Better Call Saul

Daniel Mattei

Bryan Cranston’s iconic acting in the popular television show, Breaking Bad, may be missing from Vince Gilligan’s and Peter Gould’s Better Call Saul, but AMC’s latest show is a different beast entirely.  Walter White is nowhere to be found, but Jimmy McGill, portrayed by Bob Odenkirk, his flamboyant but business-savvy partner in crime, is the protagonist in a story about the misadventures of a lawyer and his struggling conscience.

“Slippin’ Jimmy,” as he was dubbed by his loved ones and friends for his habit of ‘slipping’ into trouble, is defied by life at every turn. Meager public defender checks paid to him regardless of his mediocre performance in the courtroom, sustain his egoistic resistance against the mega-firm of Hamlin-Hamlin McGill, founded by his successful brother, Chuck (portrayed by Michael McKean). His car is rusted and in need of paint, and his office, tucked into the corner of a nail salon, is better described as a closet. His online degree from the University of American Samoa elicits annoyance and ire from fellow lawyers, and the burden of caring for his now invalid brother falls to him. His life is contemptible to every degree, and factors beyond his control thwart his desperate attempts to become successful through his stalwart work ethic.

Feelings of frustration would be understandable under these pressures alone, but Jimmy’s moral and ethical compass is tested constantly by the inexplicable surfacing of several opportunities to cheat the system as a criminal. The urge to compromise his integrity is finally sated when he convinces two boys to run a vehicular fraud scam, and Slippin’ Jimmy finally lives up to his name.

Better Call Saul’s pacing can be surprisingly slow, given Breaking Bad’s penchant for frenetic, life-or-death events. Much attention is given to the mundane aspects of Jimmy’s life, such as his attempts to become a competent lawyer in Elder Law, or his work toward competing with Hamlin-Hamlin McGill, but this is evidently done in order to accentuate his descent into criminality, and this attention to detail ought to be appreciated. The music is serviceable, but ultimately forgettable, once its purpose is served in the scene it augments has passed. The true delight of the show is the acting, as it should be. Odenkirk’s role strikes a balance between humor and gravity which even Bryan Cranston couldn’t quite achieve as Walter White.

The audience of this new show is rewarded with a quaint medley of genres such as comedy, drama, and thriller, the aspects of which are all prominently featured within the show’s opening episodes. The first season’s airing might have already concluded, but reruns can still be found every Monday night on AMC, or Netflix; lovers of contemporary dramas, comedies, and thrillers are punishing themselves if they do not make time to watch this dose of televised excellence.