This is the story of a good man. Saul Goodman, to be precise. Or, more accurately, it’s the story of how a good man – shabby, struggling lawyer Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) eventually becomes the morally-dubious wheeler-dealer shyster who provided the comic relief in many of the more tense instalments of Breaking Bad (officially the best TV show ever made?). Fans worried that the BB Universe was just too exquisitely-crafted to risk being compromised by some ill-considered sequel or prequel series – even with BB’s creator Vince Gilligan calling the shots - must surely have breathing long heaving sighs of relief when the first ten-episode run of Better Call Saul landed earlier this year and proved to be, in its own way, as compelling, irresistible and downright bloody brilliant as its perfectly-formed parent show.
Following a brief first-episode sequence updating us on Saul Goodman’s circumstances in the wake of Breaking Bad – he’s working, in disguise, in an anonymous ice cream bar somewhere in Nebraska, spending his evenings watching his cheesy TV ads from his ‘glory’ days as Albuquerque’s most slippery lawyer, we flashback to 2002 when things were very different and Saul Goodman had yet to be born. Struggling to earn a living as a public defender, Jimmy McGill works out of a stuffy, cramped office in the back of a nail bar, drives a battered car (“the only way that car is worth $500 is if there’s a $300 dollar hooker sitting in it,” rages Jimmy at one point), wears shabby suits and can’t even win the respect of the local court house’s dour security guard Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) who refuses to validate his parking. McGill – desperate to be the best lawyer he can despite life’s knocks – rolls from scam to scam in an attempt to establish himself (one adventure involves an early encounter with BB bad boy Tuco Salamanca and a desert face-off which could have come straight from BB itself) whilst always trying to protect the interests of his brother Chuck (Michael McKean), a fabulously successful lawyer and partner in the firm Hamlin, Hamlin and McGill but currently on extended sick leave suffering from a condition which makes him terrified of exposure to electromagnetic fields, rendering him virtually a prisoner in his own sealed-up home. Jimmy sees his big chance to make a name for himself by representing a local treasurer charged with embezzlement and later by exposing a charging racket at a local care home. But things never go quite right for Jimmy who is either frustrated at every turn or else a victim of his own greed, blind ambition and, occasionally, stupidity.
Better Call Saul is a magnificent piece of television; like Breaking Bad, it’s virtually a work of art. It’s beautifully written and directed, Odenkirk is a passionate and likable leading man – we’re always rooting for him and we genuinely feel his pain as his schemes go frustratingly wrong and he drifts, inevitably, towards becoming the sleazy chancer we’re familiar with from Breaking Bad. Flashbacks fill us in on the deeper backgrounds of both Jimmy and Mike and it’s genuinely heartbreaking to see both men – both good men – drift into the dark dangerous worlds we meet them in when they finally pitch up in Breaking Bad. With plotting and characterisation which is both rich and endlessly rewarding, Better Call Saul is an utterly immersive and rewarding TV experience and its first season – the second is on its way and can’t come soon enough – is a more than worthy companion piece to the peerless Breaking Bad. This handsome three-disc Blu-ray set looks suitably stunning and is packed with absorbing special features and a string of engrossing, intelligent commentaries. Better buy Better Call Saul.
Special Features: Commentary on every episode / Day One / Creating the first season / Gag reel / Deleted scenes / Becoming Mike / Table read / Bob Odenkirk and Michael Mckean in conversation
BETTER CALL SAUL – SEASON ONE / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: BOB ODENKIRK, JONATHAN BANKS, MICHAEL MCKEAN, RHEA SEAHORN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW