Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Take The Call

It's weird watching AMC's Better Call Saul.  It's a spinoff of Breaking Bad, a critically admired hit.  But whereas Breaking Bad was a totally new show with an unknown character that built its audience along the way, Better Call Saul starts with a beloved side-character from that show (thus the big ratings from the start), one whose future we already know.  So we sort of feel like we're in the same Albuquerque world of BB, but from a whole different perspective.

The show, created by BB producers Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, was originally promised as a comedy, but they thought about it and apparently decided to go with an hourlong drama featuring plenty of humorous moments--not unlike BB, in fact (though I doubt it'll ever get as dark).

Actually, the opening sequence in the pilot shows Saul's BB aftermath.  He's gone underground, now working as a Cinnabon manager in Omaha, sadly looking back at the old days when he was a hotshot ABQ lawyer.  I don't think this was smart.  Sure, it was a transition for the BB audience, but I never thought it made any sense that Saul had to hide anyway, and the less we think about his future the better.

Then we go back several years to some time before he met Walter White. Indeed, before he even calls himself Saul Goodman. He's just public defender Jimmy McGill, barely making ends meet.  His office and apartment are a small room in the back of a nail salon (which we'll see in BB--there are many references to BB, which makes the show an odd experience--I think Jimmy even drove by the White residence in the pilot).  Every now and then he runs into a parking ticket attendant who demands he get more validation--it's Mike, whom he'll hire as his fixer.  Mike has this job, presumably, because he's a cop who got in trouble and is now just scraping by, like Jimmy, but no matter why it's always good to see Jonathan Banks.

Then there's Jimmy's brother Chuck, played by Michael McKean. (Chuck was Richie Cunningham's older brother until he mysteriously disappeared--foreshadowing?)  He was a successful lawyer who helped build a multi-million dollar practice.  Now he lives alone due to a mental illness that makes him fear electromagnetism.  Jimmy wants to sue on his behalf for his share of the practice, but the brother won't have it--he believes he'll beat this thing.

So Jimmy, with few options, tries a scam--a shakedown featuring two skateboarders and a fake accident. But they miss the intended target--an embezzler who turned down Jimmy's services--instead stumbling upon the grandmother of Tuco.  Yes, good old psychotic Tuco (sort of a coincidence), who soon has the skateboarders and Jimmy tied up in the middle of the desert, like it's an episode of BB.  Jimmy talks his way out of it, but the skateboarders insulted family man Tuco's abuelita, and they must pay.  Ever the lawyer, Jimmy talks him down from murder to broken legs.  So this will be the tone--the humor of the con man lawyer with the deadly seriousness of BB?  I'm not sure if I bought it, but we'll see how it plays in future episodes.

The show isn't bad, but isn't Bad, either.  I loved Saul Goodman, but he seemed perfect as a supporting character, offering semi-legal solutions and comic relief when things got tough, not a lead.  And going into his past to see how he got this way, when we know how he ends up (though they may go back to Omaha for all we know) isn't quite as exciting as Walter's arc.  (Mike's arc might have been more interesting, but maybe too close to BB.)  Still, I'll watch. It's fun and my guess is it may get more compelling as it goes along.

PS  I always liked the clever titles of BB.  The first episode of BCS is "Uno."  The second is "Mijo."  It looks like each episode will be one word, two syllables, ending in "o." Not that clever, but at least they're trying.

PPS  I guess we knew Walter wasn't going to die in BB, but no one else was safe, and, in fact, many bought it.  But with Better Call Saul we know the fate of Saul, and Mike, too, so we know they'll get out of whatever problem they have.  And if we meet others we've seen, such as Huell, we know he'll be safe too.  On the other hand, if someone seems t hang around a lot and we haven't seen him before, not a good sign.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought they marketing it as a prequel- maybe that's just how cable info screen describes it.

I lasted about 15-20 minutes into this- not really bad but more who cares?

10:54 AM, February 10, 2015  
Blogger LAGuy said...

It's a prequel and a spinoff and even a sequel. If they hadn't sent Saul to Omaha, maybe they would have just gone with a straight sequel, but they painted themselves into a corner. But whereas other people might have tried a sitcom with Saul taking on his client of the week, we know Gilligan likes an origin story.

11:41 AM, February 10, 2015  

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