a lawyer at the lowest of lows, serving as a public defender for no good clients (that much hasn’t changed), earning a measly $700 per case. His “office” is in the back boiler room of a familiar looking nail salon. To earn extra cash, Slippin’ Jimmy is running scams and relying on his best weapon – his mouth – to save him. But we see a different side of Jimmy in his personal life. He’s desperately trying to help his troubled brother, Chuck. Chuck is not well, living in fear of electromagnetics, which forces him to hole up in a dark house with no fridge while visitors must “ground” themselves by leaving their cell phone in his mailbox outside. This illness is allowing Chuck’s former co-partners of a successful law firm, Hamlin Hamlin & McGill, to push him out without fair compensation. Jimmy provides Chuck with groceries, refills of ice for his cooler, and advice on how to take what is his from Hamlin and Hamlin.

For me, this is how Saul won me over. We met a new side of Jimmy/Saul that was never truly present in Bad. This side of him is compassionate, sympathetic, and broke; he’s struggling to pay his bills and he’s yearning for success. I can relate to this character; I can get behind him in a way that I couldn’t really ever get behind Walter White. I know the desire to climb the proverbial ladder and feel like the next rung is always just out of reach. I felt his pain when he realized that earning that $700 probably wasn’t even worth his time and effort. I recognized the stress of flipping through overdue bill after overdue bill, knowing that the pathetic check you just earned will barely fix one of these ginormous problems. I can empathize with this Jimmy and root for his success.

I’m not going to lie, it definitely helps Saul that it’s already dripping in fantastic Breaking Bad references. But those references, which make my inner-geek fist-pump, can be lost on someone who knows nothing about Bad and it doesn’t really matter. The references don’t make or break the show; they only add to it. If Saul proves anything about Gilligan and Gould beyond their masterful ability to write original stories, it shows they are opportunistic at heart. They recognized Bob Odenkirk’s phenomenal acting ability and they are harnessing it in Saul. They know that they’ve created a plethora of dubious characters in Breaking Bad that can be utilized again and again in this earlier version of that Albuquerque life. Resurrecting Tuco Salamanca as a huge roadblock and adversary for Jimmy in the premiere of Saul was one of the most brilliant moves that Gilligan and Gould could’ve made. Because regardless of what went down before, Tuco is one scary ass dude and the perfect character to put Jimmy McGill right in his place.

We may know the pathetic end of the line for Saul Goodman, as the cold-open of the premiere reminded us, but we don’t know how Jimmy McGill rose from rags to riches before falling to rags again. And I can’t wait to learn his story. This show may crash and burn before all is said and done, but it’ll do it all on its own. And with Gilligan and Gould behind the wheel, it’s guaranteed to be creative, innovative, and chock-full of suspense, drama, and thrilling shocks.

So when someone asks you what you think of Better Call Saul, now you can tell them. It’s allll goooood, man. [Saul Goodman, get it?]

 

Jenn O’Mara is a new contributor for The Rogue. She is an aspiring historical fiction writer and co-creator of the entertainment blog, RockPaperWatch. She works in Development and Alumni Relations at the University of Pennsylvania, where she is pursuing a Master of Liberal Arts in Creative Writing. She was born and raised in Philadelphia and is currently obsessed with all things Game of Thrones.

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