By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
The jury's still out on 'Better Call Saul'
Bob Odenkirk portrays Saul Goodman in a scene from "Better Call Saul." - photo by Jim Bennett
In October 2013, I wrote a column about the AMC television series Breaking Bad that lamented the moral problems of rooting for the bad guy. Upon reading my column, my sister called me and took me to task. She insisted I was dead wrong about the show, and she asked how much of it I had watched. I told her I was only done with the first couple of seasons.

Keep watching, she said. By the end, you will definitely not be rooting for the bad guy.

And she was absolutely right. Breaking Bad managed to unflinchingly demonstrate the consequences of evil without celebrating them. By the time the tragedy of teacher-turned-drug-kingpin Walter White is complete, the viewers are not on his side. Its also hard to imagine anyone watching the full series and wanting to emulate Whites descent into depravity. The show provides a clear and stark moral object lesson.

So when Breaking Bad creators announced the spinoff Better Call Saul, I was both excited and skeptical excited because show creator Vince Gilligan had captured lightning in a bottle with Breaking Bad, but skeptical because the odds are overwhelmingly against capturing lightning in a bottle twice. In addition, prequels are always saddled with the dramatic challenge of keeping an audience engaged when the viewers already know the characters ultimate fate.

Case in point: At the end of the first episode of Better Call Saul (rated TV-14), the title character has a handgun stuck in his face as a cliffhanger for the next installment. But its not really a cliffhanger; weve seen Breaking Bad, so we know Saul survives. This means that the opportunities for genuine tension in this spinoff series will be much harder to come by as the show progresses.

Better Call Saul" finally made its debut this week. Bob Odenkirk shines in his performance as lead character Jimmy McGill, who presumably changes his name to match the shows title somewhere down the line. Jimmy/Saul is a struggling lawyer with no problem representing guilty clients, and hes also not above running petty scams to drum up business. But he has several opportunities to demonstrate that he has a conscience, and hes loyal to his friends and his brother Chuck (Michael McKean), a fellow lawyer who has dropped out of his prestigious law firm and become a hermit of sorts due to an undefined electrically averse ailment that could use some more explaining.

I should note that there is some content in "Saul" that would be offensive to many viewers. It doesn't push the envelope as much as "Breaking Bad" did on that score, but there are some graphic moments designed to be disturbing to both the characters and viewers alike.

Its impossible to watch Saul without comparing it to its Breaking Bad source material, and the comparison both helps and hurts it. Its nice to revisit the New Mexico setting, and it was fun to see an old Breaking Bad character pop up as the shows first villain. But such direct references to Breaking Bad threaten to overshadow the new series. At the outset of Saul, Jimmy begins his moral journey in a more ambiguous place than Walter White began his. Yet we also know he wont be the monster Walter was by the time the series ends. Calling Breaking Bad to mind only serves to remind us that Jimmy doesnt have nearly as far to fall as Walter did.

Im not quite sure where Gilligan is taking us, but I'm giving Better Call Saul the benefit of the doubt.
Sign up for our E-Newsletters