by DICK CHENEY
Better Call Saul
creators Vince Gilligan & Peter Gould
I would do anything to never to hear my wife utter the words fan service again. Did you see the trailer for Ant-Man? This tongue-in-cheek shit has got to end. Instead of, you know, working on something new, the people behind Breaking Bad have an assembled an hour long drama around the concept that anything even peripherally associated with Jesse Pinkman is fantastic and interesting. And you know what: they might have a point.
Seven years ago Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) has his own quirky cast of characters surrounding his single room law practice in the rear of a downtrodden nail salon. Returning from Breaking Bad is Jonathan Banks, who looks about twenty years older than he did on the previous show despite this chronologically predating everything on Breaking Bad. Tuco (Raymond Cruz) also makes a substantial appearance in the new show, but most everything else is completely new.
Whereas Breaking Bad was about doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, Better Call Saul is about doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. Watching Odenkirk struggle with his conscience quickly gets old. We’re supposed to think that he was slowly corrupted into Saul Goodman over time, little by little. Since we already know the end result – an amoral bag of garbage – we can’t help but be disappointed by the pace of the process. No one thinks to themselves, “Jeez, Mussolini was such a nice little kid!”
The problem with the basic concept is that we only have reason to encounter minor characters. Hank Schrader is not suddenly going to show up on Better Call Saul, and even if he did he would probably look like Mason Verger and all we would think about is his ignominious end in Breaking Bad. Fan service (ugh) only actually works when we have a positive nostalgic feeling about what is being revisited. There is no such need to be reminded of how we left Walt’s family or friends.
Despite the fact that I have loathed Jonathan Banks for three decades and his appearance on Community should have given him a life sentence in jail, I have to admit that the character of Mike is a great one. When Saul meets him in Better Call Saul he is merely a parking lot attendant at a courthouse, which is unlikely but amusing as a one off joke.
The real fun will begin when Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) enters the picture. Although we explored his homosexual South American heritage in a flashback that still brings tears to my eyes to this day, I really hope we get the full origin story of Gustavo Fring. A lot seems like it was left out, and Gus was a very effective businessman who just happened to trifle with the wrong high school science teacher. Greatness can come from low places, I believe Scott Walker once killed a guy? Need to check my facts, but I’m pretty sure.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a wee bit tired of the emotional shots of the New Mexico landscape. There may be nothing left to really explore in this bleak environment. Breaking Bad did a great job of making very few locations seem like an open, impossible world, but the same budgetary constraints seem to apply here.
There is little in the way of big time action or set pieces promised – after all, Better Call Saul features a relatively small story about a lawyer. The reason that networks produced legal dramas and films in the first place is because they were so inexpensive – Better Call Saul does a wonderful job of tricking their way around these limitations and making the show into a crime drama like its predecessor. Still, at times Better Call Saul feels like so much less.
Once you make something successful, people want more of it. I understand this, just as I understand the basic impulse to elect another child of George W. Bush, or put someone else named Clinton in the Oval Office. We are afraid of change, especially Jonathan Banks, who has been doing the same gravelly voiced character since the 1960s.
Better Call Saul ends up as a compelling show with a fantastic cast, so my complaints about repetition fall on deaf ears. We will shout, “Oh Walt!” probably at some point when Bryan Cranston does his first guest shot after pissing away all his Lyndon Johnson/Godzilla money on snickerdoodles. I only wonder if we could have gotten something even better.
Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here. Visit our mobile site here.
“Sisters” – Gods (mp3)
“Misled” – Gods (mp3)