Better Call Saul
TV Series Review
You'd expect the titular character in Better Call Saul to be named Saul, right? Yeah, not so much. At least not initially. Long before Saul Goodman ever met Breaking Bad's Walter White or Jesse Pinkman, back when crystal was what hung from those wagon wheel chandeliers at the Hotel Albuquerque and Blue Sky simply described the weather most of the summer, Saul was known as Jimmy McGill—an attorney with, shall we say, a certain intimacy with legal trouble.
Hey, everybody says to do what you know, right?
Jimmy knows all about the law because he's broken it so many times. He knows the ins and outs of client-attorney conversations from having sat on the other side of the table. Yessir. If you want a lawyer who has experience, few have the sort of experience that Sau—I mean, Jimmy has. And he uses that experience to help his clients out of all sorts of fixes.
Walter White, clearly, wasn't the first guy who broke bad in the American Southwest.
Better Call Saul is a prequel for AMC's grim but acclaimed drama Breaking Bad—plucking from its bleak morass the show's most reliable comic relief (and a few other memorable characters as well). Star Bob Odenkirk was a staff writer for Saturday Night Live for eight years, so instead of succumbing to Bad's suffocating sense of doom, Saul sets out to add a bit of wit to the wickedness.
Jimmy comes in contact with—and often defends—pretty bad people who've done pretty bad things. In the series premiere, for instance, he tries to argue that when his teen clients cut the head off a corpse and then had sex with it, they were simply "boys being boys." And that's just the beginning of the allusions to sex and violence and drugs, of course. Language can be foul, too, including s-words. And believe it or not, Better Call Saul's sense of morality may be more troubling than its predecessor's.
Like Breaking Bad, Saul revels in the collision of good and evil, sin and moral relativity. Both shows are, in their own ways, dark morality tales. But in Breaking Bad, Walter White grew purposefully less sympathetic as the story unwound. The good man that he once was got torn apart by his own sin and greed and (most powerfully) justifications of both. Then, in true Old Testament fashion, Walter was eventually destroyed by what he did.
We already know that Jimmy isn't on the same trajectory as Walter: He's not a good guy breaking bad, he's a regular Joe who likes to dance on the line between good and bad like a medieval fool. He'll do the right thing and have it come out wrong. He'll do the wrong thing and find everyone's the better for it. He's a slimy, irresponsible cad—but a likable one. In fact, the caddishness itself is part of the guy's onscreen charm. And that, of course, can be a problem.
Not Getting Off on a Technicality
Better Call Saul may be better than its forebear, technically speaking, when it comes to raw content—and that's appropriate, given Saul's experience with legal technicalities. And the show is, artistically, impressive. Creator Vince Gilligan doles out each episode at a languid, purposeful pace, with each shot and scene practically curated to match mood and mission. The writing is top-shelf stuff, and the camera work … well, many a filmmaker could learn a thing or two here.
But none of that excuses what we see and hear. Set aside the lighter tone and technical skill, this is still a dark show filled with dark characters doing dark deeds. While Better Call Saul may find a loophole or two, it breaks just as bad.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman; Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler; Patrick Fabian as Howard Hamlin; Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut; Michael Mando as Nacho Varga; Michael McKean as Chuck McGill; Mark Proksh as Daniel "Pryce" Marmolt