Breaking Bad is arguably viewed as one of the best series of all time. Cynics may think that a spin-off is destined to fail, but this is certainly not the case. Better Call Saul is the prequel-come-sequel Breaking Bad deserves.
The series starts with ominous black and white ‘present day‘ footage, showing a depressed, paranoid and lonely Saul Goodman/James McGill (Bob Oderick) working in a Cinnabon in Omaha, Nebraska, post-Walter White. Around 5 minutes in he puts on a videotape of old footage of his TV adverts and we’re bought back from a beautiful monochrome footage to a disgustingly fluorescent lemon lit court room, where James “Jimmy” McGill is working as an underpaid public defendant.
About 15 minutes into the 53 minute show there is the first unflinching nod to Breaking Bad, where the audience meets Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) as a car park attendant (who later becomes Saul’s private investigator). There are many of these throughout the pilot, some explicit – such as the appearance of Tuco Salamanca (Raymod Cruz), who holds Saul at gunpoint. Others are more allusive, an overbearing wife reminiscent of Skylar White, con-artist brothers, and a protagonist who is generally mild mannered, in an undesirable profession, with angry and nervous outbursts. A notable plot point is Saul’s visit to take care of his mentally, and possibly physically ill, multi-millionaire brother who is sheltered from the world – no doubt an allusion to Walter White at the end. The cold open shots of Cinnabon’s paraphernalia showing the future is reminiscent of season 2 of Breaking Bad, and the allusions to the plane crash. Shot mostly in dim light, the 4k filming works wonderfully for the Netflix screens, the cinematography is superb.
Despite these many hints to the Breaking Bad Universe, Better Call Saul stands brilliantly as a series on its own. Bob Oderick is a true comedic talent, carefully balancing serious gritty drama with slapstick comedy and gold one liners such as “I’m the guy on your speed dial right after your weed dealer.” A surprise performance comes from Michael Mckean who plays Jimmy’s mentally ill brother, Chuck – a vey successful lawyer on an indefinite leave of absence, is paranoid and hiding out, hidden in his home to conserve himself from the ravages of of ‘electromagnetic forces’. Chuck flips between sounding crazy and offering Jimmy sound advice – not an easy feat for any actor.
A new episode of Better Call Saul is released every Tuesday on Netflix.
This was originally published in The Edge and The National Student.