February 10, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Pilot + 1 Review: “Better Call Saul”



Previously… on BETTER CALL SAUL:  In 2002, the man who will become Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) is still Jimmy McGill, a struggling New Mexico criminal attorney struggling to make ends meet and saddled with his brother Chuck (Michael McKean), a much more successful lawyer who’s unfortunately had a nervous breakdown and who now lives outside the influence of electricity.  Jimmy hasn’t yet become the confidante of meth dealers, but he’s begun to skirt the edges of the law.

Episode 2:  The second half of the Better Call Saul premiere really got the show into gear, thanks in no small part to the direction of Michelle MacLaren, one of the best filmmakers ever to work on Breaking Bad.  (She’s since been tagged as the director of the upcoming Wonder Woman movie.)  The opening stretch of the hour, written by series co-creator Peter Gould, was concerned with Jimmy/Saul’s frantic attempt to dig himself (almost literally) out of the hole he’d dug himself in part I, when his attempted scam of a local embezzler accidentally ensnared the beloved abuelita of the fearsome Tuco (Raymond Cruz), who matter-of-factly intended to kill Jimmy and his idiot skateboarder associates until Jimmy talked him down.  The second act of the episode, staged under the scorching yet beautiful desert skies with a heavy use of long shots, had the kind of pitiless narrative drive we remember from Breaking Bad, this time with humor that was a bit more overt.  It also gave Odenkirk a showcase to remind us how quick-thinking and even quicker-talking his character can be.

Once Jimmy had cajoled his way to freedom (his clients survived with broken legs–one each–but their lives otherwise intact), MacLaren had great fun with a date sequence undermined for Jimmy by the crunching sounds of breadsticks being snapped, and then the show followed the first night’s nod to Network with an extended salute to All That Jazz‘s “It’s showtime!” montages, wonderfully staged in a way that recalled Bob Fosse’s original without overdoing the link.  There’s certainly a tonal resemblance between the morally bent Saul and the protagonists of 1970s Hollywood, and if Better Call Saul intends to make callbacks to movies of that era a continuing theme, that could add an enjoyable undercurrent for buffs.

Like any young show, Better Call Saul is still finding itself.  The appearances of Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), merely a parking lot attendant at this point, are brief, and it remains to be seen how Chuck’s obsession with electromagnetism will play out as a continuing storyline without becoming too much of a schtick.  Nevertheless, the show is off to an enormously promising start, and considering that it debuted to the highest rating in the history of cable TV (the massive lead-in from The Walking Dead didn’t hurt) and has already been renewed for Season 2, creators Vince Gilligan and Gould will have plenty of time to work out any kinks.  For now, Better Call Saul is evocative of its classic predecessor and yet its own unique thing, which is exactly where it should be.


PILOT + 1:  Monday’s New Class Act


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."