Make the call.
Season one of Better Call Saul is the first season of the legal crime drama series, Better Call Saul. It's directed by Vince Gilligan, Michelle MacLaren, Terry McDonough, Colin Bucksey, Nicole Kassell, Adam Bernstein, Larysa Kondracki, Thomas Schnouz, and Peter Gould, created by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, produced by High Bridge Productions, Crystal Diner Productions, Gran Via Productions, and Sony Pictures Television Studios, and distributed by Sony Pictures Television. It stars Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks. This series acts as a prequel to Breaking Bad. This season was followed by a second.
"It's showtime, folks." - Jimmy McGill
Six years before meeting Walter White, Saul Goodman is going by his real name, Jimmy McGill, and practicing honest law. While trying to scrap together his own law firm, Jimmy competes with HHM, a powerhouse of a firm run by his rival, Howard Hamlin. Balancing his law life with his personal life taking care of his brother, Jimmy sets off on a course that leads him down the path of becoming the notorious criminal lawyer.
I think one of the best things about Better Call Saul is that it takes its time. Breaking Bad starts off with a bang. The first episode has some crazy things happen in it. The idea of a high school chemistry teacher breaking bad and becoming a meth cook is just so wild and out there that the series has an automatic hook factor. Better Call Saul doesn't really have that hook, but it takes its time developing the characters and plotlines. The first season is nowhere near the level of craziness that Breaking Bad is. Instead, it's a well-written, well-acted drama that shows hints of being as great as Breaking Bad.
The show is called Better Call Saul, so, of course, it has to deliver on the promise of its titular character. Saul Goodman, who goes by his real name in this show, Jimmy McGill, is fantastic in this story. You see him as a good person. He's not a sleazebag lawyer that plays dirty. He wants to be a real lawyer. He aspires to be like his brother. And that's where this tragic spiral begins. You see the pieces being put in place as Jimmy slowly sets down the path of becoming Saul, and it's riveting to watch.
One thing that I did not expect was how well Mike is done in Better Call Saul. Mike was a really cool side character in Breaking Bad, but he never received much backstory. He's caring for his granddaughter throughout that show, but you never know why. Here, you get his backstory...and it's probably the best part of the season. Five-O, the sixth episode of this season, is dedicated entirely to Mike, and is the best episode thus far. Jonathan Banks gives, simply put, one of the best performances I've seen in a TV show in that episode. He has a monologue near the end that is just gut-wrenching, and it's acted so well. Mike's character was written so perfectly, and it shot him up to one of my favorite characters in this universe.
Another thing that I appreciated about Better Call Saul was its restraint. This first season doesn't have a lot of connections to Breaking Bad. It doesn't use Breaking Bad as a launchpad. It crafts its own narrative with its own characters. Sure, a few familiar faces appear, but it makes sense within the story and suits the developing narrative. I was very happy that they didn't force in lazy fan service that would've felt unnecessary.
I said this earlier, but Better Call Saul is its own thing. Breaking Bad is a crime thriller. Better Call Saul is a legal drama. Those are two very different genres. Better Call Saul embraces its stance as a legal drama. The main story of the show is about the law. You go through with Jimmy investigating different criminal cases as he tries to tackle them like a lawyer. It's not really a thriller at all, which I appreciated.
While I've sung praises about it taking its time and being a legal drama, Better Call Saul just isn't as fun as Breaking Bad. Like I said before, Breaking Bad hits the ground running. Better Call Saul is still walking by the end of the first season. It pales in comparison to its predecessor. It doesn't have an immediate hook. It isn't great right off the bat. It's so much slower to the point where the excitement just fades out. You have to try a lot harder to enjoy Better Call Saul then you do Breaking Bad.
While the writing is still good for the most part, it isn't as tight. Breaking Bad is one of the greatest-written shows of all time. The writing is actual perfection. The setup and payoff is so well done. The characters are developed so well. The dialogue is crisp and slick. That's not the case with Better Call Saul. While it takes its time and characters are developed well, the dialogue isn't as crisp. Some characters make decisions that don't make sense. It's not tight writing. And Breaking Bad is.
I also was not a huge fan of the finale. It's probably the only episode of Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul that I'd say I actively dislike. It's a disappointing epilogue to the season that feels like a weird diversion for Jimmy's character. The idea of the episode is just a strange one. It doesn't wrap up the season well at all. It just felt like a wasted episode.
The show also feels lazy at times, which is so strange, because Vince Gilligan is such a good writer. I expect better of him. There's a scene in the finale where Jimmy gives a five-minute exposition dump during a bingo game. It was one of the laziest written scenes I've ever seen. I would never expect to see it in the Breaking Bad universe. It was terrible. Once again, it was probably the only scene in Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul that I genuinely hate.
Final Thoughts and Score
Better Call Saul is a well-written, well-acted legal drama that deserves its title as a solid TV show. However, the first season cannot hold a candle to its predecessor at all.
I will go Savory here. Age range is 12+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
Sweet (Great) Savory (Good) Sour (Bad) Moldy (Terrible)
"Better Call Saul"
Fun Factor: 7.5/10
Created by Vince Gilligan
Rated TV-MA for moderate violence, language, sexual content, thematic elements
Premiered on February 8, 2015
Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill / Saul Goodman / Gene Takavic
Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut
Michael McKean as Chuck McGill
Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler
Patrick Fabian as Howard Hamlin
Michael Mando as Ignacio "Nacho" Varga
Jeremy Shamos as Craig Kettleman
Julie Ann Emery as Besty Kettleman
Kerry Condon as Stacey Ehrmantraut
Raymond Cruz as Tuco Salamanca
Steven Levine as Lars Lindholm
Daniel Spenser Levine as Cal Lindholm
Mel Rodriguez as Marco Pasternak
Dennis Boutsikaris as Rich Schweikart
Faith Healey as Kaylee Ehrmantraut
Mark Proksch as Daniel "Pryce" Wormald