Better Call Saul: First thoughts

Viewing: AMC

Better Call Saul is something of a hybrid. On the one hand, it stands alone as the tale of James McGill, before and after the events of Breaking Bad, while also injecting familiar characters into the story, if only to say “oh shit, that’s Michael” after the big reveal. Obviously i’m excited for the rest of this show, but it seems at times overly geared towards fanfare. Other than that its amazing.

During the premiere, i had to think, “What makes shows like Saul and Bad so engaging to such a large audience?”. Both of them of course, are created by Vince Gilligan, who also wrote for The X-Files previously.

What I’ve noticed is how much emotion, drama and comedy are packed in to a single episode of these programs, and seamlessly at that. In this way they appeal to fans of all genres, allowing them to pull in ratings as well as critical praise. This is why Mad Men, which is just as good, has a smaller following. It doesn’t pack itself with genre after genre, which works in its own very different way.

The episode begins in black and white with a Breaking Bad epilogue of sorts. The viewer sees dough being rolled and sliced, and suddenly the setting is a Cinnabon, where of course the main character, Saul supposedly planned to retreat to with a new identity. Slowly it becomes clear that this is a different Saul. Not the happy go-lucky one, but a sad terrified man, trapped in a new identity.

It’s important to note how the musical piece (“Address Unknown”), allows viewers who haven’t seen Bad to understand his predicament. The song more or less hints at him having escaped to somewhere and his fear of being discovered, which puts all viewers on the same page. Nice start.

Better Call Saul, like Bad that came before it, is a very sensory experience. The sound of a videotape being inserted, the squeak of the wheels on a TV stand among mutters and coughing, the stretching of A/V cables on the ground, water dripping in the leaky courthouse bathroom–these all really put the viewer in the world with the characters. It adds something extra for the senses, and to a style that can truly be enjoyed.

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