Written by Bradley Paul
Directed by Nicole Kassell
Better Call Saul has, in its first four episodes, been a series so focused on its protagonist that no one else has really had a chance to show much definition. Kim Wexler is a mid-ranking attorney at a big law firm and good friends with Jimmy, but we don’t know anything else about her. Mike Ehrmantraut is a world-weary former cop who now works at a parking garage, so we know there’s a story there (And from Breaking Bad we know much of what there is to the later edition of Mike anyway, but we don’t know how different he is in this earlier time.) Even Chuck McGill, played by a legitimate star actor in Michael McKean, has been left to provide a mix of comic relief and caring depth for Jimmy. Still, the series has subtly given us much of Chuck’s back story: he was a very gifted attorney who rose to an impressive height helping to build the firm Hamlin, Hamlin, and McGill but then ran into a road block when he suddenly found himself stricken with what he believes to be a sensitivity to electromagnetism, which he has managed with a lot of Jimmy’s help for some time. Continue reading
When Better Call Saul was first announced, my memory is that it was announced as a comedy spin-off of Breaking Bad. Apparently there was talk along the way that the show had morphed into more of a drama, but I avoided news about the show so that I wouldn’t go in with any preconceived notions, so I wasn’t aware of that. Needless to say, I was surprised to find a show that feels increasingly like a continuation of Breaking Bad more than a separate entity.
Spin-off shows are often difficult because they are, at heart, serving two masters. They want to please fans of the older show enough to keep them interested–otherwise, why bother with spinning off instead of just starting anew? But they also want to interest more than just that core audience, because otherwise the show might just as well be an extra episode a week of the original show. The last major successful spin-off was Frasier, which shared little with its predecessor Cheers apart from using a little-defined character from the original series as its lead. It was willing to admit its past, making references to Cheers, having nearly every cast member from that earlier series make a guest appearance, and even making occasional jokes that relied on knowledge of the previous series. But its humor, its storytelling, its performances, and its overall sensibilities were so far removed from Cheers that it’s difficult to imagine that the audience was that heavily overlapping. (Indeed, I do not like Cheers at all, but I think Frasier is the best comedy show ever.) Better Call Saul has gone in the opposite direction. Continue reading