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He Said, She Said Review Site

Better Call Saul

What She said:

She

We all know that spinoffs tend to be not so memorable. Case in point: remember Joey? Yeah, me neither. Shortly after the conclusion of the absolutely phenomenal AMC series, Breaking Bad, it was announced that a spinoff revolving around crooked lawyer Saul Goodman was in the works. It seemed to take a ridiculously long time to create, but the 10 episode first season of Better Call Saul premiered on February 8, 2015.

It was a relatively fast first season that just concluded this past week. I’ll be honest, I was nervous that the series would not live up to the very high standards of Breaking Bad, or that it was be so abysmal that it would actually taint the notoriety of its predecessor. But Better Call Saul was much more interesting and much less gimmicky than I had imagined.

Better Call Saul

The series goes pretty far back in time before Saul was, well, Saul. We’re introduced to the character when he is still just James “Jimmy” McGill, played once gain by Bob Odenkirk. Jimmy is struggling to make his way as a fledgling lawyer, following in the footsteps of his revered lawyer brother, Charles “Chuck” McGill (Michael McKean). Jimmy is a little late in the game. He spent a good portion of his life being a small-time con-man, specializing in ripping people off to have just enough money to get by. After spending time in prison as a sex offender (he swears it was an unfortunate mix-up), he emerges and tries to set his life straight. He starts in the mail room of Chuck’s practice, and then puts himself through school and passes the bar exam.

However, the deck is stacked against Jimmy. His brother becomes mentally ill, developing an irrational feel of anything electronic. There are actual physical manifestations, and Chuck winds up a total shut-in, with only his brother to bring him necessities and care for him. And even though Jimmy has proven himself text-book smart enough to be a lawyer, it does not mean that the practice of Hamlin Hamlin & McGill (HHM) wants him. Jimmy strikes out to make it on his own, but he struggles to get any business. Before long, he finds himself tied up with criminals and must rely on working with the elderly to get by.

It’s Jimmy’s work with the older folk that is particularly memorable. He intentionally hosts bingo outings and visits them in their retirement facilities just to drum up business from them via estate planning. Unfortunately, it’s not the most lucrative route. They often don’t have enough money and many literally count pennies to pay Jimmy. In the meantime, he’s living and working out of a small room in the back of a nail salon.

Better Call Saul

Jimmy also begins to develop a relationship with retired cop turned traffic attendant Michael “Mike” Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks). The show delves a little into Mike’s background, including what brought him out from the East Coast to New Mexico. It turns out that he had been a pretty well established cop, as was his son Matty. Matty is murdered by some of his own colleagues because of involvement with some crooked cop stuff. They actually plan to kill Mike as well, but he does them the honor first. So basically, Mike is fleeing his old life and hoping to remain close with his daughter-in-law Stacey and his granddaughter. Mike does some man-for-hire business here and there for extra money. Jimmy actually helps Mike with some legal drama when investigators come out to interview him. And thus they begin what will turn out to be a pretty lucrative partnership. But Better Call Saul explores its most infantile stages.

As season one concludes, Jimmy organizes a high-dollar class action lawsuit that has HHM foaming at the mouth—however, they still don’t want him to manage it. And Chuck begins to recover from his illness through his love of all things legal. The relationship between Jimmy and Chuck becomes even more complex and is further tested.

Season one truly does unravel a little slowly. A lot does happen in the sense that there are plenty of characters and interactions. However, the viewer will be slow to piece together what it all means and how things tie together. It’s a curious process to watch what happens during season one and try to figure out how this all influenced Jimmy to become Saul. We still feel pretty far off from that transformation, and there’s plenty story left to tell.

Better Call Saul

Like its forefather, Better Call Saul, is very well written.  Special care has been put into all of the dialogue and backstory. You’ll find parallels between the setting of this show and that of Breaking Bad, with plenty of carryover between the two.  There are several points where The He and I noted something from Better Call Saul that also appeared in some capacity in Breaking Bad, whether characters or otherwise. It’s neat to see how the writers made that very strong connection. However, this is also a world that is somewhat removed from Breaking Bad. Jimmy is not yet Saul, just as Walt was not always Heisenberg.

All of our actors do a very good job with the characters that they’re working to develop. Odenkirk is careful to delineate Jimmy from Saul, and does a lot with a character who didn’t seem too terribly complex in Breaking Bad. Banks does a similar thing with Mike, even though his backstory is not quite given the depth of Jimmy’s. I really enjoyed McKean’s performance as Chuck. He’s obviously a brilliant man, but also absolutely crazy at times. He offers comic relief, and yet is instrumental to the plot of Better Call Saul and the evolution of Jimmy’s character.

In many ways, Better Call Saul does feel a lot like Breaking Bad. It’s very much the same setting, and the writing feels similar. Both are quite funny, but I think that Breaking Bad was a lot darker. Better Call Saul is just a little bit less deep, although I could see that easily changing as we move into season two. While I won’t say that this show is quite as brilliant as Breaking Bad was, it’s still pretty good. It’s truly interesting to watch, and very well written. I have to give kudos to the producers, cast, and crew for making this show actually work. I look forward to watching a second season, and hopefully won’t have to wait too long to see it.

Thumbs up.

What He said:

He

Jimmy McGill…wait a minute, who? That’s right ladies and gents, it turns out everybody’s favorite sleazebag lawyer’s real name isn’t Saul Goodman.  

Better Call Saul

Anyway, Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) wasn’t always a criminal defense attorney; who almost seemed to go out of his way to pick the worst of the worst clients. At one point, Jimmy was a public defender and a struggling one at that. Jimmy was still defending guilty people who did stupid shit, but his approach was totally different back then (this show takes place in 2002). Back then, Jimmy was trying to help people out. If they were someone who did something stupid, as opposed to being a career criminal, he’d fight to get them a punishment that was appropriate. If they were guilty, he’d convince them to plead guilty, and negotiate a lesser sentence, rather than try to convince the court they were not guilty; like he did as Saul.

Going the noble route isn’t always rewarding though. Jimmy is making so little money, that he lives in his office. Oh and his office? It’s not an office at all, but rather a broom closet in a nail salon. He is really struggling to make it.

If that wasn’t bad enough, he is the caretaker for his brother (Michael McKeon), who suffers from some kind of mental illness. Charles “Chuck” McGill is a partner at a very high profile law firm called Hamlin, Hamlin, and McGill. Chuck hasn’t been to work for a year or so, due to the belief that he suffers from an extreme sensitivity to electromagnetic fields. As a result, Chuck has disconnected all the appliances and other electronic devices in his house. He also refuses to go outside, because he claims that whenever he gets too close to power lines, he starts to suffer from some kind of attack. Because of this, Jimmy is forced to deliver food, ice, and other supplies to Chuck’s house on a daily basis.
That’s not the only source of stress in Jimmy’s life either. HHM is constantly offering Chuck money in an effort to buy out his part of the practice. Jimmy, being his brother’s caretaker/mouthpiece  is constantly working with them to up the price. Chuck doesn’t want to sell period, but Jimmy simply wants them to make a better offer.

Better Call Saul

Jimmy is always working with a guy named Howard (Patrick Fabian), who is one of the other founding partners. Jimmy hates Howard for a number of reasons. For starters, he thinks Howard is a weasel who only cares about his law firm and wants to screw Chuck out of a practice he helped create. Howard, as one of the other founding members, claims he actually cares about Chuck’s health, but also thinks it’s best for everyone if they part ways. Jimmy’s rivalry with Howard also goes back further than that. Jimmy used to work at HHM before he was a lawyer and resents Howard for holding him back.

The one highlight about working with HHM is that Jimmy gets to see his friend Kim, who is also a lawyer at HHM. She and Jimmy go way back to before when either of them was a lawyer. They worked together in a more administrative/support role before either one of them are lawyers. He still talks to her somewhat regularly and is very fond of her (Rhea Seehorn).
One day, Jimmy is hired to do a will for an elderly client and he has an epiphany. He decides to go into elder law. His scenes with his newfound clientele make for some of the funnier moments of the show. He starts to emcee bingo games at local retirement homes, which are often hilarious. He also starts to simply wander the grounds while visiting his clients. He comes off a lot like a politician. He walks around these facilities, shakes hands, distributes business cards, etc. After doing this for a while, he starts to make a little more money – but still not swimming in it – and discovers an opportunity that could lead to his big break.

What else is going on in this spinoff? Well everybody’s favorite hitman from Breaking Bad make several appearances. We knew that Mike was Gus’ “head of security”, who sometimes worked for Saul’s ( in Breaking Bad). We also knew that he was former cop from Philly. But we don’t know the when and how Mike found himself in New Mexico and a part of its criminal underworld. Better Call Saul tells us that story and it’s a pretty good one too.

Mike is a fascinating character. He is great with his granddaughter. If all we knew of him was from his interactions with her, you’d think he was a great guy. But, if you’ve seen Breaking Bad, you know that he is not. Mike takes care of his family, which is admirable, but he is far from an admirable man. He’s fairly likeable on the surface. He takes care of his family, seems to mind his business, and is pretty funny at times too. The things he does for a living though, that simply cannot be ignored. He’s certainly interesting to watch.

Better Call Saul

Saul was mostly comic relief in Breaking Bad. That’s not to say he didn’t serve a purpose to the storyline. He did introduce Walt and Jesse to most of their connections in the criminal world. My point is that we didn’t know much about him. Any time you decided to expand the role of a previously supporting character, you are flirting with disappointing your audience. Origin stories aren’t always the best. This is from the minds that brought us Breaking Bad though. Vince Gilligan does not seem to know what half-assed means. The man puts out a high quality product. Seeing how the character went from Jimmy to Saul was surprisingly fascinating (he’s not totally there yet, but he’s headed that direction). The stuff between him and Chuck, Kim, and even his clients shows selflessness we did not know Saul had. He’s also very sympathetic at times too.

In classic Breaking Bad fashion, the show is filled with colorful and memorable characters.  Jimmy and Mike are the obvious ones, but Chuck and his predicament are pretty damn fascinating too.  This guy was a very successful lawyer for a long time and though one really has nothing to do with the other, it’s always fascinating to watch someone who is so intelligent be consumed by something so ridiculous (and in their head).  The stuff with the HHM folk is also interesting too. Jimmy hates Howard, but is the mediator between Howard and Chuck. Kim serves as something of an unofficial mediator between Howard and Jimmy. She’s not a partner at the firm, but Howard – knowing her and Jimmy are friends – often brings her in to get Jimmy to listen to him. There are also some cameos from some Breaking Bad characters. There are also all-new ones too, who fit perfectly in the Breaking Bad universe. The Kettlemans are really good example of that.
So, in short,  not only is this a good spinoff, it’s a good show in its own right.

Rating: Thumbs up.

Better Call Saul