REVIEW: Episodes 1-3 Of ‘Better Call Saul’

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A note: I didn’t get around to writing up about this last week. I intend on doing a weekly review of “Better Call Saul.” Also, there WILL be spoilers.

The amount of pressure in creating a spin-off of “Breaking Bad” was probably huge. Since “Breaking Bad” is pretty much a high water mark in modern TV in quality, the idea of a prequel to the events that led to the rise and fall of Walter White, dealing with his criminal attorney Saul Goodman, must have been quite the gamble.

But thus far, that gamble is paying off. Big time.

Before I get into the episodes, I must say what I’ve loved about the show, so far, is that it feels like slipping on a shoe that’s already broken in. Because of the familiarity of the character, and many of those who worked on “Breaking Bad” are on this show, it has allowed the show to move at a pace that most shows need more time to establish. We know where Saul is in the future, the character has been around since the second season of “Breaking Bad.” But it still feels fresh, and it’s a different story in the same world as “Breaking Bad.”

Vince Gilligan and Bob Odenkirk - Better Call Saul _ Season 1, Episode 1 _ BTS - Photo Credit: Jenn Carroll/AMC
Vince Gilligan and Bob Odenkirk – Better Call Saul _ Season 1, Episode 1 _ BTS – Photo Credit: Jenn Carroll/AMC

Also, I like how different Saul’s story is compared to Walter White’s. We know Saul is not going to be a Walter White or a Tony Soprano. He will become a criminal, sure.  A very good criminal. At this point, he’s not even a decent lawyer, he’s a pretty terrible one. He’s a survivor, not an Alpha. He’s not going to blow up an old folks home to kill off a rival. He eventually breaks bad, but in a different way and for different reasons.

In the first episode, we see Saul living the “best case scenario” he told Walter in the final episodes of “Breaking Bad,” when both are on the run. Saul, now managing a Cinnabon in Omaha, Neb., (and seen in black and white) is at his bottom while reliving his glory years by watching his old commercials he has hidden in a box.

Then flash backward to six years prior to the events on “Breaking Bad.”

Before he was Saul, he was Jimmy McGill. A down in a rut defense attorney who is making $700 a case and is barely getting by. His brother, Chuck (played by Michael McKean) is a brilliant attorney who is suffering a mental break down. And who is being ripped off by the law firm he built, but refuses to be bothered with it.

He is also pestered daily by the man at the court house’s parking ticket booth. That would be Mike Ehrmantraut, who in “Breaking Bad” is Saul’s main man. It’s funny seeing how these two first are acquainted, knowing the bloody path they will embark six years later with Walt, Jesse, Gus and the Mexican cartel meth ring.

Jimmy decides to get into a scam to pressure Betsy Kettleman, a wife of city treasurer Craig Kettleman, accused of stealing money from the city to have him represent her husband . Unfortunately, the  kids he’s hired picked a wrong car to scam, for it’s not only the wrong person, it’s family of Tuco Salamanca’s (one of Walt’s nemesis from “Breaking Bad”).

The second episode deals with Jimmy getting himself and his goons out of the deadly situation with Tuco. He also finds himself dealing with one of Tuco’s henchmen, Nacho, with regard to the treasurer’s million dollar theft. We see perhaps the first of Jimmy’s decent toward criminal activity. And his morally ambiguous dealing with criminals (making the case only for Tuco to only break one leg each of his cohorts in the desert).

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Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman and Raymond Cruz as Tuco Salamanca

The third episode opens even earlier than the show, with Jimmy in jail and Chuck having to bail him out (man, that wig looked pretty bad on Odenkirk).

Fast forward to the show’s current time and his brother’s law office has pilfered Craig Kettleman as their client. And Jimmy knows Nacho is out to steal that money Kettleman stole.

And the Kettlemans go missing, after being awkwardly warned by Jimmy in a drunken stupor, that someone is out for the money. Jimmy also drunkenly blurted out to his lawyer friend who got the Kettleman case that they may be in danger.

Which puts Nacho at the scene, because he was casing their home prior to their disappearance and was spotted by a neighbor. But he didn’t take the family, but the cops think he did. And thus puts Jimmy on a mission to find the family, because his life is now on the line. Nacho doesn’t need the police poking around his “business.” And he will blame Jimmy if they do.

Long story short, the Kettlman’s where hiding, with the stolen cash when Saul finally tracks them down (with a good tip from Mike, and that scene in the court house with these two and the police was fantastic).

So these have been a strong three episodes for “Saul.” We got Mike, the connections to the future meth ring and Jimmy putting his story forward. It will be interesting seeing where this show will go and (I hope) we get some more insights to his post-Walter White situation like in episode one’s intro.

Thoughts:

* I’m glad to see Jonathan Banks back on TV. He was great on “Community,” but him back in Mike’s shoes again is great.

* With “Breaking Bad” and “Fargo,” Bob Odenkirk has become a great dramatic actor. If you would have asked me 10 years ago if I thought the guy from “Mr. Show” could pull off roles like this, I wouldn’t have believed you.

* Tuco was probably one of the more insane characters from “Breaking Bad” and I enjoy seeing him in his early years.

* Michael McKean pulls off kooky characters pretty well.

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