Early reports of the success of Better Call Saul have ranged from hyperbole to overall favorable. Some have even said that it’s better than Breaking Bad. I have watched the first two episodes and Better Call Saul is no Breaking Bad. But, what is? It is, instead, merely another really good TV show that hasn’t quite escaped the shadow of its predecessor, but it’s still young. As time goes on, it has the propensity to equal the appeal of Breaking Bad, but as for right now, it’s still establishing itself. And it’s doing a damn good job of it.
Before he was Saul Goodman, he was Jimmy McGill, a struggling attorney taking on public defender cases for chump change. He is nowhere near as successful as his brother Chuck (Michael McKean), but Chuck has a sickness and phobia of all technology and lives in an Amish-like existence, powered by lamps. If he comes into contact with a cell phone, he becomes physically ill and has to wrap himself up in a space blanket until he feels better.
Some of the best scenes in the series so far are getting to see Bob Odenkirk and Michael McKean bounce dialogue off of each other. Both actors are known, primarily, for their comedic roles, but are incredible and established dramatic actors.
Familiar faces from Breaking Bad have popped up, too. Not much has been done (yet) with Mike (Jonathan Banks), but he delivers one hell of a glower when he’s mad. Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz) has added his renowned-level of crazy to the second episode.
When thinking of spin-offs, prequels and further explorations into an already-established universe, it takes some time for a new show to stand proudly on its own merits. I’m not sure if a show like Better Call Saul ever really has to, because it’s a completely different and unique story. We already know the trajectory. Unlike Walter White, we already know where Saul (or Jimmy) is going to end up… unless the show decides to throw us a curveball and explore what might happen after his stint as a manager of a Cinnabon. He could seek to redefine himself after the tumultuous finale.
If that never happens, we have a new kind of story to watch unfold. We have a story with an end result that’s already been made clear to us by way of a flash-forward, and we get to see how everything falls into place. How do Saul and Mike become business partners? What other Breaking Bad regulars will show up? Will we get to see Gus Fring? How much cross-over will the show eventually have with Breaking Bad? How many of the storylines will be echoed?
Similarly, we get to see a man’s descent into corruption: How one person who saw themselves as being righteous became a criminal–a successful criminal, at that.
Bob Odenkirk is a talented enough actor to be able to carry an entire series as a lead. Hopefully, Breaking Bad’s writer’s love of writing themselves into impossible corners and then writing their way out without cheap deus ex machinas will remain fixtures, as well. I want to see Better Call Saul exist as something entirely independent of Breaking Bad and have less and less to do with it as the series goes on, but as a further examination of the themes already set in place, it’s still good fun to watch every week and it has the ability to become another great piece of television, and one of the best spin-offs to be made. Right now, it’s only “merely” really good.