Do you love Breaking Bad? Or, more specifically, do you enjoy compelling dramas that boast memorable performances, gruffly poetic writing, and visually compelling narratives? You better call Saul!

Call me basic, but Breaking Bad is one of my all-time favourite shows. It used to be my top spot until BoJack Horseman dethroned it, but not by any fault of its own; I may subjectively and marginally prefer the animated comedy, but Vince Gilligan’s masterpiece is a mountain that most dramas struggle to climb, let alone conquer. Which is why I was extremely hesitant to start Gilligan’s and Peter Gould’s prequel spinoff. In what world would I be able to revisit Albuquerque without constantly comparing it to a show that I have seen three times, has won 16 Emmys, and is widely regarded as the pinnacle of TV? Apparently, this one.

Set long before Walter White’s meth fantasies, Better Call Saul follows fan favourite criminal lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) on his journey to becoming the sleeziest oddball advocate New Mexico has ever seen. Generally, spinoffs lack the original’s spark as writers try to recreate rather than evolve but Better Call Saul is the exception that makes the rule look absurd. Not because it is more explosive than its predecessor, but because Gilligan and Gould were willing to shift focus onto more fitting aspects. There aren’t poppy montages as blue crystals are formed in the back of an RV, instead the show takes a much slower pace as Saul schemes his way through one legal battle to the next.

This isn’t the Saul Goodman we know; he’s smart and creative as he thinks outside of the law to try and get his way, he’s kind and caring as he takes care of his delusional and disapproving older brother Chuck (Michael McKean), and he’s somewhat charming as he and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) share an honest kinship. This is only the same person by name which isn’t exactly true as for most of the show he goes by his birth name Jimmy McGill. He’s a completely different character that needs time to be understood, his future persona adding to the suspense as his inevitable fall to the dark side ever looms.

While it does begin as the Jimmy McGill and Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) show, it becomes quickly apparent that Gould’s vision is of a more sprawling nature. Jimmy is certainly the titular character, but new additions such as Lalo (Tony Dalton) and Nacho (Michael Mando) steal the show as their performances and plot lines are more than throwaway additions – especially Seehorn’s Wexler as her fragile morality shifts and spins out of control, every emotion felt through her subtle but powerful execution.

Surprisingly, it is Odenkirk that is the weakest link, but understandably so. Most recurring roles are ones that remain relatively consistent with their Breaking Bad counterpart, but Jimmy McGill’s journey is a long and tough road, one that passes through Saul Goodman and onto a third personality later in life. Saul’s comic-relief slimeball aura is relatively straightforward, but Odenkirk’s journey is far from easy, missing a beat here and there as he is overshadowed by the rest of the cast.

Yet that is but a footnote on his resume as, for the vast majority, Odenkirk embodies the quippy one-liner wit that originally made Saul so popular. Each season shows snippets from a post-Breaking Bad world, black and white cinematography as Saul, now going by Gene Takavic, melancholically manages a mall Cinnabon whereas the final season has full episodes dedicated to this era. Here is where Odenkirk shines the brightest; every decision has led to this harsh monotone reality, but the trickster still lies behind his dejected eyes, an intimate note that Odenkirk hits to perfection.

The chicken man… Giancarlo Esposito. Photo: Sony PicturesThe chicken man… Giancarlo Esposito. Photo: Sony Pictures

There are many cameos sprinkled throughout the six seasons, but the obvious standouts are Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) who appear towards the end of the final season. Seeing them again was expected but fun as they revisit scenes, this time from Saul’s perspective, overloading me with nostalgia as I thought back on the pair’s greatest hits. Oxymoronically, it made me a little too nostalgic as it reminded me of what makes Breaking Bad so uniquely magnificent: their chemistry. Walt and Jesse have an extremely complicated mentor/student relationship that drove the show through its most emotional and impactful moments, and Better Call Saul will never be able to achieve that.

I can’t hold that against it; what Cranston and Paul shared was the perfect storm, an unintended duo that, in terms of quality, emotion, personality, performance, and raw passion, is still unbeaten. Thankfully, Gould and Gilligan never try to recreate it, instead focusing on creating a show that, overall, is more holistically coherent and compelling. From the constantly dilapidating intro to the yellow credits replaced with a white alternative for the black and white episodes, Better Call Saul is a holistic artwork that dots all the i’s and crosses all the t’s, wrapping up a franchise with a satisfying finale – so gratifying that I’m happy to never return again. Until my next re-watch, that is.

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