Plot: What’s it about?
After the success of Breaking Bad, two things were abundantly clear: there needs to be a spinoff and what would it be about? I won’t provide any spoilers to Breaking Bad if someone reading this is in the 1% that hasn’t seen it in its entirety. It was announced just before the final season preferred, that the name of the spinoff would be called Better Call Saul and would focus on the sleazy lawyer so perfectly played by Bob Odenkirk. It would be a prequel showing the events that led up to Saul becoming Saul. My eyes rolled. I was like “are you serious?” still, with very little to watch during that time of the year, I figured I’d give it a shot. And, wouldn’t you know it, Better Call Saul is now one of my favorite shows on television even though we’ve only been introduced to ten episodes. What the show had going for it, and what most shows that are spinoffs do, is that we already know the basic premise and have gotten used to the characters. It’s the familiarity with the theme that allowed the viewer to almost seamlessly segue into the world of Saul. Without further ado…
We meet James McGill (Bob Odenkirk), a lawyer with a degree from a “non Ivy League” school and an employee at his brother’s, Chuck (Michael McKean), law firm. However for reasons unknown, he’s not really wanted there and is forced to go out on his own and make a name for himself. Driving an old, beat up car and setting up shop in the back of a nail salon, James (aka “Slippin’ Jimmy”) is set to start his life. He manages to catch a city councilman in an act and, after some scares, manages to walk away unscathed. He spends time at an old folks home where, he learns, that there might be more going on with an insurance company than meets the eye. Add to this that he’s in charge of caring for Chuck who seems to suffer from a rare condition involving sunlight and any electronic device. Things aren’t that great for Jimmy, but as he establishes ties with Mike (Jonathan Banks) who we know from Breaking Bad, things do start to turn around, albeit very slowly.
Better Call Saul does the best thing it can in that it separates itself from its predecessor while still living in the same world. We see signs of what will become Saul Goodman, but this person is a far cry from the man we know on Breaking Bad. Granted there are signs here and there of his moral compass waning, but by and large James is a decent guy. We meet a new group of folks, but there are some familiar faces as well (Tuco, anyone?). It’s the combination of great writing, acting and a premise that most all of us are already familiar with that really make the show stand on its own. It’s a foregone conclusion that we’ll eventually meet and see the familiar faces of Walter White, but for the time being I’m having a great time seeing what Saul Goodman was like before he sold his soul.
Video: How’s it look?
The great southwest is the locale for the show and it’s one that we’re all familiar with. Presented in a 1.78:1 AVC HD image, the show shows little, if any, signs of error. Colors are a bit on the overexposed side, but that’s to be expected with the oversaturated skies and whatnot. Detail is impeccable, showcasing the tiniest laugh lines and forehead wrinkles on the main characters. Odenkirk’s wig is so realistic you’d hardly know it was a fake! Having seen this as it aired on HD, the Blu-ray offers a little improvement but not much. Any way you cut it, it’s a good-looking series that’s sure to please.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The show is mainly dialogue-driven and as such there’s not a lot to report on the audio front. The included DTS HD Master Audio sound mix does have a few moments, namely when Jimmy’s car backfires and things of that nature. Vocals are pure and clean, you can hear the strained voice of Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy, Michael McKean’s deep, penetrating voice takes front and center. Surrounds are used sparingly, but I caught a few instances in which they stood out. The highlight of the audio are the opening credits with the guitar twang that really opens up the rears. It’s too bad the intro only lasts about 45 seconds.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Fans of the show will be ecstatic with the amount of supplemental material here. While some other television shows are mailing it in with their offerings, this set really gives the viewer anything and everything they’d possibly want in regard to supplemental material. Let’s get started.
- Audio Commentaries – There’s a commentary for every episode of the season included which encompasses most every actor who appears on screen. Admittedly I didn’t listen to every minute of each track, but suffice it to say that the main players: Vince Gilligan, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks and Michael McKean have plenty to say. They’re a welcome addition to the show and fans should be pleased to have them in there.
- Better Call Saul: Day One – We get a brief “flashback” to Saul on Breaking Bad and a few montage clips of him in the television show. It’s essentially a glorified trailer for the show.
- Jimmy in the Courtroom with Introduction by Director Michelle McLaren – Available with or without commentary, this is a 12 minute improv session by Odenkirk (whose roots are in improvisational comedy) as James McGill.
- Deleted Scenes – Five total and all are available with or without commentary by Gilligan. None offer too much insight into the series and were cut for obvious reasons.
- Creating the First Season – Probably one of the more robust supplements in the set, this is an all-inclusive look at the new show. We get the history and motivation behind it, how the characters were created, the show’s general direction and the like. Running at nearly a half hour, it’s well worth watching.
- Good Cop, Bad Cop: Becoming Mike – We all know what eventually happens to Mike in Breaking Bad, but we get a nice discussion with veteran character actor Jonathan Banks as we look at his character arc through the shows.
- In the Studio – Musician Junior Brown takes us through what it took to complete the opening sequence.
- Music Video – “Better Call Saul” by Junior Brown (duh).
- In Conversation: Bob Odenkirk & Michael McKean – Portraying siblings on the show seems to make sense for these two improv vets as they sit down for a very candid discussion about their characters, the two as friends and how it all works out for the show.
- “Uno” Table Read – Running as long as the episode itself, we get a cast read through the first episode. Pretty interesting.
- Gag Reel – Shenanigans on the set.
- Jimmy Kaleidoscope – A fairly brief montage of scenes from the first season with an introduction by Peter Gould.
The Bottom Line
A worthy successor to Breaking Bad, I actually (in many ways) enjoy Better Call Saul better than the aforementioned show. Nothing against it, but this just seems to be a more solid foundation that we know will lead up to the worlds colliding. The Blu-ray both looks and sounds great and the wealth of supplements make it an easy purchase. Highly recommended.