WARNING: This review has a few spoilery bits you may want to avoid until watching both BETTER CALL SAUL and BREAKING BAD.
When approaching a prequel series, especially to a show I greatly admire such as BREAKING BAD, I am looking for an experience that can both work well on its own AND heighten the original source material. Well, I have pretty good news for everyone. BETTER CALL SAUL is a fantastic and smart series that accomplishes both aforementioned goals with ease.
BETTER CALL SAUL follows Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) who fans of BREAKING BAD know as everyones favorite sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman. Taking place not too far in the past (besides flashbacks) we get the chance to see a different side of McGill/Goodman as he struggles to make a living in a world that just doesn’t want him to succeed. He lives in the shadow of his legendary lawyer brother Chuck McGill (Michael McKean) who he constantly seeks approval from in a very “daddy issues” kind of way. All he wants is to be respected by his brother and the community as the go-to lawyer. He has no family of his own to protect, he has no life-threatening illness, and he has no desire to become a drug kingpin. Walter White he is not…and that’s just fine.
The opening sequence to this show really was just perfect. We actually jump ahead to a time after BREAKING BAD where Goodman is a nervous-as-hell employee at a Cinnabon. He cowers at anyone he deems suspicious, lives in fear, and will likely be a nervous wreak for the rest of his life always looking behind his shoulder. This was a great set-up mainly because it is juxtaposed to the man we see in this series before all the shit hits the fan. At this point in time, he is just a man who wants so desperately to do good and be successful, yet just can’t get there no matter how hard he tries. Destined to be sleazy I suppose. Like BREAKING BAD before it, BETTER CALL SAUL is all about the character study. And McGill/Goodman is a pretty exceptional character to explore.
Also along for the ride from BREAKING BAD is Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) and the show is all the better for it. He was one of my favorite characters from the show and any chance I get to learn about his past is most welcome. The dude is a bad ass. And the chemistry between Odenkirk’s McGill and Banks’ Mike is spot on. Seeing how these two men join forces throughout the season is really fun. Other mainstays on the show include Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler who is a great potential love interest and Patrick Fabian and the villainous Howard Hamlin who McGill hates with a passion due to some shady business practices. The whole crew here on BETTER CALL SAUL is solid creating a fun and engaging ensemble.
Likely the best thing about BETTER CALL SAUL is that it does not fully rely on the success of BREAKING BAD to strive. Sure Mike is seemingly around for the long-haul and there are couple of nods here and there to the series, but as it stands, SAUL has a unique and engaging identity that just doesn’t need any help. I look at it more as a shared-universe kind of thing. That said, I definitely would not mind if this prequel at some point turned into a sequel catching up with Saul after the events of BREAKING BAD. Just saying, a show about a nervous Cinnabon employee due to his past life could be interesting. Not to mention that Jesse is still out there somewhere along with some other key player from that series that would be worth exploring further.
I’m usually not too excited about prequels because you already know the main fate of the characters. I mean, we know the dude lives, we know what he becomes, and we know a lot of the bad things he has done. That said, BETTER CALL SAUL still just works because we are dealing with a very interesting character, watching him decline into the man he was in BREAKING BAD, and dammit the writing is just damn good. As I said before, any good prequel must heighten the source material that came before and BETTER CALL SAUL does that wonderfully. When I go back and watch episodes of BREAKING BAD it will be even better than before thanks to this smart and engaging show. That’s a success if you ask me. And the fact that I can’t wait to see what’s in store for season 2 is more proof that BETTER CALL SAUL is a show that you should be watching. In all honesty I though this show would be a mess. I’m glad I was wrong.
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10