Monday nights just got “better”.
Tonight, of course, is the season premiere of AMC’s Better Call Saul. After a year of hibernation, creator Vince Gilligan and company return us to the southwest for another year of Slippin’ Jimmy debauchery.
It is season three, for the Breaking Bad spin-off, which takes place six years before the events of its predecessor and sheds back-story light on some of BB’s more-popular side characters.
Spin-offs are like found money for television executives. First, it saves them the trouble of having to create an entire new universe of characters. And, they theoretically come with a built-in market base of viewers who watched the original program.
However, they aren’t always successful. For every successful launching like Frasier (Cheers), Laverne and Shirley (Happy Days) or Colbert Report (The Daily Show), there are ten Joey’s (Friends) that fizzled on the landing pad.
Expectations for a Breaking Bad spin-off were understandably-high, with the show capturing 16 Emmy’s and 2 Golden Globes during its five-season run. Fortunately, Saul is up to the task, and then some.
One of the reasons spin-offs flop is that the characters simply aren’t compelling or entertaining enough to warrant the starring role. Mannerisms and shticks that were good in small doses become one-dimensional flaws, given increased screen time.
Saul Goodman/James McGill (Bob Odenkirk) does not fall into that category. Rather, he’s an endlessly-rotating palette of dimensions. Often times, they contradict one another.
On one hand, he has no shortage of ruthless ambition and flimsy-scruples (for example: posing a client in army fatigues to stage a fake photograph) to win his cases.
On the other hand, he showcases a different range of emotions when it comes to his personal life. His devotion to fellow-attorney/love interest, Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), is genuine and puppy dog in nature. His relationship with his older brother, Chuck (Michael McDonald), is more complicated, but no less tender at its innermost roots.
It is this earnestness that separates Jimmy from the calculated and manipulative approach of Walter White. While Jimmy may be no less self-absorbed, his motives seem to focus more on leveling the playing field than destroying it.
There’s something morbid about witnessing the last remnants of a man’s conscience being whittled away, but it’s hard to root against Slippin’ Jimmy. Everyone likes the underdog. And, few actors can convey a better portrait of dismay, desperation and determination with one glance than the versatile Odenkirk.
In fact, his story, along with that of Mike (Jonathan Banks), always seemed more compelling. In Breaking Bad, you were always waiting in eager anticipation for their next scene. The acerbic Walt’s narcissism, on the other hand, was almost too-overbearing to watch, at times.
That said, Saul is not for everyone. It hasn’t been action packed (at least so far) and some may find its whimsical-meanderings off-putting. There are moments of humor interspersed with extreme violence, but the heart of the show resides in the moments in between.
Nothing is done without purpose. As with Breaking Bad, each scene tosses another pebble onto a growing mountain of context that will end in a colossal monument. What seems to be superfluous at the time might end up as a crucial, building block in the future.
And, that’s the key. We all know the destination. It’s the journey there that makes the show worthy.