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Better Call Saul - review

Feb 26, 2016 Film & TV

It starts, as it did in season one, with a glimpse into the life of present-day Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk). He’s now managing a food court restaurant in deepest Nebraska, having fled the chaos — and his own multiple arrest warrants — of Breaking Bad’s concluding episodes.

As Billy Walker’s mournful “Funny How Time Slips Away” plays in the background, the former hotshot lawyer mops floors and empties trash. The parallels to early Walter White, another middle-aged man trapped in a dead-end existence, are unmistakable. Like Walt — before his descent into unmitigated evil, that is — we’re rooting for future Saul to have a Heisenberg moment of his own: a rediscovery of his fast-talking, plan-hatching mojo.

Thanks to a set of initials scratched into a wall, there’s a small hint that the moment may be close at hand. Here’s hoping we return to that Omaha Cinnabon again this season.

But that’s way into the future; the past, the years before Breaking Bad, is where we are now (you may need to diagram the chronology). Here, Saul’s alter-ego Jimmy McGill is at a crossroads, too. After being thrown under a bus by the legal profession he’d wanted so desperately to join, and betrayed by the brother (Michael McKean) whose approval he craved, Jimmy is considering abandoning the law entirely. After all, what’s the point in doing the right thing when an asshole stockbroker like the one he and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) encounter in a hotel bar can make thousands of dollars with a single Bluetooth-enabled call? And isn’t grifting that stockbroker — slipping back into his old Slipping Jimmy persona with well-practised ease — the most fun he’s had in ages?

But he’s still a long way from surrendering to the dark side entirely. And that’s the frustrating thing about Better Call Saul — it looks and feels like its predecessor, and is peopled by a similar cast of drug dealers, murderers and ne’er-do-wells, but it lacks Breaking Bad’s propulsive momentum. Jimmy McGill’s story arc rocks forward then rolls back, as he vacillates between going straight and, well, breaking bad.

If you can be patient, there’s still so much to enjoy. Co-creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have a knack for writing amateur criminals in way over their heads, like season one’s suburban embezzlers or Price, this season’s dweebish prescription pill-pusher. And Odenkirk’s recitation of made-up sexual fetishes — Hoboken Squat Cobbler, Boston Cream Splat, Full Moon Pie, Simple Simon the Ass Man (upon receiving blank looks: “Guys, am I not speaking English here?”) — in episode two is as funny as any sketch from his own comedy series Mr Show. Every scene he shares with Seehorn or the incomparable Jonathan Banks, as tough-guy enforcer Mike Ehrmantraut, is a joy. But now it may be time for Better Call Saul to stop spinning its wheels and let rip.

Watch the trailer:


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