“Breaking Bad” spinoff “Better Call Saul” premiered on AMC Sunday, and it’s everything you could possibly want from a spinoff of the hit series — musical montages that pull at your heartstrings, cameos from some of your favourite Albuquerque natives, and plenty of Saul trying to talk his way out of trouble.
We previewed the first two episodes of the spinoff series featuring lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) last month, and hands down, it’s one of the best midseason premieres we’ve seen so far.
There’s an incredible amount of payoff for fans of the original series, with subtle nods and references to the parent show. For those of you who may be groaning and rolling your eyes, don’t worry. The show doesn’t overdo it. If you’re not looking for the references, you most likely won’t even see some hidden in plain sight.
It is absolutely imperative that you do not miss the first minute of the series. “Better Call Saul” opens with a brilliant black-and-white sequence. It may throw you off at first, but once it’s revealed where the scene is heading, fans are going to lose it … in a good way. *mini-spoilers* We see a future version of Saul, under the guise of Gene, working as a manager of a Cinnabon in Omaha, Nebraska. This is one that “Breaking Bad” fans will appreciate. In season 5 episode 15 of “Breaking Bad,” Saul’s character tells Walter White he’ll be lucky if in “a month from now, best-case scenario, I’m managing a Cinnabon in Omaha.” Well, what do you know.*mini-spoilers*
The series itself follows Saul in 2002, six years before he has ever met Walter White and before he’s the big-shot criminal lawyer we’re introduced to in “Breaking Bad.” There’s no trace of sidekick Heull and Goodman’s not driving around a fancy Cadillac DeVille (though there’s a nice reference to it in the opening episode that fans will notice).
Instead, Saul is a down-on-his-luck lawyer just trying to get by. He’s not the confident, cocky counselor we’re accustomed to seeing. He doesn’t even go by Saul Goodman at this point. He’s just Jimmy McGill, a lowly lawyer hungry for clients who drives around a Suzuki Esteem.
Odenkirk never misses a beat. He’s so energetic as the spritely McGill, you could just sit and watch him talk the entire time he’s in a courtroom, hashing it out with twin teenage boys or trying desperately to save his own skin. You don’t even need to know what he’s necessarily rambling about because, to be honest, no one else probably does either.
Here’s a line of dialogue from him as he’s representing a teenager: “Do you remember 19? Let me tell you. The juices are flowing, the red corpuscles are corpuscling. The grass is green, and it’s soft, and summer’s going to last forever.”
Do you know what a corpuscle is? McGill’s talking about red blood cells.
It’s Saul’s usual bull, filled with grand hand gestures and priceless facial expressions, but it’s not winning over many at this point in his career.
One of the best parts of the premiere is a reintroduction to former characters like Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), Gus Fring’s right-hand man on “Breaking Bad.” Mike is still the sarcastic, wisecracking curmudgeon fans love, but instead of waving around a gun, the former Philadelphia police officer is working as a pretty harmless parking-lot attendant at the local Albuquerque courthouse.
He and McGill go back and forth a bit in the premiere, and we look forward to seeing their inevitable future interactions on the series.
More interesting are the glimpses of Jimmy McGill’s backstory and his relationship with his older brother Chuck (Michael McKean), who is suffering from an illness.
It’s easy to see from the pilot that “Better Call Saul” is going to be a show about the rise and fall of Jimmy McGill, as much as its parent series is about the rise and fall of meth kingpin Walter White.
So it makes sense that the show not only feels a lot like “Breaking Bad,” it also looks a lot like it. Gorgeous visual shots take you back to the streets, deserts, and skies of Albuquerque, New Mexico (especially in the second episode). Some of the shots literally remind us of scenes from “Breaking Bad.” (Sorry, no screengrabs.)
As we know from “Breaking Bad,” creator Vince Gilligan has a way with closeup montages. Expect to see more of those on screen, from sweet treats getting baked in black and white to tomatoes getting sliced and diced.
In terms of content, the first two episodes also feel eerily similar to the early episodes of “Breaking Bad.” In “Breaking Bad,” Walt and Jesse take a man captive, tie him up in a basement, and then discard his body. No one dies in the first two episodes of “Better Call Saul,” but the parallels between the openings of the two series are a little uncanny.
That’s both good and bad. Since it’s a prequel series, you know the stakes are a bit lower for some characters — Mike’s not going anywhere — yet “Better Call Saul” still has the ability to fill you with excitement and laughs at one moment while tearing the rug out from under you in the next so that you’re rocking back and forth in your seat, a bundle of anxiety-ridden nerves. In some ways, the show feels like something we may have seen before.
Does the pilot episode stand up to that of “Breaking Bad”? No, but, to be fair, I don’t think many premiere episodes do.
The episode is a little slow at points, but when Jimmy runs into two young teens who try to scam him out of $US500, the action starts to pick up, and the final minutes of the premiere will have you glued. The very final shots will make you wish you didn’t have to wait an entire day to see what happens next.
It will be worth it. The second episode, which airs the following evening, is pretty much nonstop action.
There’s a huge cameo from another former “Breaking Bad” villain — *spoiler* Raymond Cruz returns as Tuco! *spoiler* — and it definitely had everyone talking on Twitter.
After Sunday, “Better Call Saul” will move to its regular timeslot on Mon., Feb. 9 at 10 p.m.
Watch a trailer for the series.
*Note: This review originally ran at the end of January. It has been updated to account for a few plot points in the series.
Disclosure: Business Insider Australia is published by Allure Media, owned by Fairfax Media. Fairfax is a partner in StreamCo, the company which owns the rights for Stan in Australia.
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