In August of 2013, millions of fans strapped in for the final eight episodes of the Emmy Award-winning series Breaking Bad from mastermind Vince Gilligan and took the ride of their lives, witnessing the dark, dark descent and crumbling of almost every single character. The only certainty at that point was that one character would see an afterlife, and that was Walter White’s “two-bit, bus-bench attorney” Saul Goodman, played by comedy great Bob Odenkirk.
Gilligan had announced just a few months prior to the final episodes of Bad that he and writer Peter Gould would be developing a spinoff series, Better Call Saul, that would center around Saul — however, it would feel very different.
“It will be Saul Goodman’s world, it won’t be Walter White’s, and it will have a different feel, even though there will be some overlap on the Venn diagram that exists between Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul,” Gilligan was quoted as saying. “But it will have to succeed on its own terms as its own show. If it doesn’t, it won’t be satisfying, and satisfaction is the key word. We want to satisfy.”
Being satisfied is the least of our worries with Gilligan, Gould and Odenkirk at the helm of what’s being described as a story about Saul’s evolution. After a short talk with Odenkirk about what the series is — and isn’t — here’s what you need to know before Better Call Saul makes its two-night premiere on AMC Feb. 8-9.
You may think you know Saul Goodman from watching Breaking Bad, but that’s sooo not going to be the case.
“You know we really didn’t get to know Saul in Breaking Bad — that was his public face with a few exceptions: the moment with Jesse in the car when he tells Jesse to go back in and visit with Brock and his mother [Season 5, Episode 13, “To’hajiilee”], and when he tells Walter White a few times to quit. Those are kind of ‘out-of-character moments’ for Saul or rather, the Saul we meet in Breaking Bad and see most of the time. Outside of those moments, we saw Saul Goodman’s public face. In this show we’re meeting a richer character, we’re seeing behind the scenes, we’re seeing all the elements that make up who he is, and quite a few of them are very new and surprising.”
You will catch glimpses of the Saul we met in Breaking Bad.
“I think Vince worked so hard to be true to the character. He doesn’t do anything that is on a whim or just a left turn that you didn’t see coming and it doesn’t make sense. Whenever he throws in a unique aspect of the character or something in the story, it always ends up making a lot of sense. You understand why that’s a part of the person. I think that you’re going to be surprised by this guy. There’s these moments all throughout the series where this character that we’ve all met comes to the fore and you totally recognize him, but there’s also quite a bit of new layers.”
We know that the real man behind the fake Saul Goodman (he changed his name to “s’all good, man!” to attract clients) was Jimmy McGill and we’re going to meet his family, including his brother Chuck, played by Michael McKean.
“You know how you are around family and how different you are in public and around people at work — there’s a massive difference, right? OK, well, you’re going to see Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman with a family member and that person knows him since he was a little kid and that’s a very different relationship. That’s someone who sees through his bull@#$% and all, and in this case someone who Saul has great affection and admiration for, so you haven’t seen that side of Saul either. Who does he idolize? Who does he want to be like? Who does he think highly of?”
While the series was initially described as a prequel set six years before Saul met Walter White, that might not exactly be the case and we might not be even starting at the beginning.
“First of all, it jumps around in time. I mean it really jumps around in time. I mean REALLY jumps around in time. The first thing you said is not entirely true — that it begins six years before Breaking Bad. In the main it does, but it kind of goes so many places that that’s a partial truth.”
Put your trust in Gilligan and Gould and give the series some time.
“I think it’s a show with a unique vision that Vince and Peter came to honestly and organically; there’s nothing forced about it. They didn’t feel they needed to write a show — they did it because they wanted to, they were intrigued by the character. … There’s this wonderful storytelling where the storytellers are discovering and being surprised by what they’re writing as much as the audience. If you can trust these guys to do it, you’re going to go for a wild ride for Better Call Saul. And I think they deserve our trust. No storyteller deserves your trust as much as Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan and you can sit back and enjoy it. My argument is don’t try and put it into a box until Season 2.” Season 1 will consist of 10 episodes; Season 2 has 13.
While Gilligan originally thought the series was more comedy than drama, Odenkirk claims a lot has changed.
“When I walked away from shooting, I thought it was 90 percent drama, 10 percent comedy. Now that I’ve seen an episode, I’m reminded how many episodes I play very seriously that can be very harrowing and life-threatening but are actually very funny. I’m going to revise my estimate to 75 percent drama, 25 percent comedy. … They’re the same storytellers as Breaking Bad so those aspects of Breaking Bad are still there. It’s what they do — they write heavy, scary, cliff-hanging drama that has a dark comic undertone, and sometimes that undertone can overtake the whole thing and it’s just how you see the whole thing.”
Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul won’t be making any cameos this season; however, Jonathan Banks returns as Mike Ehrmantraut.
“They’re not in Season 1,” Odenkirk says of Cranston and Paul, “but there are other people in Season 1 that are going to surprise you.”
By slim chance if you never saw an episode of Breaking Bad, don’t worry (we won’t tell anyone) — you don’t need that background to enjoy Better Call Saul.
“If you know Saul you’re going to smile a lot and there are a lot of little touches everywhere that will make you feel ‘in’ on the building of the character, because you know where he ends up or where he goes to, but you certainly can watch it and not know Breaking Bad. You would just be introduced to a new character and a lot of layers of who this guy is that nobody’s ever seen before.”
Although Odenkirk doesn’t write anything for the series, he did enjoy a writing session with Gould for the series’ hilarious website — bettercallsaul.com.
“It was a rare chance to push the silly factor. You know Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould — the shows they create are very grounded. So they have fun with them, but you can only go so far into the kind of world that I’m used to writing in, which is very silly and light, and that was an opportunity to go further than we usually go, so I was able to help out.”
Better Call Saul premieres over two nights on AMC, Feb. 8-9.
Photo: Ben Leuner/AMC