AMC has been consistently chasing the success of its big three shows, Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. They’ve been close to success with Hell on Wheels, but too many times they miss entirely like Halt and Catch Fire and Low Winter Sun.
What’s a network exec to do, you ask? Why, a spin-off show is just what Dr. Nielsen prescribes. While a show about Pete Campbell’s crazy college years or Daryl Dixon’s Crossbow Training Hour may be watched by the dedicated fans of those shows, it’s clear that Better Call Saul is the correct spin-off to start with. (And no, Breaking Bad isn’t already a spin-off of Malcolm in the Middle, even if that would be pretty cool).
This show starts off with a scene that shoves the pedigree of those that work on the show right in your face. Six beautiful minutes of Saul (now Gene) working at Cinnabon in Omaha clues everyone in on some of the things that have happened since the final events of “Felina”, the series finale of Breaking Bad.
Tune into the drinkfive TV Soup Podcast (Episode 01: Better Call Saul, "Uno" and "Mijo" Review)
Saul looks old, tired and paranoid. He’s longing for his past, his heyday, and puts on a VHS of his old commercials, the ones we loved so much in Breaking Bad. Check out http://www.bettercallsaul.com/ to join Saul on his trip down memory lane.
We are then dropped into the flashback that is basically the entire series. We see Jimmy McGill (Saul’s birth name) arguing as a public defender in a case where a bunch of juveniles appear to have cut the head off of a corpse and, well, had their way with it (“stick your wiener in the throat hole” was the Shakespearean-esque line delivered by the delinquent). I may not have that quote exact, I really don’t want to go back and watch that part again. Jimmy is clearly a loooong way from Saul Goodman at this point.
The first episode may not move as fast as future ones, mainly due to the fact that they need to take the time to introduce the new characters. We do get to meet a few skateboarding scammers (calling them scam artists would be a stretch) who try to get some money out of Jimmy, but clearly he’s a bad target. Not only is the car that he’s driving barely worth the gas in the tank – we’re talking about Slippin’ Jimmy here, the guy who knows all the tricks. Jimmy easily chases them off, but later when money becomes a bigger issue between him and his brother, he uses the skateboarders in an attempt to get a client.
In what could only be described as a plan by a desperate man, Jimmy plots with frick and frack (the skateboarders) to pull their stunt on a prospective customer of Jimmy’s. His plan is to sweep in and save the day and get their business on a much larger case.
Everything, of course, goes wrong once they fling themselves in front of a car (the wrong one). In a way that only Vince Gilligan can pull off, the ensuing scene is tense, but almost mundane. They’re chasing an old lady to a nice suburban home, and she’s too terrified to talk to anyone but her grandson. Her grandson, who just happens to be Albuquerque’s craziest gangster, Tuco Salamanca.
Episode two, lovingly titled “Mijo” (the nickname that Tuco’s grandma calls him by), is directed by Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones alumni Michelle MacLaren. MacLaren is possibly the queen of the montage in the modern day – she delivered us the “Crystal Blue Persuasion” montage from the end of season 5 on Breaking Bad, need I say more? She gives us not one, but two great montages in this episode, but more on those in a moment.
Everyone who writes for this show is great at is playing around with timelines. “Mijo” starts out a few minutes before the end of “Uno” with Tuco cooking in his Abuelita’s kitchen. We then see the end of the previous episode play out from Tuco’s perspective and Jimmy then has to deal with what is clearly the worst situation he’s ever gotten himself in (well, up to that point).
We quickly find ourselves in the amazingly beautiful and empty New Mexico countryside in a familiar situation. A couple of gangsters are preparing to kill Jimmy and his skateboarding buddies in the middle of the desert. Jimmy is able to show what may be his first flash of Saul Goodman and basically, as he says “negotiates a death sentence down to six months' probation”.
We’re then treated to a montage in a bar where a guy is endlessly breaking bread sticks and Jimmy can't get it out of his mind. Clearly he’s been affected by what happened today, even if after the whole situation is assessed he seems to have come out a winner. Jimmy may be a guy who would extort a few bucks out of people who didn’t shovel their sidewalk in Chicago, but nobody ever got hurt.
Two broken legs later and Slippin’ Jimmy is rethinking his life choices. This leads us into the second montage of the episode, where Jimmy doubles down on honest hard work, representing Albuquerque’s finest criminals as a public defender. Jimmy starts off with a chipper “It’s Showtime” before his first case, but by the end he is clearly run down by too many bad coffees and too much food from the vending machine. He even has to trade his bag of chips to the prosecutor to help out a guy he says is hungry and just stole a slice of pizza!
Vince Gilligan has shown us one man’s fall from grace and now it appears that we’re going to get to see another. The show has the pedigree – Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould are the writers/creators, Gilligan directs episode 1, Michelle MacLaren takes the reins for episode 2. The show also has a great supporting cast starting with Michael McKeen, Michael Mando from Orphan Black, and Breaking Bad alumnus Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut.
This is Odenkirk’s first spin as a leading man in anything other than Mr. Show with Bob & David, so the jury is still out on him being able to carry a show for an entire season. If the first two episodes are any indication, Odenkirk will like what the jury has to say once the season is over. Better Call Saul is on at 10pm EST on Monday nights for the next 8 weeks and we will be reviewing the show in a live podcast every Tuesday night. Check out our podcast regarding these two episodes and stay tuned for next week.