When it was originally on: 2015-present
Original network: AMC
Where you can stream it now: Netflix
Had I seen it before: No. I FINALLY finished Breaking Bad just a few days ago, so I do have the prior knowledge
What IMDb says: The trials and tribulations of criminal lawyer Jimmy McGill in the time before he established his strip-mall law office in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Why I picked it: There’s no one else who makes television the way Vince Gilligan makes television. In less than ten years since its finale, Breaking Bad has already cemented its status as a must-see for anyone looking to study the craft of television writing and production.
With Breaking Bad, we learned that Gilligan isn’t afraid to take his time with a story. Dramatic moments never feel forced. And while the Breaking Bad pilot in and of itself is a masterpiece, there’s also so much that happens over the course of those five seasons that isn’t even hinted at within the pilot. One of those things is Saul, who doesn’t appear until Season 2, Episode 8. Seeing how Gilligan approaches a prequel, where we DO know where these characters will eventually end up adds a whole new dynamic.
I also thought it could be fun to look at Better Call Saul, a prequel spinoff, the day after I reviewed the Frasier pilot, a sequel spinoff.
What I liked: I love how this pilot balances the Saul Goodman we know and love from Breaking Bad with Saul’s former identity, Jimmy McGill. We see the sleazy, smooth talking side of Saul/Jimmy as he takes the lead on a con with two skateboarders. But we also see sides we never saw on Breaking Bad. We see Jimmy fighting to make ends meet. We see him trying his best to be a good lawyer while playing by the rules.
It would’ve been incredibly easy for Saul/Jimmy to be a) so far removed from the version we see on Breaking Bad that we can’t believe it and it takes us out of the story or b) identical to the version we see on Breaking Bad leaving us devoid of interest in the journey ahead. But Better Call Saul threads that needle effortlessly. I can believe that Jimmy will become Saul, but I’m curious to see how that transformation happens. Bob Odenkirk’s stellar performance is also a big part of why this character works so well.
I also love how Better Call Saul doesn’t rely too heavily on Breaking Bad plot points or characters. Unlike the Frasier pilot where viewers can dive in regardless of their familiarity with Cheers, the Better Call Saul pilot IS significantly less effective if you don’t recognize certain characters from Breaking Bad. But these nods to Breaking Bad are never heavy handed, and establishing Jimmy/Saul is ALWAYS top priority. We also get a lot of story that has nothing to do with Breaking Bad, such as the conflict between Jimmy and Chuck regarding Chuck’s exit from the law firm.
What I didn’t like: I wish we could’ve gotten a better feel for characters outside of Saul/Jimmy, specifically Chuck. We really only get one scene with Chuck and it seems to be setting up major conflicts for episodes to come. But all we really learn about Chuck is that he’s a lawyer struggling with health issues, not much else. I didn’t even make the connection that Chuck and Jimmy are brothers until I read the IMDb description. There could’ve even been another new character or two to help further separate Better Call Saul from Breaking Bad.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Yes. The journey from no-name lawyer to cheesy commercial lawyer would be interesting even without the Breaking Bad connection. Knowing that this man will eventually become the lawyer for the largest drug trafficking operation in the southwest only makes the story more intriguing.