Better Call Saul gives life to one of the most beloved characters from the hit US television show Breaking Bad, and in the process it manages to be thoroughly enjoyable as a stand-alone series.
As you might expect, Better Call Saul revolves around the exploits of its titular character, Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) morally ambiguous lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk). However, the series begins six years before Saul started working for Heisenberg, at a time when he was known by another name – Jimmy McGill. Jimmy isn’t always on the right side of the law, but he’s a far cry from being the right hand man to a drug dealer; he’s a rehabilitated criminal desperately trying to get his life together, and to the writers’ credit he’s a very likeable protagonist.
As the season unfolds we are provided with small insights into who Saul really is and why he became a “criminal” lawyer, through both the season’s overall narrative and supplementary flashbacks. These flashbacks are wonderfully woven into each episode, giving us more information about Saul’s past and explaining some of the motivations which drive those around him, most often those of Chuck (Michael McKean), Jimmy’s clean-cut older brother.
This first season has been extremely impressive, as it has drawn on a similar premise to Breaking Bad but has felt significantly different, due to a slightly more comedic tone and a slower pacing. Like Breaking Bad, this show is about one man becoming someone completely different, but while Walter White took pleasure from his descent into villainy, Jimmy is fighting frantically to avoid being the bad guy.
Saul was the comic relief in Breaking Bad, but as Jimmy he’s a much more serious and emotional character. He’s as pragmatic and flamboyant as ever in public, but once the charade is over he’s a lot less confident. On this show we see what Saul feels when he’s alone – he’s insecure, he’s unhappy, and he’s obsessed with being successful. In short, he’s not just a cartoon character with all the answers, he’s a person, and he’s faced a lot of adversity in his life.
Better Call Saul has also provided an inside look at what makes Mike (Jonathan Banks) tick, which I think most Breaking Bad fans will appreciate and enjoy. Mike’s episode was an outlier in the season, it gave everyone a break from the show’s overarching story but perhaps didn’t fit perfectly into the show, given that Saul was absent for the majority of it. However, it was also one of the finest episodes of television that I have ever had the privilege to watch; Banks’ acting was immense, as he expertly provided the necessary feeling of tragedy that we all needed in order to empathise with a man we know to be a ruthless, cold-hearted killer.
The first season of Better Call Saul has completely surpassed my expectations, breathing life into an already memorable character. It also has the potential to do the same for many of Breaking Bad’s key players, promising an array of cameo appearances which are sure to get fan’s excited for future seasons. This season stands alone as a great piece of television regardless of the material that it’s building upon, but it also adds something significant to that material, whether you watch it as a precursor or a sequel. Better Call Saul is a must watch even if you’re yet to delve into Breaking Bad (although I still recommend watching that television milestone first), and now that it exists on Netflix in its entirety it is more than worth the watch.