In which I dare to suggest that Better Call Saul is a bad show

We're into the second season now and I'm still not lost in its world like I was Breaking Bad's.

Christopher Hooton
Tuesday 16 February 2016 22:31
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It kills me to do this. I adored Breaking Bad, loved the character of Saul, and the super-talented Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould are two of the nicest, most humble showrunners I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. But two episodes into the second season of Better Call Saul - which drops on Netflix this week - I’ve got to admit to myself: it’s not working.

Fans, believe me, I’ve tried to get behind it and I’ve given it so many chances, but I can’t sit idly by while every other TV critic around the globe gives it automatic glowing reviews any longer.

I know you’re probably firing up your angry caps lock comments already, so let me try and pre-emptively address your defences.

“It’s really funny!”

Is it though? I don’t think Saul’s jokes were ever that great in and of themselves in Breaking Bad, but they made us laugh so hard because they were so at odds with the incredibly dramatic scenes that they punctuated. There Saul was, negotiating with a psychopath and yet still cracking wise. They were light relief, giving you a breather from heart-stopping tension, and without this juxtaposition in BCS it’s really just a lot of dad jokes that don’t really land.

“But the writing is so good, all hail Vince Gilligan!”

The dialogue has actually felt incredibly forced to me so far. There’s a point that usually comes by about episode three or four in every show’s first season where you really sink into the narrative and happily suspend your disbelief. This moment has never come for me in BCS. You can smell the screenplay coming off of it. Its machinations, its joke setups, its plot developments and its character traits.

The guy Mike occasionally serves as a bodyguard for (the bald one with the Hummer) is such a cliched parody of a mid-life crisis (especially in the second season) that I was left wincing.

“You’re missing the point, it’s a slow burn.”

It’s slow alright, painfully slow. Perhaps this mirrors the tedious pace of small court law, but it doesn’t make for great TV. The narrative plods along incrementally, taking an hour to convey something that probably could have been parcelled out in 20 minutes.

We get it, Jimmy’s frustrated by the world’s fundamentally unmeritocratic setup (this is also basically a rehash of the Walter White plot) and Chuck hates electricity (a phobia that disappointingly serves little narrative function). Walter White to Heisenberg was so captivating because the stakes were so high and Walt was always a hair’s breadth from being caught, but James McGill to Saul Goodman is a) something we already know to be ultimately successful (at least in the sense that he ends up alive and not in prison) and b) unremarkable (already kind of corrupt lawyer becomes more corrupt, wow!).

The mark of a great TV drama is when each episode is satisfying on its own (The Sopranos was great at this), but with BCS every episode feels like it is merely a set-up for the next (hereafter called ‘Lost syndrome’).

“It was never going to be able to live up to Breaking Bad…”

True, and I had completely accepted this heading into the pilot, but it hasn’t so far managed to get anywhere near the quality of its predecessor.

Forget Breaking Bad existed for a second and this was just a new show about a random lawyer, would it even have been renewed for a second season?

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All this said, I will be sticking with it. It just about has enough narrative juice to hold my interest and when it gets into the legal exchanges (Sandpiper etc) it can be quite enjoyable. Here’s hoping things get better as the second season progresses though - right now that one zoom-in on a plant pot in Breaking Bad was more enthralling than the entire first season of BCS.

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