• Post category:Television
  • Post last modified:September 1, 2022

Better Call Saul: Creating a Goodman

ABOVE AVERAGE

Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn. Photo: Netflix

As this wonderful series came to a close, an unlikely spin-off to the hugely successful Breaking Bad (2008-2013), there were those who argued that it even surpassed the original series. I never understood why anyone would bother to make that argument. Undeniably connected but still different from each other in many ways, both shows are equally a blessing.

Maybe one reason why some felt a need to elevate Better Call Saul to the stratosphere was because, curiously enough, it never won Emmys or Golden Globes, at least not before the last season. Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn in particular deserved recognition for their incredible performances as codependent con men.

Making friends in the mailroom
This prequel to Breaking Bad told the story of how Saul Goodman became the soulless, shameless ambulance chaser that we saw on the show. At first we knew him as Jimmy McGill (Odenkirk), who got a job in the mailroom of his older brother Chuck’s (Michael McKean) law firm. He became friends in the mailroom with Kim Wexler (Seehorn) who was studying law on the side and would eventually become an associate with the firm. Jimmy also wanted to become a lawyer, but his complicated relationship with Chuck became an obstacle. Some time later, the Mexican Mafia entered his life in the shape of Nacho Varga (Michael Mando) who worked for the Salamanca family, an organization that would have a profound effect on Jimmy’s life down the road.

Did its own thing to great effect
In the case of Cheers, a supporting character who was a psychiatrist may not have seemed like the ideal choice for a spin-off, but Frasier became a TV classic in its own right. The same happened here, with Odenkirk’s amusing lawyer getting his own ambitious background story in a series that did its own thing, to great effect. Breaking Bad had a wicked, gory sense of humor and offered tremendous tension, but Better Call Saul slowed the action down considerably. Creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould would take their time explaining how Jimmy McGill became Saul and as the show progressed they realized that the process would be even slower than they first had contemplated.

Apart from Odenkirk and Seehorn, Michael McKean was also compelling as Jimmy’s mean-spirited and delusional brother.

The main reason was because Kim became such an interesting character, partly thanks to Seehorn’s acting. Her influence on Jimmy and personal journey in his company was worth exploring to a greater degree. The relationship between Jimmy and his brother, who needed his help because of his reclusive nature, but also seethed with resentment toward him, also needed to unfold slowly. Both fans of Breaking Bad and non-fans might have wondered at first where the show was going. But Better Call Saul soon began to fulfill its promise. Apart from Odenkirk and Seehorn, McKean was also compelling as Jimmy’s mean-spirited and delusional brother, and when the Salamanca family became part of the story, we knew that it was going to get ugly in thrilling ways.

Several characters from Breaking Bad were introduced in earlier incarnations, including Mike (Jonathan Banks) who first showed up as a parking lot attendant but later got involved with the Salamancas, and Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), the dapper owner of a fried chicken restaurant and narcotics entrepreneur.

Did the two shows differ all that much? Both tended to focus at times on little details that episodes, sometimes years, later carried significance for those who cared. And they portrayed people who did what they felt they had to do to obtain security for themselves, unable to stop when everything goes south. Sweating under the punishing New Mexico sun brought the shows together. 


Better Call Saul 2015-2022:U.S. Color-B/W. 63 episodes. Created by Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould. Cast: Bob Odenkirk (Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman), Rhea Seehorn (Kim Wexler), Jonathan Banks (Mike Ehrmantraut), Michael McKean (15-17), Patrick Fabian, Michael Mando, Giancarlo Esposito (17-22), Tony Dalton (18-22).

Last word: “We started joking about a Breaking Bad spinoff I think sometime around late season two, after [Saul’s] first episode aired, that first one that Peter [Gould] wrote. We must have seen some kind of kernel of truth in the joke because after about the fourth or fifth time we said it, it started to dawn on me that we should make an effort to do this. And Bob Odenkirk reminded me recently that the first time I mentioned the thought to him was when I was directing the final episode of season three.” (Gilligan, Time)


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