Mar 24, 2015

Five Reasons That I Don't Like "Better Call Saul"

Bob Odenkirk
It may seem unfair to say this, but Better Call Saul is nowhere near as great as Breaking Bad. Before you blow the whistle and argue that the show is in its infancy, not even into double digits yet, I want to say that the general conceit of the show is just not that interesting. For the sake of comparison and those arguing to "give it time," I would like to argue as to why I still believe the flagship series is the better of the two simply by comparing the first two seasons. Thanks to the writer's strike, Breaking Bad only lasted seven episodes initially and ended abruptly in a violent moment. Better Call Saul has just aired its eighth episode and thus gives it fair game for comparison, at least to the first season. The following is my personal irks of why I have issues with this show and why I cannot entirely get on board with it.

1. The Opening Scene

The general idea of an opening scene to any series it to make an impression. It isn't necessarily meant to be the show's greatest moment, but establish the ideals and make us care. While season one of Breaking Bad may be weaker compared to later years, there's few people who could forget the aggression of that opening shot in which Walter White drove across the desert in an RV with a gas mask and yelling "I'm speaking to my family now" into a video recorder. It is tense and gives us a clue into his conflicting life choice that would later be explored. Cut to Better Call Saul. How does the series open? It is done as a joke that Breaking Bad fans understand as a post-series Saul Goodman runs a Cinnabon in Nebraska while in black and white. What does it necessarily about him as he sits down to watch old VHS tapes? Not a whole lot other than that this man lives a mundane life. There isn't much memorable or important either, especially as this is not only past the realm of Better Call Saul, but even that of Breaking Bad. There isn't much important or informing about the character and nothing is explained to newcomers either. While we wouldn't expect Saul to drive rapidly through the desert, he should at least be given a more memorable introduction that doesn't rely on immediately pointing out the great show it was spun-off from.

Jonathan Banks
2. Supporting Characters

It may seem wrong to note the lack of memorable characters over the course of Better Call Saul's first eight episodes. However, let's note who came out in Breaking Bad's first eight episodes: family, former co-workers, Walter White's drug partner, and crowd favorite Tuco (who makes his appearance in Better Call Saul as well). While they may be rough sketches of who they became, their reliance to the show was clear enough. In some way, everyone had a stake in Walter White's condition that would either put him in immediate danger or add a tragic layer to the story. Even the fact that White's brother-in-law Hank Schrader was part of the D.E.A., thus making a compelling cat and mouse game. 
What about Better Call Saul? It has been more reliant on tertiary characters that have yet to feel important. Yes, there's his partner lawyer Kim Wexler, but she has yet to hold any significance to the series other than a few witty remarks. Nobody else has left a major impression save for Jimmy McGill's brother Chuck, who suffers from electromagnetic allergies. It is peculiar enough, but it doesn't cover up that none of the characters feel important to Jimmy's progression. Kim hasn't left much of an impression and the series' main catalyst The Kettlemans have been a slog without much smarts. Yes, there are a few holdovers, including the aforementioned Tuco. 
However, they haven't added much to Jimmy's story. Even audience favorite Mike Ehrmantraut has felt predominantly useless so far and exists only in the series because audiences love him. That's the only explanation for his useless amount of screen time. In the first few episodes, he is nothing but embarrassing comic folly for Jimmy. He does have a great moment in "Five-O," but otherwise he hasn't deserved his screen time. Where majority of the supporting players of Breaking Bad that would be important started off with minimal roles, they were exploited as beloved characters. Even in the show's final run in which eventual key villain Todd started off almost as a background character. It doesn't feel like Better Call Saul is doing that, or at least in a memorable way.

3. The Morality Conflict

Let's just state the obvious: shady lawyers are more commonplace than middle-aged drug dealers. While Saul Goodman was a welcomed addition to Breaking Bad, it was in small doses and his involvement seemed more like comic relief to Walter White's increasing amount of conflict. Of course, both are morality plays that are meant to show men's fall into desperate measures. While it is debatable that both aren't going for the same conflicts, there's just the matter of what makes for compelling drama. As it stands, watching a lawyer weasel his way out of situations isn't that interesting. If anything, this is a drama that is an edgier The Good Wife that doesn't really have much in the ways of consequence. Yes, Jimmy McGill is trying to become a legitimate lawyer, but we already know that he will become corrupt. Why waste time with pretentious back story? 
Meanwhile,Breaking Bad wasted very little time in exploring their morality complex. Walter White was dying of cancer and sold drugs to make money for his family. There was a time limit. It was one of those ingenious plots that shouldn't work as well as it did. Because of that, the drama moved and was constantly dealing with greed and death. What does Better Call Saul have? The origin of an alter ego for this corrupt lawyer. What's so fun about seeing him grow from honest man to someone who cut corners? In both cases, we know where these characters are going to end up from episode one. However, Better Call Saul's only gimmick is that we're supposed to care about how one became a corrupt character.

4. The Familiarity

This is a personal quip and one that likely doesn't bother too many other people. I simply think that Better Call Saul hasn't felt like its own show. Yes, it is tonally different and even the characters are authentic. I am more bothered by the fact that the show aesthetically is trying to be Breaking Bad. From the strange camera angles to the music selections, there's a lot that hearkens back to its predecessor in ways that don't feel like they fit the personality of the show. They feel more like an egotistical call that is meant to make the shots look great instead of emphasizing story with art. It also doesn't help that there's consistent desire for the show to have "call-backs" (call-forwards?) to Breaking Bad. They have become less obnoxious, but the feeling that the show is filling in unnecessary cracks only makes me feel like the show is trying to do this to keep long time fans interested instead of making a show that feels like its own beast.

5. I Don't Care About Jimmy McGill

Here's another personal gripe that most likely don't share. Jimmy McGill is not an exciting protagonist. Bob Odenkirk in Breaking Bad served as a comic folly that popped up randomly and served on a few hours to the story. Here he is a character meant to be a self-mythologizing creature that is a little clumsy with his humor as he tells a more generic story of finding his way through the politics of being a lawyer. It's one thing for the new characters to need time to evolve, but what has Jimmy done that is necessarily interesting or moves the story along in a way that justifies the spin-off? Not a whole lot. Yes, he's had memorable moments, but who cares about his trials with the Kettlemans or his inconsequential jokes with Mike Ehrmantraut? He may have interesting family drama, but the rest is familiar stuff that doesn't distinguish the show. Also, the show is simply proving that knowing where a beloved character came from isn't always that interesting. This is one of those cases because the story doesn't progress in a compelling manner. Jimmy is fine, but he doesn't make for great drama.

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