TV Review: Better Call Saul (2015)

Posted: April 10, 2015 in Comedy, Drama
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bettercallsaul

Episode 1:   Uno

Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) is a struggling lawyer in Arizona, doing public defender’s work to make money.  Jimmy’s office is in the boiler room of a Vietnamese nail salon. His brother Chuck (Michael McKean) is a partner at a prestigious law firm, but can’t work because of a mysterious work related injury.  After running into a skateboarder with his junker of a car, Jimmy stumbles on an idea to attract new clients, will it work?

Better Call Saul is the new series from Breaking Bad creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gold.  This is a prequel of Breaking Bad featuring Walter White’s lawyer, Saul Goodman, before he was Saul Goodman.  I’ve never seen Breaking Bad, so I don’t know the character at all, but I figured I’d give this season a shot.  The show is funny, Odenkirk and McKean are comedians, so humor shouldn’t be a problem, but the last few seconds of the first episode hints at what may be coming, something much darker.

Episode 2:  Mijo

Jimmy’s skateboard scam backfires, and he lands in the middle of a drug gang, headed by Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz) and Nacho Varga (Michael Manda)

This whole episode was a waste of time, because the viewer knows this is a prequel, so threats don’t work, we know Jimmy will survive, and the setup was a waste too, because we know that Jimmy will represent Nacho and Tuco eventually.  The jokes were similar to the first episode too. I was disappointed.

Episode 3: Nacho

Jimmy has a bad feeling that something bad is going to happen to Craig Kettleman (Jeremy Shamos) and his wife Betsy. (Julie Ann Emory)  Jimmy first tries to tell Kim Wexler, (Rhea Seehorn) a lawyer at his brother’s lawfirm, and someone with whom Jimmy shares a past.  Jimmy then ‘anonymously’ calls the Kettlemans themselves and tries to warn them.  Does his warning get through to the Kettlemans?

This is again a long way to go for a setup for a character, again another full episode wasted drawing picture of an ethically challenged lawyer and his list of dubious prospective clients.  Odenkirk’s put-upon character and whiny voice doesn’t wear well, and the running gags aren’t that funny.  This show better get better quickly, I’m already losing interest.

Episode 4:  Hero

Saul tries to retain the Kettlemens as clients, goes up against his family’s lawfirm in a copyright infringement case, and saves a man from falling from a billboard Saul created for himself.

The show is too contrived, it’s like a sit-com that wraps up everything too neatly at the end of every episode.  It tries too hard to be funny too, and it’s not. Saul Goodman is not Walter White, he cannot carry the show by himself.  The writers better hurry and develop some better characters around him, because the Saul Goodman character is not enough to maintain my interest.  He’s comedy relief at best.

Episode 5:  Alpine Shepard Boy

Armed with his new found fame, Jimmy finds some unorthodox new clients.  A run in with cops ends with Chuck in the hospital.

One of Jimmy’s clients is actually funny, but Chuck is just an odd character.  The interplay between Chuck and Jimmy was interesting for about a minute, but there are plenty of places where the show lags.  The audience understands that Jimmy is unscrupulous, but the writers want to beat people over the head with that characterization.

Episode 6: Five-0.

Ex Philadelphia cop Mike Ehrmentraut   (Johnathan Banks) hires Jimmy after some current Philadelphia cops investigate the death of Mike’s son, Matt.

Someone must have heard me when I wrote saying that the Jimmy character couldn’t carry the show by himself.  He can’t.  The trouble is, I don’t care about Mike Ehmentraut, he is a dour old man, and nothing can wipe that sourpuss clean.  I’m sure all the Breaking Bad fans are getting a big kick out pf seeing these characters again, but the point of having a new show is to make these characters stand on their own, and so far, none of them are, not Jimmy, Chuck or Mike.

Episode 7:  Bingo

Mike Ehrmentraut no longer needs Jimmy’s services, but the Kettlemens do.

Vince Gilligan is going round in circles.  The Kettlemans are back so is Chuck, so is Mike Ehrmentraut.  These episodes are leading nowhere, there’s just a lot of talking and it doesn’t mean anything.   The emperor has no clothes.

Episode 8:  Rico

Jimmy helps one of his elderly clients, Mrs. Landry (Jean Effron) in filing a fraudulent billing suit against a major nursing home company.

This is by far the best episode of Better Call Saul to date.  The episode starts with a flashback that really humanizes Jimmy.  And for once, Jimmy the smarmy lawyer, is helping someone besides himself.  The jokes work, the dialogue flows, crisply and smoothly.  I still don’t like the Mike Ehrmantruat character or storyline, but this was as close to a great episode as Better Call Saul can get.

Episode 9:  Pimento

Chuck says he will work with Jimmy on his eldercare case, but there are strings attached.  Mike gets a new job.

This is another great episode.  I really feel empathy for Jimmy, I even like the Mike Ehrmtraut character, he was funny and earnest in ways that I didn’t think was possible.  I still don’t like Chuck’s proclivities, but on the whole a very good episode.  Where was this writing all along?

Episode 10:  Marco

Jimmy leaves New Mexico and goes to Chicago to find his old friend Marco. (Mel Rodriguez)

Another excellent episode, the last three episodes really saved this show from being a dud.  The writing on this episode is funny, touching and true to the Jimmy McGill character.

It should not have taken 7 episodes to round this show into shape, but Better Call Saul got off to a really show start.  If you as a viewer can stand some slowly paced, dull episodes at the start, then the payoff of the last three episodes is worth it.  If you don’t have the patience to let the story and characters develop, and I can’t blame you if you don’t, you’re better off skipping the show.

Overall, I’d say five episodes were good and five were not so good.  I will probably catch some heat for not being overwhelmingly supportive of the show, but I did not watch Breaking Bad, so I have no emotional attachment to Vince Gilligan or Bob Odenkirk.

Bob Odenkirk was good in a difficult role, he had to be funny and serious at the drop of a hat, and mostly did a good job with it.  It’s still a lot to ask from him to carry the show, but he does it pretty admirably. I thought Michael McKean would be funnier as Jimmy’s OCD plagued brother, but he is not.  I was more impressed with the supporting cast, like Rhea Seehorn, as Kim and Patrick Fabian as Howard Hamlin.

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