You can’t go back. That was one of the many fables that powered Breaking Bad’s moral opera. Once you start falling, you don’t stop until you hit the bottom.
As you know by now,Better Call Saul follows Bob Odenkirk’s sleazy lawyer before he met Walter White and before people called him Saul. The young(er) attorney Jimmy McGill has scruples – even if they weren’t massive– and is a long way from the comb-overed pushover that Walt and Jesse first met.
Better Call Saul is a show that has critics steepling their fingers and writing Important Articles about Important Television. We all failed to spot the phenomenon Breaking Bad would become and now we’re overcompensating. A lot of that was due to simple idiocy on our parts, but in our defence the meth drama was all about transformation. It started as an odd little black comedy and became something much grander.
Better Call Saul episode one has to do the same but faster: take a comic relief character and turn him into a rounded protagonist. Saul needs to be Frasier, not Joey.
The first episode is meticulous in building up his quirks and defects. In his own way Saul starts off as frustrated as Walt wasting his life in a car wash. The differences are significant (it’s a Rusty Nail) but the need for escape is just as potent. For Walter, chemistry was the study of change. For Saul, the law is where hopes meet grinding reality.
But do you see what’s happened there? I’m taking this far too seriously, writing like it’s my media studies dissertation and not a programme about an ambulance chaser.
Better Call Saul is a hard to classify as its parent show, but it’s funny. Really funny. You will laugh your head clean off your shoulders. Odenkirk’s clammy huckster has a Kermit-faced-pathos and gets to play the big bits bigger than ever before.Plus, the return of Jonathan Banks as the laconic henchman Mike Ehrmantraut has the potential for a classic double act.
At some point in their critical treatise, your cultural commentator will ponder whether Better Call Saul would stand on its own if Breaking Bad had never existed. It’s a stupid question. Breaking Bad did exist, it was brilliant, and a lot of the pleasure in this first episode is spotting references and shared themes.It’s better and more easily enjoyable than Breaking Bad was at this stage and, in the best possible way, will make you want to rewatch the original all over again.
Indeed they’re almost the same show, but looking through opposite ends of the telescope. For Breaking Bad, life was never so disastrous that it couldn’t get worse. Better Call Saul looks back and says “hey, the old days weren’t so bad: a little grimy, a little tough, but we had fun, didn’t we?”
It’s nostalgia in a cheap suit and I can’t wait to return.