Breaking Bad is still one of the most popular television series of all time, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 96% and an IMDb score of 9.5/10. Even though the show wrapped up in 2013, the greater Breaking Bad universe is still very much alive and well.
The acclaimed series told the story of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a chemistry teacher and family man who turned to manufacturing and selling meth to provide for his family after receiving a cancer diagnosis. He eventually rises through the criminal world to become one of the country’s most notorious drug kingpins.
Two years after the series ended, creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould aired the first episode of Better Call Saul, a prequel revolving around Breaking Bad‘s slimy criminal lawyer, Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), formerly known as Jimmy McGill. Many fans of the Breaking Bad universe even regard it as the better show, sitting a hair ahead of its predecessor on Rotten Tomatoes at 97%.
The latest addition to this universe is El Camino, a film that will reveal the fate of White’s protégé, Jessie Pinkman (Aaron Paul), after the events of Breaking Bad.
In a 2018 interview, Gilligan and Gould told PEDESTRIAN.TV that there are “a lot of possible further stories to be told” within the realms of Breaking Bad, so even when the curtains close on Better Call Saul, there could be more for fans to sink their teeth into down the track.
But what is it that makes the universe of Breaking Bad so addictive? There are a few ingredients that go into its special sauce.
A great premise
The whole idea of a mild-mannered chemistry teacher who decides to start cooking meth is incredibly intriguing and presents the viewer with a powerful hook from the very beginning.
The show never leaned too heavily on a singular idea moving forward, though, and added a huge cast of characters and situations that are just as compelling as the premise it all started with.
Meanwhile, it was a genius move to make secondary character Saul Goodman the focus of the prequel Better Call Saul. Watching him transform from lovable (and honestly, relatable) no-hoper Jimmy McGill into slimy lawyer Saul Goodman is highly entertaining – especially when other old favourites like Mike (Jonathan Banks) are along for the ride.
The team behind Breaking Bad placed a massive amount of importance in the believability of the story. That’s not to say they strived for total realism, but they always wanted to be as believable as possible in the context of the story and its characters. In much of the behind-the-scenes footage featuring the Breaking Bad writers’ room, you’ll often hear the writers ask if a character would act in a certain way, or even how they would act if presented with a particular situation.
The showrunners even worked with various chemists to make sure the scripts were as accurate as they could be, Gilligan revealed in a 2011 interview with NPR.
“We have a [chemist] named Dr. Donna Nelson at the University of Oklahoma who is very helpful to us and vets our scripts to make sure our chemistry dialogue is accurate and up to date. We also have a chemist with the Drug Enforcement Association based out of Dallas who has just been hugely helpful to us,” he said.
Better Call Saul doesn’t rely as heavily on science for its plotline, but the very character of the shonky local lawyer could have been taken from any real-life town. In fact, Saul’s TV and billboard advertisements were based on an actual Albuquerque lawyer named Ron Bell, with the show’s production designer Robb Wilson King telling GQ in a 2013 interview:
“On a billboard, Ron Bell looks like the biggest movie star in the world. Well, the door opens to his huge office, and I’m looking at this big desk… but he’s not there. And as I get closer and closer to the desk, I finally see him: he’s the littlest guy I’ve ever seen in my life, sitting behind this desk. That’s Ron Bell.”
Breaking Bad always told a story which was constantly moving with its characters, which many of its contemporaries failed to do in a meaningful way.
As the story developed, so did the characters within it, propelling the entire thing forward effortlessly. A good example of this is Jesse’s guilt-ridden decline which saw him make many bad decisions with his money – a character-driven plot point which drove everything forward.
Each season was well-paced and always had a payoff at the end, making it addictive, but above all else, very entertaining.
Better Call Saul is similar to its predecessor in the way it develops its characters at a fast pace. In the first episode we meet Jimmy McGill as a down-and-out former conman living in a literal broom closet of a nail salon and watch as he begins to toss aside his morals as he chases success, setting him up to transition into Saul Goodman, and to follow a similar path to Walter White. It is this idea of abandoning yourself that is at the crux of both shows, and what makes their stories so engaging.
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