Rating: A/ I was skeptical about watching Better Call Saul as soon as I did because I never actually finished Breaking Bad (I know, I’m probably the one person in the entire world that didn’t watch the series from beginning to end ages ago.) Breaking Bad is an excellent show, but I kept getting distracted by something or the other and never got past a certain point, although I’ve intended for months to watch the rest. Fortunately for me, you don’t need to have extensive knowledge of the Breaking Bad universe to dive headfirst into Better Call Saul, and everybody’s favorite hilariously crooked lawyer is more than capable of carrying a television show on his shoulders.
In Breaking Bad, Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) was a tacky, fast-talking attorney who was always willing to get the bad guys out a bind- for a price. But before Saul was Saul, he was Jimmy McGill, and he was trying to make it big and operating out of Albuquerque, New Mexico as a cheap rent-a-lawyer. In this prequel, Jimmy finds his life go from totally unextraordinary to balls-out crazy and occasionally even action-packed while finding himself in a number of dangerous predicaments and pursuing romance with his friend and former co-worker, Kim (Rhea Seehorn.)
Jimmy’s brother Chuck (Michael McKean) used to be a really big deal in his law firm, but now he has developed a mental illness where he believes that he has a electromagnetic sensitivity and lives like a caveman, shut up in his dark, hollowed-out home. Jimmy takes care of him and brings him everything he needs to live on, but their relationship is complicated, to say the least. There are also much-appreciated appearances by old Breaking Bad characters, including Tuco (Raymond Cruz) and Mike (Jonathan Banks.)
I never realized until I saw this show what an outstanding actor Banks is. Mike is a alternately amoral and deeply sympathetic anti-hero with a extremely bored demeanor and a dry sense of humor, and I guess it’s easy to overlook Banks’ talent based on what a low-key character Mike is, but the episode of Better Call Saul that focuses on Mike’s backstory and, in particular, his relationship with his son Matty, is possibly the best of the season.
In the spirit of Breaking Bad, there’s not a single actor in the cast that could be called bad, and Odenkirk is an outstanding actor, delivering on Saul’s potential as a leading man, but Banks might be the standout in an all-around excellent cast. Better Call Saul is a compulsively watchable show with a lot of humor and Breaking Bad‘s trademark moral ambiguity. It’ s one of those series that will have you laughing so hard you cry one minute and affect you on an emotional level the next.
Meanwhile, Better Call Saul creator Vince Gilligan proves that Breaking Bad was not a fluke with smart writing, engaging dialogue and characters, and a flair for the dark and darkly ridiculous twists and turns life has to offer. Proof that television doesn’t necessarily have to be vacuous, mind-numbing rubbish doesn’t come more potent than this excellent show.