Prequels are very rarely done right. At best they are solid but inferior products to the original and at worst they are torn to shreds by a fan base that forgot the originals had their problems too (ala Star Wars). So I was a bit concerned when Vince Gilligan’s joke of giving a spinoff to Breaking Bad’s main source of comedic relief in Saul Goodman became a reality. With a co-showrunner that didn’t seem to be completely into the show at first and source material that couldn’t possibly match the heights of Breaking Bad, it just didn’t seem possible that Better Call Saul could be any good. However, if Breaking Bad has taught us one thing it is to trust in Vince Gilligan and his writing staff (Peter Gould, the creator of Saul Goodman, runs the show along with Gilligan). Better Call Saul is one of the best prequels ever as it seems like something different from its mother show while still adding depth to Breaking Bad.
Better Call Saul begins a few years before Breaking Bad as we find the man that will be Saul Goodman going by the name of Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk portrayed the character solidly in Breaking Bad but he is a revelation here). Being locked out from joining up with his brother’s law firm due to a strained relationship with the other founders, Jimmy is struggling to make it out on his own, which slowly leads him into the underworld of Albuquerque.
The show begins as a really well made show. Vince Gilligan and Michelle MacLaren direct the first couple of episodes and their work is as great as ever. Yet their work seems slightly wasted. The early episodes have a sense that they are the best that they can possibly be. Jimmy is an interesting character but the trials in his early career as a lawyer are on a story level that makes it seem that Gilligan and company could be using their immense talent for something greater.
Fortunately, the show had a not so secret weapon that it was literally keeping boxed up in its early episodes. That secret weapon comes in the shape of none other than Jonathan Banks’ performance as Mike Ehrmantraut. Mike was always an interesting character in Breaking Bad and Banks’ performance is a master class in getting the most out of so little. He is able to bring a sense of gravitas to this show that energizes the second half and allows the other plotlines to flourish without the weight of expectations. This really helps with the storyline between Jimmy and his brother (Michael McKean) that reaches an ending worthy of Breaking Bad.
Better Call Saul will still have things to work out in its second season. The sharp contrast in tone between what Jimmy and what Mike are doing will need to be worked on for one thing, but for a debut season of a prequel this is as good as you can get.