If you didn’t know, Better Call Saul is currently airing it’s fifth and penultimate season. The show is both a spin-off and prequel to Breaking Bad, one of the best and most iconic television series of all time, centring one of the show’s supporting characters, Saul Goodman (played by Bob Odenkirk). Although the show has got critical acclaim and lots of awards nominations, the show oddly feels underrated compared to it’s predecessor – a shame because it’s probably the best show on television.
The show was first announced in 2013, around the time when Breaking Bad was finishing it’s run. At that time, Breaking Bad was probably the biggest show on television – everyone on the planet talking about it. The announcement that they were making a spin-off came with some skepticism and worry with some arguing that it was a cynical cash-grab, especially true because often prequels and spin-offs often get a harsh run by critics and audiences.
Sure, there have numerous examples of successful television spin-offs – Frasier ranks as one of the best sitcoms of all time that completely escaped the shadow of it’s predecessor, and Buffy’s spin-off, Angel, although, never more popular than it’s predecessor, still gathered a loyal and devoted fan following. But, most of the time, spin-offs and especially, prequels get criticism because they take away a lot of stakes from the story.
And, Better Call Saul is very similar to this from the outset. Think about it, we know the fates of the majority of the characters from the beginning. We know that our lead, Saul/ Jimmy McGill ends up in witness protection and we know that a lot of supporting characters, from Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) and Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) end up dead. However, this has never been a problem for Better Call Saul. In fact, it feels even more interesting because we know this.
Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul are very similar in their general concept, in how it centres on our central hero (in Better Call Saul, it is Saul/Jimmy and in Breaking Bad, it was Bryan Cranston’s Walter White) going through a drastic transformation. However, Better Call Saul feels like a much more streamlined, clear way of telling this story.
If you think of the variety of cultural behemoth television shows over the past 10 years, it feels like it is always really concerned with how the show will end. Think of shows like Lost, Game of Thrones, and also, Breaking Bad, and as the show approached the end, the questions were all about how it will end, what will happen to the characters and where will they end up. However, with Better Call Saul, we already know all of that stuff.
Sure, there are some unanswered questions, like what will happen to Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) and Nacho Varga (Michael Mando), why are they not in Breaking Bad, and what will happen to present-day Jimmy (now called Gene Takavic), which do give some stakes and tension to the proceedings. However, because a lot the questions raised (like where will Jimmy/Saul end up, what will he transform into, what will happen to Mike, Gus, etc.) have already been answered, it gives the show a lot of room to purely focus on why these happen.
Better Call Saul is all about process – it focuses solely on why Jimmy transforms. At the start, we see him as a bright-eyed, naive and optimistic lawyer, and we start to wonder how he becomes the money-grabbing, cynical and sleazy lawyer we see in Breaking Bad. And, seeing his life, his history and his personal relationships with his brother, Chuck (Michael McKean) and partner, Kim, we are close to understanding how this transformation happened. Obviously, we are not at the very end yet (that will happen next season), so the transformation is not complete, but we are definitely getting close.
This style of writing is what makes Better Call Saul so special. The show never has a unclear focus, loss of direction or filler story-lines because every scene, every episode and every season knows exactly what they are leading to. If you at something like Game of Thrones, for example, if the show had a much more clearer focus on it’s drastic character turns it’s final season, then the ending would of been more satisfying.
Breaking Bad is most probably the greatest television show of all time, and will always be a special, iconic and striking show for a variety of reasons. There are many ways in which we could argue how Breaking Bad is the superior show to Better Call Saul, but that’s not to say that Better Call Saul is not a special television series.
The show is all about origin stories, and how traumatic events in someone’s life can change them. It’s a deeply nostalgic and melancholic show that is decidedly less fantastical and spectacular than Breaking Bad. It manages to turn around the prequel/spin-off curse, and instead, use it in it’s favour. And that is the reason why it stands out from the majority of television shows out there, and why it’s currently the best television series on television.