After a fairly lukewarm trailer, tons of publicity and a cult following eager to have their hunger satisfied after the conclusion of Walter White’s tale, the spotlight was on Saul Goodman and his signature catchphrase, also the title of his 2015 spin off TV series, “Better Call Saul!” Although Saul Goodman was only introduced in series two of Breaking Bad, he soon became a fan-favourite with his tasteless suits, naff hair and usually inappropriate anecdotes that he shared with whoever was closest. Who can forget his priceless claim: “I once convinced a woman that I was Kevin Costner and it worked because I believed it”, light moments such as this prevented Breaking Bad from turning into an extremely bleak drama. Upon the announcement that Vince Gilligan, the genius behind Breaking Bad, had been commissioned to write Better Call Saul (both a prequel and a sequel to Breaking Bad) many were ecstatic to have a show featuring everyone’s favourite corrupt lawyer.
Amongst the optimism however, some were sceptical about the continuation of the Breaking Bad universe after it had left on a high in September 2013 and felt it should end there. Whilst some spin-offs can be successful, many fail to match or surpass the success of the original.
However, upon the series premiere, critics and fans alike expressed a love for the series, focusing on Bob Odenkirk’s brilliant Saul Goodman. We are introduced to a post-Breaking Bad Saul who has changed his identity after the events of the finale, has started losing hair, grown a slug-like moustache and is currently working at a Cinnabon as he vowed to do. Although he should be living the dream with his plush apartment, copious amounts of alcohol and anonymity, we see him living in constant fear of being recognised whilst indulging in crappy TV.
This is all framed beautifully by the black and white cinematography which reflects the grainy quality of his bleak solitary life. Suddenly, just as Saul is indulging himself in his old Saul Goodman TV commercials on VHS (presumably he hasn’t heard of YouTube in 2015), we flash back to an awkwardly silent court which we know is awaiting one particular lawyer. The first shot we see of Saul in 2002, using his real name of Jimmy McGill, is whilst he practices his closing speech to a urinal, chuckling quietly to himself as he perfects it. We soon learn that he has hit rock bottom, evident through the dozens of letters demanding money, his declined credit card and his cheap trashy car which he summarises as “the only way that entire car is worth $500 is if there’s a $300 hooker sitting in it.”
The only real problem with Better Call Saul is its inability to define itself. It’s too comical to be a serious drama but on the other hand isn’t dark enough to be defined as a black comedy. Whilst the pacing felt a bit uneven at times, such as the scenes with his older brother Chuck, it is a thoroughly enjoyable watch with some memorable moments from the scamming skateboarding twins, to Jimmy pretending to be his own PA, complete with a dodgy English accent to accompany his dodgy toupee.
The introductory episode is sprinkled with Breaking Bad references, most noticeably a cameo from everyone’s favourite granddad, assassin and private investigator, Mike Ehrmantraut, set to be a series regular, and a surprise cameo from Breaking Bad’s Tuco, who holds Jimmy at gunpoint. Whilst moments like this will satisfy fans, it begs the question: is it necessary to include throwbacks to Breaking Bad or should Better Call Saul remain a separate standalone show independent of its big brother?