How ‘Breaking Bad’ Engineered the Addictive Formula of ‘Better Call Saul’

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(CNN) — By spawning the acclaimed “Better Call Saul”, “Breaking Bad” achieved a kind of immortality in the land of the spin off that failed “Friends” (“Joey”), “MASH” (“AfterMASH”) and “The Golden Girls” (“The Golden Palace”), among others. As the prequel draws to a close, it’s worth considering how the legacy of the award-winning series spawned one of the best TV offshoots since “Cheers” spawned “Frasier.”

“Breaking Bad” debuted in 2008, the year after “Mad Men” put AMC on the map as the home of quality storytelling. Along with FX’s “The Shield” and “Nip/Tuck,” these basic cable networks demonstrated that what counts as premium television can be defined by quality and ambition, not just where it airs.

The keys to “Breaking Bad’s” stamina can be traced to a variety of ingredients, combined in a way that is seen in “Saul’s” addictive formula, but has proven just as difficult for copycats to replicate as the unusually rare methamphetamine. Pure Walter White.

Both series charted the moral descent of their central characters, combining dark comedy, absurd moments, and long, slow scenes steeped in tension and high-stakes drama.

Perhaps most importantly, “Breaking Bad”—which followed the evolution of chemistry teacher Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston) from a terminal diagnosis to criminal mastermind—became one of the most unpredictable events that television has produced. His creator Vince Gilligan and his team have always run into seemingly inescapable trouble, only to reveal a plausible and usually ingenious way out.

As for Walt’s moral decline, the iconic moment was when he sat by and watched his partner Jesse’s (Aaron Paul) sleeping girlfriend suffocated to death, not exactly committing murder, but not intervening to protect herself. This foreshadowed other casualties to come, including the shocking sequence in which White planned the death of drug lord Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito).

At the time, commentators drew parallels between Walt and Tony Soprano, both family men and criminals who epitomized the age of the television antihero.

Unlike “The Sopranos,” however, viewers saw the former gradually turn to the dark side, prompting the question of what ordinary people could do in similar circumstances. as you pointed out critic Gene Seymour shortly before the end, “it is the apparent normality of Walter White that makes us wonder more than himself.”

The difficult balance of “Better Call Saul”

In a sense, “Better Call Saul” faced an even more delicate balancing act that is common among prequels: building toward the narrative territory occupied by its predecessor without exhausting that ground too quickly or undermining the popular material that inspired it.

Also “Saul” has played out as “a tragedy,” as Gilligan recently described in a session with reporters, seeing Bob Odenkirk’s character transition from Jimmy McGill to Saul Goodman, alienating his partner, Kim (Rhea Seehorn). ), as the mysterious axis that hangs over the story in terms of completing that metamorphosis.

“Breaking Bad” hit the nail on the head with its ending, offering a definitive and satisfying ending after a period characterized by cryptic endings that, on several occasions, left viewers in doubt about the intention of the writers. The series also strayed from television trends by becoming a late-breaking hit, steadily increasing viewership towards the end (with a record 10.3 million viewers for its final episode), as people discovered the production. and word spread.

When “Breaking Bad” concluded in 2013, Gilligan gave what became a triumphant lap of television interviews, including an appearance with Charlie Rose, who asked him if the producer had accepted that he might never do something this good again.

“It was a fluke,” Gilligan said.

Against all odds, Gilligan and “Saul” co-creator Peter Gould nailed it twice. Although they have said that there are no plans for more adventures in this world—for the spin off of a spin off— and Gilligan said to rolling stone that it’s “time to do something new,” the lasting lesson from both series might be how hard it is to leave a lucrative company when you’re operating at full throttle.

The series finale “Better Call Saul” premieres August 15 on AMC.