Alright, Breaking Bad fans, you can now officially breathe a collective sigh of relief. Better Call Saul isn’t just a gimmick to ride the coattails of its predecessor’s success. It’s not even just a serviceable romp with old friends in a familiar setting. It’s an expertly crafted original series that paves its own way while containing tons of Easter Eggs that will keep Breaking Bad fans giggling and applauding like schoolgirls at a Twilight screening.
To put it bluntly, Better Call Saul is one of the best new shows of 2015 and any self-respecting fan of storytelling owes it to themselves to check it out.
The premiere episode Uno takes us back to 2002, about six years before the events of Breaking Bad. We’re introduced to Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), a down on his luck lawyer struggling to make ends meet as an Albuquerque public defender. Jimmy isn’t quite the conniving Saul Goodman we all know and love; he’s still perfecting his persona. Every so often he shows little glimpses of the man he will become, but he’s not there yet. This first episode takes its time setting up the premise and the characters, drawing us in with its compelling writing, directing, and performances.
Mijo, the following episode, (directed by Breaking Bad/Game of Thrones veteran Michelle MacLaren) takes off right where Uno leaves off. It ups the intensity with a desert sequence that’s one of the most intense I’ve seen on television since…well, since Breaking Bad. It also starts to steer the show in a more compelling direction. I won’t spoil anything for you – there are so many fan-pleasing moments here – but these first two episodes should definitely be viewed in tandem; they feel like two parts of a single story. Uno sets the ball and Mijo follows through for the win.
Of course, I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention Bob Odenkirk in this review. Odenkirk has been long overdue for a lead role ever since he starred in Mr. Show with David Cross. Anyone who doubted his abilities as a dramatic performer have my permission to be pleasantly surprised. He’s a natural. I wasn’t sure if Odenkirk’s character could carry his own series, but we’re seeing all kinds of new sides to Saul Goodman and I am so excited to see where the writers and Odenkirk take him.
Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould wisely establish Better Call Saul as its own beast. It’s a bit more of a courtroom drama with some zany elements thrown in for good measure. It doesn’t carry the dramatic heft of Breaking Bad, but, then again, Breaking Bad started off as a dark comedy before evolving into a modern masterpiece. Judging from these first two episodes, there’s plenty of potential for Better Call Saul to take off in the same way. There are familiar tones and themes, sure, but it doesn’t feel gimmicky or undercooked in the way most prequels do. The cameos serve the story in exciting ways and we’re seeing new aspects of familiar characters. Better Call Saul has a creative team that cares about what it’s doing and respects their audience, a winning combination.
Better Call Saul is on AMC Monday nights at 10:00 p.m. EST | 9:00 p.m. CT.