by: L Green
Spinoff. Is there any word in TV that inspires such skepticism, conjuring up long forgotten thoughts of Joey and The Golden Palace? Spinoffs are pale comparisons of their originals–great concepts watered down by commercialism and fatigue. The word even sounds dirty; Spinoff. Leave it to the creators of Breaking Bad to find a way to make a spinoff seem fresh and new.
Better Call Saul, predating Breaking Bad by about 6 years, isn’t exactly a spinoff though. Nor is it quite a prequel, considering that Walt and Jesse won’t really factor into the action of Saul. Rather than a story of ‘before’ or ‘after’, it’s more a story of ‘also’. It’s reminiscent of The Simpsons’s Springfield or as I’ve been arguing lately–Parks and Recreation’s Pawnee–quirky fleshed-out worlds where even the smallest character has a story to tell; it’s just your job to look.
The hook of Breaking Bad (at least at first) was its relatability, the idea that this could be you too–a person who’s done everything the right way and is still kicked around by an unimpressed world. Breaking Bad showed us how a loser turned into the ultimate winner and it looks like Saul is set to do the same thing. Mr. Chips turned into Scarface and now a cartoon character is turning into a real live man.
So yes, Better Call Saul is a lot like Breaking Bad, but it’s its own thing too. It feels like a sneaky revelation, like realizing it’s okay to hang out with your friend’s ex. If that’s not enough to convince you, here are some of the best moments of Saul’s two-night premiere:
That Cinnabon opening. The most talked about scene was that gorgeous black and white opener, where Saul’s prediction to Walt about his fate has come true. It’s both a cheeky inside joke to Breaking Bad fans and a hint at where we’re headed. Saul’s disappeared himself and is hiding out in Nebraska, a manager at Cinnabon. He’s alone, he’s scared, he’s a nobody. Possibly worst of all–it’s snowing! He comes home and cries quietly to a video reel of his old Better Call Saul commercials. A crying Saul. Anything is possible.
Saul’s cracked windshield. Is there a better call back to Breaking Bad than Saul’s little junky car getting as beat up as Walt’s puke green Aztec hatchback? Walt’s little car was a character in its own right, a manifestation of just how crappy Walt’s life was. Same thing for Saul’s little rusted out clunker (aptly named an Esteem).
Mike! We knew Mike would be back, but seeing him as a parking garage attendant was an unexpected surprise. Mike is best enjoyed in small doses, so his hilarious deadpan was perfect against Saul/Jimmy’s growing hysteria.
Back in the Desert. If Walt’s car was its own character, so too was the desert. It’s beautiful, yes, but also dangerous and imposing–the perfect landscape for showdowns and ultimatums. It was great to be back (as long as you’re not Saul).
Tuco! Did we ever think we’d see Tuco again? His appearance at the end of hour 1 was a great reveal, both surprising and interesting. Tuco is almost the character we know; the core characteristics are there, but he’s not crazed on meth yet. It’s almost endearing how much he loves his family. Almost.
Saul is just getting going. And Saul himself is still Jimmy. He’s not a criminal yet and that white-columned oval office is still a while way. If the first two episodes are an indication, we can expect great things from this Jimmy McGill guy.
Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 10EST on AMC