“It’s all over,” were Saul Goodman’s final words in Breaking Bad as he bid a hasty farewell to Walter White, the chemistry teacher-turned-crime lord who had become Goodman’s major client.
But of course it is far from all over – because Albuquerque’s favourite lawyer (played by Bob Odenkirk) now has his very own spinoff show, Better Call Saul. “We are telling a different story – one with its own rhythm… its own tone,” promised Vince Gilligan, the creator of both shows. But what sort of tone? Goodman’s role in the parent drama was essentially to provide light relief (and a certain mad sanity). While some viewers may have feared a straight-up sitcom, few would have predicted the jaunty, almost Rockford Files timbre of this opening episode, as Jimmy McGill, as he was known six years earlier (when this spinoff takes place), cooks up a scam involving a pair of skater boys.
An important new character is Jimmy’s older, much more successful brother, Chuck (played by Michael McKean), a law-firm partner permanently off work because of a mysterious illness, and it is Jimmy’s determination to see that Chuck is cashed out fairly that is the driver of this opening episode.
Better Call Saul was always going to sink or swim in Odenkirk’s central performance, and he certainly proves up to the task of fleshing out the two-dimensional Saul of Breaking Bad.
If that show was the story of “Mr Chips turning into Scarface” (as Gilligan described Walter White’s transformation into the monstrous Heisenberg), then Better Call Saul is going to be about the transformation of a fairly honest shopping-mall ambulance chaser into Scarface’s lawyer.
It’s still far too early to say whether the process will prove as compelling but, if anyone can do it, Gilligan can. Better call Vince.