Good spin-offs are exceptionally rare. Great spin-offs are basically non-existent. Yet, AMC’s tremendously heartbreaking Better Call Saul is not merely the exception to the rule: it’s proof that lightning can strike twice in peak television, and that the brilliant minds behind one of the greatest television shows of all-time, Breaking Bad, didn’t create a fluke with their highly acclaimed, multi-award winning dramatic crime series. Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould are really, truly two of our greatest modern storytellers. The evidence is in plain sight with their equally exceptional prequel/sequel program.
Before Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) became the slick, greasy criminal lawyer we knew and loved in Breaking Bad, he was simply Jimmy McGill, a good-natured, hard-working lawyer-in-the-making with a very rough past and some tough hills to climb. The biggest of those adversities is his older, more competent brother Chuck McGill (an absolutely incredible Michael McKean), who will stop at almost nothing to make sure his younger brother doesn’t tarnish his strict law-sacred world with his petty chicanery.
Aided by the bright and beautiful Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn, also quite extraordinary), Jimmy climbs the slippery slope towards professional legal counseling in the Albuquerque, New Mexico area. But his criminal instincts and his murky past are never far behind, and without giving anything away to those five or six people who haven’t caught up with Breaking Bad yet (seriously, what’s going on?! It’s really great!), let’s say that Jimmy McGill will become a changed man. A little for the better, but ultimately for the much, much worse. How does that happen, though? Tune in and see it for yourself.
(P.S.: You don’t need to see Breaking Bad to follow it, but it also doesn’t hurt. Just saying.)
Why You Should Watch
Despite what some AMC executives might have wished, Better Call Saul was never designed to earn the rabid fanbase of its predecessor series. That’s not a slight against Better Call Saul; it’s simply not the same fast-paced, frantically high energy series that its older, more intense program brother became. And that’s what ultimately makes it so great. Never buried too deep in Breaking Bad‘s exquisite shadow, while simultaneously still finding fantastic ways to reward those watchful fans and expand upon its wild universe, it’s a tribute to Better Call Saul that the show, now three seasons deep, is so successful at being a great continuation while also standing true and tall on its own.
Similar to Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul is aided by brilliant performances and truly great filmmaking. Comedic actors Odenkirk and McKean are wonderfully layered in their tragically complicated performances, while Seehorn and returning star Jonathan Banks, reprising his supporting role/fan favorite role as former city cop/skilled criminal Mike Ehrmantraut, often steal the show with their wonderfully subdued winning turns. To give away some of the other returning highlights from Breaking Bad would be a sin. But whether it’s the skillful directing, the expert writing, the precise editing or the masterfully telling production design, just to note some of the show’s continued excellence, Better Call Saul is quite truly one of the best-made shows on TV right now. And that’s no exaggeration. It’s an incredible accomplishment all-around, and while it doesn’t have all the same pulpy thrills of Breaking Bad, that’s all the better in the end.
Better Call Saul is a meditative series with an extraordinary understanding of consequences and sacrifices. It’s a weighted series in a way only Breaking Bad could periodically be, and it’s a tempered, occasionally mundane series in a way that Breaking Bad could never be. That’s not to say that one is better and the other is worse. That’s a losing battle that one shouldn’t devolve into for their own good (unless they have some weird hatred of either show, which is more of a personal problem than anything else).
It’s simply that Better Call Saul is the excellent opportunity to explore the high-stakes world of Breaking Bad from an entirely different, if similarly morally high and similarly (and visually) metaphoric, standpoint. It makes the world stronger and more varied, which makes it fuller and more expansive and inclusive. It’s a beautifully realized exploration into self-exploration and loss of self (and others) from new and more well-rounded angles. It’s an excellent sequel/prequel that, in the end, makes the other series stronger while still proving —with each passing season — that it has the opportunity to be just as good (if not even greater) than its predecessor. That’s what makes Better Call Saul great, both as a spin-off and as its own extraordinary series.
Better Call Saul recently finished its third season and it’s renewed for a fourth, which is expected to air in 2018. You can watch the first three seasons on Hulu and AMC.com.