What do you do after completing one of the most critically acclaimed TV series in the history of the genre? Where do you go from the top? For Breaking Bad producers Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould you go back in time and tell the story of Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), the “criminal” lawyer and confidant that advised drug kingpin Walter “Heisenberg” White on his rise to the top. If you’re lucky, you create a prequel good enough to live up to the legacy of the original show. If you’re Gilligan and Gould you create one that surpasses it.
It’s ironic that Better Call Saul, one of the most original programs of the current television season, is not entirely original. The Breaking Bad prequel reuses both characters and setting to tell the origin story of Saul Goodman, Albuquerque’s premiere ambulance chaser. Yet somehow for all of the familiar faces, and the knowledge the average viewer may have about the future of Goodman and the people he associates with, Better Call Saul is both original and compelling, drawing the viewer into the story of nice guy Jimmy McGill’s transformation into the sleazy Goodman.
Of course Jimmy is more complicated than that, and we can see the origins of Goodman’s more questionable tactics in the younger lawyer’s schemes to get clients, but for McGill the right thing is still a consideration in the matter, even if only to prove something to his older brother Chuck (Michael McKean). Jimmy is trying to walk a righteous path, with only the occasional lapses in ethics, and those that he feels are completely justifiable. One of those lapses leads him into a confrontation with Breaking Bad’s original nightmare sociopath Tuco (Raymond Cruz). There was just enough of Tuco in Saul’s first season, but I’m still hoping to see a confrontation between him and Mike at some point in the show’s run.
Jonathan Banks also returns to give us some insight into Mike Ehrmantraut’s past, and as clearly as we get the sense of what turned semi-shady Jimmy McGill into Saul Goodman so we get to see the transformation of Mike from not-to-clean cop to the right hand of Gus Fring. And Banks has proven that he can play the raw emotions as well as he does the cold-hearted fixer. Better Call Saul works because as interesting as these characters were in their supporting roles on Breaking Bad, their own stories have become every bit as compelling as Walter White’s.