DVD Review– Better Call Saul: Season One
With Breaking Bad universally and deservedly acclaimed as one of the greatest television dramas of all time, fans might be justified in worrying that a spin-off prequel series might taint the legacy of Breaking Bad. Though understandable, such trepidation is dispelled early in the first episode of Better Call Saul.
Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), the amiably amoral lawyer from Breaking Bad, thoroughly deserves his own series. Viewers learned in Saul’s first appearance that his real name was McGill, but the reasons why he became the lawyer he did remained unexplained. In a brief introductory scene, we see a fleeting glimpse of Saul’s life after Breaking Bad ended, but the series swiftly switches back in time to focus on the early legal career of Jimmy McGill.
If Breaking Bad was the tragic story of one man’s rejection of traditional morality due to his own ambition and anger, Better Call Saul is the comedic tale of how a man rejects career respectability because his own preferred pathway to success is far more fun. How does a man go from coveting a plush office at a prestigious legal firm to being completely content in a strip mall office catering to individuals on the wrong side of the law? Why would a lawyer be happier making schlocky television commercials than arguing before the Supreme Court? Better Call Saul has provided some initial, satisfying answers.
On Breaking Bad, Walter White spent most of his first fifty years as a law-abiding, outwardly decent man, but was he ever really a genuinely good man? As we saw from occasional glimpses, Walter White was filled with anger and envy for years, and the corruption ate away at his soul long before he ever made his first batch of meth. Jimmy McGill, in contrast, was always a happy con man at heart. As we see throughout the first season, Jimmy thinks that he ought to be wearing the sober dark business suits successful lawyers sport, but he’s a man who can only be comfortable in his own skin– or rather, the brightly colored shirts and ties that would become a Saul Goodman trademark. The first season sees Jimmy chasing respectability, then gradually concluding after a series of misadventures that conventional propriety is a booby prize.
Better Call Saul could have been a full-fledged comedy, but the series wisely portrays Jimmy McGill’s story as a tragicomedy rather than a farce. The hilarious vignettes that punctuate the series are a delight, but the heart and soul of the show come from Jimmy’s relationships with the other characters. Jimmy is romantically interested in fellow lawyer and close friend Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn). Jimmy is the chief caretaker for his older brother, Chuck (Michael McKean), a formerly acclaimed lawyer who is now housebound due to a condition that is either physiological or psychological—possibly both. While both of these relationships hold the potential to draw Jimmy into a respectable working life, his early antagonism with retired cop and parking lot guard Mike Ehrmantraut (the always pitch-perfect Jonathan Banks, reprising his Breaking Bad role) evolves into an unconventional partnership, which highlights just how unsuited Jimmy is for coloring inside the lines.
Better Call Saul is a worthy companion piece to Breaking Bad. Viewers don’t need to be familiar with the original series to appreciate it, but it certainly helps to recognize the in-jokes and cameo appearances from Breaking Bad characters. We never knew until the series’ end just how far down Walter White would go, but we know for sure how Jimmy McGill’s career ends. What we don’t know is just what made Jimmy McGill happily become Saul Goodman, and the first season provides some brightly entertaining answers.
Better Call Saul: Season One
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment