Tuesday, April 28, 2020

TV Tuesday: Better Call Saul

As many of our favorite network shows are wrapping up for the season (some earlier than planned because they ran out of new episodes), we have turned to streaming services for some old favorites, like Bosch (on Amazon), and are trying some new shows. One that we liked immediately is Better Call Saul, a funny, suspenseful Breaking Bad prequel spin-off that stands on its own.

Jimmy McGill, played by Bob Odenkirk, is a two-bit lawyer, struggling to make an honest living. His office is in the backroom behind a nail salon, he drives an old car that is literally falling apart, and he works hard as a public defender to earn a measly $700 per defense. Jimmy puts on a good show in front of others, but it's clear he is a decent guy who cares about his clients and wants to succeed. He also cares deeply for his brother, Chuck, played by Michael McKean. Chuck is a partner in a high-powered, slick downtown law firm, but he's currently trapped in his own home, helpless, as the victim of his own mental illness. After a lifetime of big brother Chuck bailing out (sometimes literally) screw-up baby brother Jimmy, their roles are now reversed. As Jimmy scrambles to make a living, sleeping on the pull-out couch in his tiny office, he also takes good care of Chuck, bringing him newspapers and groceries and following his rules to keep all electromagnetic radiation away from him. But life is never easy for Jimmy: even as he leaves the courthouse where he toils so hard for so little, he always gets stopped by the parking attendant, Mike (played by Jonathan Banks and delightfully familiar to Breaking Bad fans), for not having his card properly validated. Through a complex scheme-gone-wrong to earn a few extra bucks, Jimmy ends up tangled up with criminal Nacho Varga, played by Michael Mando. Somehow, eventually, Jimmy will end up transformed into slick lawyer Saul Goodman, who plays a role in Walter White's drug business in Breaking Bad.

First, you do not need to have seen or know anything at all about Breaking Bad to enjoy Better Call Saul. The show completely stands on its own, as the prequel story of one side character from Breaking Bad, but fans of that huge hit will delight as familiar characters (like Mike) show up here and will wonder how Jimmy eventually becomes Saul. We were reluctant to watch this spin-off for a while, in part because we didn't really like the Saul character all that much, but Jimmy in this earlier incarnation is great fun to root for and a much more complex character. He's smart and hard-working and caring but clearly the underdog. It's a fast-paced show with plenty of intrigue and suspense through the cases that Jimmy gets involved with, and it's got a great sense of humor that keeps things light. So far, we haven't seen any of the darkness that so permeated later seasons of Breaking Bad (which was still funny). We're loving this show so far and are looking forward to seeing where Jimmy's career takes him and how he will eventually make the transformation to Saul Goodman.

We've watched just the first six episodes of season one so far, but there are five seasons out, with more planned, so this is a great one for binging! Season five just finished airing on AMC, so it is available On Demand through your cable provider or you can see some episodes for free at the AMC website. The first four seasons are available on Netflix, so season five will probably end up there, too, in due time.


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