Television Shows

July 2, 2015

“Better Call Saul” Season One Summary

And we’re back!

Or, I should say we’re here at Age of the Nerd for the first time! Which makes this intro doubly confusing for those who didn’t follow the coverage of ‘Sons of Anarchy” over on our sister site, Dark Media Online.

A hardy thank you goes out to those who followed DM’s recapping of our favorite Shakespearian Outlaw MC for the last few seasons. We lament that our Fall TV viewing  will be lacking any sign of either Katey Sagal or Kim Coats in leather. (With the large caveat that SOA show-runner Kurt Sutter has “The Bastard Executioner” waiting in the wings this September. Will the lovely  Ms. Sutter be found at some point in a leather corset doing medieval things?  One can only hope).

But we’re not here to lament what’s gone before, but to celebrate what lies before us ! And to do that, we need to…look back at what has gone before?

Well, yes in a sense, because perhaps the most anticipated Basic Cable series debut of the year was “Breaking Bad’s” Vince Gilligan’s prequel-sequel “Better Call Saul,” starring Bob Odenkirk in a reprisal of his supporting role as Saul Goodman, America’s favorite storefront, sleazeball Southwest lawyer.

Now in this show, there’s no nebbish cancer patient turned criminal mastermind to draw the focus away. There isn’t even a perfectly cast slacker sidekick to scene steal. No, this stage belongs to directly Saul and the wonderfully nuanced persona that was developed for him by Gilligan and Odenkirk, who made Goodman one the best supporting character roles in recent TV history.

But, you may say, “how can we call Saul after the “Breaking Bad” series finale had made it abundantly clear that he got out out of Dodge (or Albuquerque)  by the skin of his teeth?” Well, by placing the setting of “Better Call Saul” six years before Walter “Heisenberg”  White walked into Goodman’s office looking for a way to wash his meth money.

In fact, as the pilot begins, we are taken to a time before there was a Saul Goodman. In his place, we find  a down-to-his-last-buck loser named Jimmy McGill who is barely hanging on as an ambulance chasing lawyer in a closet office in the back of a nail salon. Huh?

Well, in fairness, during “Breaking Bad’s” intro of the character, Saul/Jimmy famously admitted that the Goodman ID was a cover to drum up business as a member of “the Tribe” (as he put so delicately).

So, there’s no one here actually calling Saul… Ok, we can hang with that. But why in name of all that is Saul-like is this pre-incarnate Goodman doing in this low rent excuse for a office, doing scut work for the Public Defender’s office, stealing cucumber water from his manicure maven landlady when she’s not looking?

Well that’s because the first curveball of the series sets up one of its biggest conflicts. Namely, that Jimmy McGill is no Saul Goodman. He’s broke, he’s disrespected, he’s nearly anonymous… And, in the biggest surprise, he’s relatively honest, actually refusing to enact some shady business for a client based on his adherence to his own personal ethics.

Double Huh? Is this the shyster that America came to know and love?

In an even more inspired twist, we find out that McGill has (had?) an older brother, Chuck (played by comedy vet Michael McKeanwho was a high powered, name-on-the-front-door corporate lawyer whose billable hours ran into the millions. However, given his worsening Social Anxiety Phobia and his fear of cellphone radiation, Chuck now spends his days and nights in a powerless, tinfoil covered track home with the ironclad agreement that everyone who enters leaves their cellphone in the mailbox.

In an attempt to support his troubled sibling, Jimmy has taken up his lawsuit against his former partners in order gain an equitable division of his law firm’s profits. It’s selfless and touching, made more so because it’s completely unlike the Saul we got to know during “Breaking Bad’s” five full seasons. And completely doomed to failure given the goofy incompetence of McGill.

It’s in this brotherly relationship that we see the seeds for Future Saul being laid as Chuck counsels the struggling Jimmy in a midnight heart-to-heart to find his own identity and destiny, away from the shadow of his brother’s successes. You can almost see the gears turning in Future Saul’s mind as he contemplates what that means going forward.

The need for Jimmy to prove himself is the series’ jumping off point as McGill maps his future with a shady plan to enlist a dishonest civil servant and his wife as clients. This domesticated Bonnie and Clyde has been accused of stealing millions through embezzlement, but with no firm paper trail they are living their lives under a cloud of suspicion. A perfect landing spot for a lawyer who needs a big break. The problem: They won’t give Jimmy the business, despite his best begging and pleading.

The steps to Future Saul begin here as Jimmy enlists two scammy skateboarders  in a botched entrapment plan which leads in turn to a dangerous, desert encounter with an old (new) friend, Tuco (reprised with hilarity by  Raymond Cruz). After talking everyone off the murder ledge, Jimmy comes on the radar of Tuco’s narco friend, Nacho (Michael Mando) who wants in on the scheme to get at the couple’s stolen millions. And away we go…

Along the way, there’s more old friends like Jonathan Banks’ Mike (never has a parking attendant been so deadly!) and new ones, like Rhea Seehorn’s, Kim, who supplies Gilligan’s mandatory super-hot, super-competent, Smoking Blonde element. Into this mix, we also add pair of detectives (Barry Henley and Omid Abtahi), some various thugs and a lot of foreshadowing of problems to come.

With stage set, we begin to see the forces that will take poor, little Jimmy McGill to the epic heights of Saul Goodman’s status of Superstar Attorney to the Underworld. For Gilligan’s fans, there’s a lot of reason to be of  good cheer. The same abstract, surreal formula that made “Breaking Bad” perhaps the best crime drama of the decade are on display here. The same eye for dark humor is also accounted for,  but given the difference in life positions between the two lead characters, we may be set for an even more rich exploration of the evil side of your funnybone.

“Saul” enjoyed widespread acclaim in its first season with a strong bow and well- above average scores on MetaCritic, Rotten Tomatoes and other review sites. But hey, what do they know? (Just kidding, guys! We love our compatriots in review land!) Perhaps given the small grumbling over the idea of a Season One cliffhanger, (given we know that Jimmy/Saul is hale and hearty over 8 years later) will Gilligan be compelled to move past the past and into the future?

Can Aaron Paul’s return to land of the Cactus be forever denied? How quickly will be be able to get some chicken from Giancarlo Esposito’s Gus Fring ? And will there be some crazy, time jumping, TV-land way for Bryan Cranston to make his pre-death appearance on “Saul” sooner rather than later?

The biggest obstacle to “Saul” may be its current, Monday night air date given the difficulty the desired demographic has with following the show on that night.  But don’t count on that lasting much longer now that Matthew Weiner’s “Mad Men” took its final bows. AMC needs something to put on Sundays when “The Walking Dead” is not shambling over the competition. I expect this will find a home on Sunday nights in the near future.

The cherry on top may be we get to see Odenkirk take center stage for the duration of this series. The former SNL writer and performer has been a true treat in this dramedy role, equal parts funny and sinister. The hope is this series will be least as engaging as its predecessor was during the length of its run on AMC. I am one of those who would argue that not only were there no bad seasons of “Breaking Bad,” there were very few subpar episodes in the five full seasons. The bar may be impossibly high for “Saul” and it’s likely certain it will suffer in comparison.  But what the Hell… Let’s see how it goes.

So, if you’re in a pinch and nobody else can help, open up that phone book and start dialing because “Better Call Saul” sounds like AMC’s new formula for TV success. Maybe they’ll even find a way for zombies to show up…. (Oh oh, I hear some AMC executives dialing Robert Kirkman now)

See you next season as we pick up our coverage of “Better Call Saul” week to week!o-BETTER-CALL-SAUL-facebook


About the Author

Jason Stewart
Jason Malcolm Stewart is a Northern California-based author, journalist and public relations/marketing professional. He holds degrees in Political Science and Comparative Religion, but can have a conversation without starting a small war. When he's not writing or reading, J. Malcolm spends his weekends talking about how to avoid being in a real-life horror movie. add blog



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