Better Call Saul season one impresses

Michael Wiggin

An imperative in traditional storytelling is maintaining the illusion of realism — progressing the plot and characters naturally so that the audience perceives the story as truthful or else any relationship between the story and the viewer will be broken. Many writers strive to preserve this mirage, despite the veil being broken at least once, even in successful forms of entertainment. However, only in a few instances is literature written well enough that the story and characters never break, maintaining the audience’s engrossment so that the writing evolves from maintaining realism to maintaining perfection. Better Call Saul remains one the few TV shows to claim this feat.

Better Call Saul, which serves as the prequel/spin-off series to Breaking Bad, centers on James McGill, played by Bob Odenkirk, an aspiring man determined to turn his life around from petty swindler into a respectable lawyer. However, in Breaking Bad, which occurs six years after the beginning of Better Call Saul, McGill has changed his name into Saul Goodman, a dastardly attorney who pridefully defends criminals by exploiting every nook and cranny of the legal system.

By far the most impressive feature of both Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad is the cinematography. Better Call Saul takes place almost entirely in Albuquerque, New Mexico, forcing the directors to rely on more creative means for getting the perfect camera angle in such a mundane place. As such, the directors like to implement artificial lighting juxtaposed with shadows, providing surreal but at the same time realistic visuals. This, along with some fixed perspectives and close ups provide a tight, almost claustrophobic environment. However it’s done eloquently enough to not appear obnoxious or forced considering that the visuals match the dark and confining tone of the show.

Much like Breaking Bad, the plot does not move in of itself and instead is propelled by the actions of the characters. Much of season 1 serves to set up character archetypes and relationships that will inevitably shift into the personalities we know in Breaking Bad. That being said, only two recognizable characters, excluding a cameo, have appeared in the series so far: McGill and Mike Ehrmantraut, played by Jonathan Banks, a dangerous hitman that became a fan favorite during seasons 3-5 of Breaking Bad, which Better Call Saul introduces as a humble toll booth operator. Perhaps to compensate for the effective but gradual character pacing, Mike’s backstory, being only alluded to in the original series, gets fully explained, essentially ending the character arch that Breaking Bad had begun.

All other characters are new to this series, enabling anyone who hasn’t seen Breaking Bad to follow what’s going on, though any easter eggs and other fanservice sprinkled in the series will go right over their heads. While all these newcomers may only serve as static supporting characters, their colorful personalities and interactions with each other, especially the quick-witted Mcgill who has at least one quotable retort every episode, constitute for almost the entirety of the show’s humor and drama. The bond in particular between James McGill and his self-righteous brother Chuck McGill, played by Michael McKean, a prestigious lawyer who serves as a role-model for James, offers the most sincere and dynamic relationship this season.

As a result of the show’s focus on steady character growth, the appeal of Better Call Saul depends on the viewer’s preferred form of entertainment. If you need intense action sequences or dire scenarios to keep you stimulated, such as Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead or even Breaking Bad in seasons four and five, this show may seem underwhelming. On the other hand, if beautiful camerawork, brilliant dialogue and intelligent themes keep your attention, then I couldn’t recommend a better show than Better Call Saul/.

While The Sopranos revolutionized public perspective by demonstrating the dramatic potential of TV shows, I believe Better Call Saul represents the realization of that potential. Honest to God, after thinking about this show for hours and reading numerous reviews, I still can’t find a single way this show fails to achieve portraying a perfect character study. If you want to see one of the greatest TV shows of all time unveil itself slowly before you, then please, for your own sake, watch Better Call Saul.

Better Call Saul premiered on AMC and is currently not on air. As of right now, Better Call Saul is available for streaming on iTunes and Amazon along with reruns on AMC’s channel. Season 2 is expected to begin sometime in 2016.