Phew! It’s all good folks. Better Call Saul is a great success, and manages to go the entire 10 episode first season without tarnishing the legacy of its spiritual predecessor and everyone’s favourite show of the century, Breaking Bad. Saul’s first go at taking the reigns of this esteemed meth-meddling universe has seen creator Vince Gilligan raise the bar even more for family-unfriendly drama. It’s passed the bar, as Saul and his lawyer counterparts would say.
It was never going to be easy for Gilligan to create something new that fans of his would accept, let alone meet the same standard of what became one of the most highly respected productions to ever hit the small screen. What the 48-year-old multi-award winning genius did with Breaking Bad changed the way TV networks think about shows. In 2014, it even entered the Guinness Book of Records as the highest rated series, which meant if Gilligan was to make a spinoff, he’d have to cook up something more than 99 percent pure, as Mr White would say – the rating on ‘MetaCritic’ by which Breaking Bad set that record. Gilligan would’ve had to have been high to challenge a near perfect reception, especially that soon after Heisenberg’s journey ended, but Better Call Saul defied these concerns and scored a perfect 100 on Rotten Tomatoes throughout all 10 episodes.
Set seven years before Saul would go on to represent the most eccentric criminal he’s ever met, Albuquerque’s smooth-talking lawyer is just a small-time attorney who goes by the name Jimmy McGill. Making just enough money to afford a beaten-up car and a bedroom that doubles-up as an office at the back of a hair salon, Jimmy isn’t the defense lawyer we recognise from years down the line with a bluetooth earpiece and his own bodyguard. Knowing what fortune will come Jimmy’s way is what makes Better Call Saul an incomparable show to Breaking Bad.
In fact, ironically, Better Call Saul is engrossing for entirely the opposite reason to Walt’s narrative. Knowing what the future has in store for Jimmy is what keeps the show so exciting because although he clearly goes through a massive change to become successful years down the line, it is the catalyst of this change – this gap in Saul’s story arc – that have no knowledge of.
The first season shows Jimmy’s struggle as he tries to make the big time. Flashbacks of a past that sees him hustling and even a run-in with the law indulges us with a really tactful use of character progression. A scene in which a shackled, orange jump-suited prisoner is revealed as a young Jimmy is the sort of brilliant insightfulness we get from Saul’s past, and brings another level of meaning to Jesse’s description of Saul when he emphasises the ‘criminal’ in criminal lawyer.
Moments like this are some of the show’s most exceptional – whilst padding out our understanding of the character, it also adds new dimensions to the way we can appreciate Breaking Bad. The reintroduction of Tuco, the kingpin of a Mexican cartel and Heisenberg’s first distributor, is another remarkable piece of writing. As well as giving us a little more insight into his past, we also get the chance to meet Nacho, a friend of Tuco’s and a criminal on whom much of Better Call Saul’s first season hinges.
One of the show’s best parts is its introduction of fan-favourite Mike, who of course goes on to become a good friend of Saul’s. As Saul persists on trying to avoid paying the extortionate parking costs at court, and Mike refuses his exit as the parking attendant, the petty jibes thrown between each other make for some hilarious conversation before the initiation of their business relationship.
Saul’s backstory is rich with new characters and narratives; his turbulent relationship with his older brother, Chuck, a legendary lawyer whose acceptance Jimmy was always seeking, explains why Jimmy started up his own law practice. By looking up to his honest and moral sibling we also get some understanding of why Jimmy changed to a life on the straight and narrow after so long hustling and conning strangers out of pocket.
These clever little strands of narrative can sometimes seem deviating but they are an integral part to the story. For instance, a lawsuit filed against Jimmy by rival law firm Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill is a subplot that feels like it’s taking up too much screen time. However, it indicates why Jimmy later changed his name to Saul Goodman and, without giving away many surprises, the fact we also see him adopting that name back when he was still a conman builds on his reputation as a shady lawyer and points out that in the seasons to come, he probably wont stay quite the honourable man he tried to become in the footsteps of his older brother.
Fans of Breaking Bad will thoroughly enjoy this new captivating drama, and while it has allowed us to be all nostalgic and literally live in the past of this wonderful drug-peddling world of New Mexico, it’s safe to say Better Call Saul is something that can stand on its own and quite possibly become the best thing to ever be on television since, well, two years ago!