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Bad Week: Appointment Viewing With Better Call Saul

Checking in With… is a regular column which features a Spinoff writer watching one or more episodes of a current show and attempting to decode its appeal. This week, we previewed Better Call Saul, arriving exclusively to Lightbox at 8pm on Monday 9th February. //

Episodes Consumed: 1

What’s it about?
Set in the same universe as Breaking Bad, but several years prior to Walter White’s reign, Better Call Saul tells the origin story of his criminal lawyer Saul Goodman. And that’s criminal lawyer, not Criminal Lawyer. Exploring the trials and tribulations in creating his successful strip-mall law empire in Alberquerqe, it’s a journey back in time long before for the flashy adverts, when Saul Goodman was known to the world (or, as it turns out, not known at all) as Jimmy McGill.

Who’s it for?
Breaking Bad fans will be screaming with delight at several instances during the pilot. From the slightest of nods to instances of full on headbanging – the writers have done a damn good job of not forgetting their roots, my friend.

With that said, the knowing references and old mates who enter the Better Call Saul world do so in a very natural way that won’t alienate those who haven’t met them before. You needn’t worry at all if you haven’t taken a hit of Breaking Bad before. I imagine it is just as impressive, if not more, entering the stark golden-brown streets of New Mexico with fresh eyes.

If you like smart, funny writing and characters on the wrong side of the tracks – this is for you. Fans of courtroom capers will love it, fans of black comedy will love it, fans of family drama will love it. Fans of skateboarding will love it.

What’s working?
The show is stylish and pacey, with all the flair of fast-talking quick-witted Goodman (sorry, McGill) himself. Although a prequel, fans of Breaking Bad will be delighted with the opening sequence, which actually elsewhere before hurtling us back to 2002. Maybe this bodes well for Gilligan’s signature time-travelling-clue-ridden-openers, who knows? I enjoyed it anyway.

Unsurprisingly, Better Call Saul has some seriously beautiful shots that would happily make it onto any fancy cinema screen. Some moments could be taken straight from a 40s film noir, others very clearly lifted from some iconic films of the 70s. Like the titular character, the creators aren’t afraid of unabashedly plunging into pop culture history – regardless of if they fall flat or not.

Oh, and despite working through the nuts and bolts of law firm bureaucracy, financial woes and family tensions – it’s deeply funny. I had several laugh out loud moments. Odenkirk shines as a desperate man determined to joke his way to the American Dream. It never ceases to feel playful, despite the looming darkness of hindsight.

What’s not?
For the most part, the first episode is not hugely action packed – don’t be banking on any massive explosions or gory murders. It’s more focussed on laying the groundwork for Saul’s endeavours into the seedier side of the law, which I’m sure promises guns a-blazing.

But that’s a tiny point, and only one for people who might be expecting a machine gun blood bath. The action picks up towards the end with a dynamic sequence that closes the episode on a jawdropping cliffhanger. See? My one criticism turned into a good thing, dammit Saul.

Should I get amongst it?
I will call a lawyer on you if you don’t.

Lightbox users: get ready for Saul’s arrival with a hit of Breaking Bad by clicking here.

Everyone else: click here to start your free trial (12 months for Spark customers; 30 days for everyone else).

‘Bad Week’ is a weeklong celebration of Breaking Bad ahead of the launch of its prequel Better Call Saul on Lightbox on Monday 9th at 8pm.