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TV Waffle - BETTER CALL SAUL (Season One)

Debut season of the Breaking Bad spinoff.

Review by Nick Sauer




"The show proves to be a worthy sequel to Breaking Bad, and while I'm sure most fans of that series are already checking this one out, I would highly recommend anyone unfamiliar with Breaking Bad take a look at it as well."







Better Call Saul is AMC's highly anticipated spin-off series from Breaking Bad and is a bit of a prequel to that series. The focus of this series is the shady attorney Saul Goodman, who was a regular side character from that popular series. It stars Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill, Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut, and Michel McKean as Chuck McGill.
Breaking Bad is currently at the top of my list of all time favorite television series. When AMC announced that they would be doing a spin-off series about Saul Goodman I was happy but at the same time hesitant based upon my expectations for something trying to build upon a series that I hold in such high regard. Would Vince Gilligan be able to capture lightning in a bottle again? Since this is a new series, I'm writing this review directly for people unfamiliar with Breaking Bad, as that show's fans will most likely already be checking this one out.
The first episode opens with a black and white set of scenes from the daily operation of a Cinnabon franchise, which is a lead in link for the Breaking Bad crowd. After this inconsequential bit of series linking we proceed into the show itself. Jimmy McGill is a newly minted lawyer living in Albuquerque, New Mexico who has just begun trying to establish a practice. He is operating out of the back of a nail salon, whose owner, even through her less than sparkling command of English, makes it abundantly clear that she doesn't think very highly of Mr. McGill. The only other potentially confusing issue here for new viewers is that Jimmy is, in fact, the Saul from the title of the series. This gets a very quick explanation within the first few episodes but if you're not paying close attention it could easily be missed, so I just wanted to clarify that here.
In addition to trying to find clients, Jimmy is also taking care of his older brother Chuck, who is an extremely well regarded attorney himself with his name as part of a local prestigious law firm. Chuck, who has a well established legal career, is clearly an inspiration to his younger brother, although Jimmy would be hesitant to say so himself. Chuck's problem is that he has recently developed a severe "allergic reaction" to all forms of electromagnetic radiation. While this is clearly psychosomatic, Jimmy works with Chuck to the point of taking his brother's condition somewhat seriously himself. This involves bringing Chuck newspapers as he can't go out into daylight, refilling his cooler chest with ice, and keeping him stocked with candles to illuminate his shuttered house. Following the CW's Arrow model, a good portion of the story is told in flashback form where we learn that Jimmy, prior to acquiring his law degree, was a confidence trickster living in Chicago and it was consequences related to this life that forced his move to Albuquerque. Chuck is worried about him falling back into this lifestyle, as Jimmy was an exceptionally good con artist. This leads to conflict when Jimmy engineers a scheme to get himself some free publicity in order to promote his budding legal practice. Ultimately, Jimmy ends up finding a niche for himself in what he terms "elder law" by helping nursing home residents with wills and any other legal affairs they may need to get in order. As Jimmy becomes more involved in this practice he stumbles across something that quickly grows beyond his limited legal experience. He brings Chuck into the situation with the clever idea of leveraging this to get Chuck back into law with the long term hope that this proves to be a "cure" to his brother's problem. When the case becomes big enough to require the resources of Chuck's law firm things don't work out quite the way that Jimmy had hoped for. All of this leads into what is effectively a two part season finale of a couple of pretty amazing episodes which hit a nice home run cap to an already strong first season.
One detail I do want to mention here, as I thought it was pretty clever and took me awhile to appreciate myself, is the very short title sequences. Each episode has its own unique little vignette - usually some cute jab at lawyers. What only occurred to me comparatively recently as I started working on this review is that the piece for the final episode, which involves a mug labelled World's Greatest Lawyer, proves to be a metaphor for the conclusion of the first season. I don't want to say anything more specific because to do so would be a potential spoiler, but I feel it is something clever enough that viewers might want to keep an eye out for it.
The third major character in the series is Mike Ehrmantraut, who was another fairly regular character on Breaking Bad. Mike is an interesting character in that he comes across as an emotionless enforcer. He is working as the parking attendent for the local court house and takes his job very seriously, which ends up grating on Jimmy's nerves quite a bit. Mike has fairly recently relocated to Albuquerque as well, but when some of his past catches up with him, he ends up needing Jimmy's legal services, which creates an odd sort of relationship for the two of them. Through this we learn Mike's back story, which is surprisingly tragic and really adds a whole new level of depth to the character that we had not encountered in the previous series. 
What impressed me most about Better Call Saul was the development of Jimmy as a character over the course of the season. Coming into the series as a fan of Breaking Bad, I had a pretty healthy share of baggage from what we had seen of Saul's character in that show. The background given over the course of this season, which will easily bring a new viewer up to speed, reaffirmed that initial impression of Jimmy as a somewhat likeable guy but with a quite slippery personality. As a result, I tended to be less than sympathetic to him at times, given the somewhat sleazy nature of his character. However, how Jimmy reacts to adversity over the course of the season was the tipping point that started to make me begin to appreciate him more. This ultimately comes to a head in the first half of the season finale where Jimmy goes through a bit of personal tragedy that somewhat parallels a bit of my own from a few years back. Jimmy's response to this and the course of action he ultimately takes was not only the perfect response but a testament to the true nature of his character that ultimately won me over. That is the result of a combination of great writing and equally great acting on the part of Mr. Odenkirk.
In summation, the first season of Better Call Saul is really an origin story for Saul Goodman aka Jimmy McGill. We get a rollercoaster ride through Jimmy's early life via flashback and his current situation in Albuquerque. As these events unfold we see him become the character that fans of Breaking Bad will immediately recognize, which is perfectly highlighted in a classic Saul Goodman style rant in the final episode.
The show proves to be a worthy sequel to Breaking Bad, and while I'm sure most fans of that series are already checking this one out, I would highly recommend anyone unfamiliar with Breaking Bad take a look at it as well.


For more from Nick, visit his site Fantastic Television


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