When it was announced that the creators of breaking bad would film a spin-off prequel to their iconic series, few could have imagined the critical acclaim this new creation would receive.
While Better Call Saul prepares to broadcast its final episode, many have called it the best television show of all time.
It joins a list of other prestigious TV shows that have come and gone in recent years: Game of Thrones, The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men, Dexter and of course, breaking bad.
Better Call Saul It is often considered part of the new golden age of television, extending from roughly 2000 to the present, characterized by high-quality original shows with long and complex story arcs, compelling visual aesthetics, and morally ambiguous characters.
Thanks in part to cable networks like HBO, AMC, and Showtime, television rose to a high art, leading to HBO’s famous catchphrase: “It’s not TV, it’s HBO.”
Today, however, the decade-defining shows are few and far between. The streaming wars have flooded audiences with content, leaving them overwhelmed. Judy Berman, in Time, calls this “maximum redundancy”:
We may still be inundated with display options, many of exceptional quality. But we also have too many programs that feel interchangeable.
Better Call Saul It remains the last of those defining shows from the golden age, and it will leave a poignant mark on the television landscape.
As a spin-off of the prequel, Better Call Saul it will always be compared to its beloved predecessor. But thanks to clever dialogue, deft shifts in tone, and multifaceted characters, the show has established its own unique legacy under the tutelage of creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould.
breaking bad was known for fulminated mercury explosions and gruesome deaths (271 deaths compared to 65 in Better Call Saulfrom the penultimate episode). Better Call Saulon the contrary, is known for his leisurely drive and meticulous focus on the minutiae of the legal world.
As David Segal of The New York Times put it:
For decades, law firms have been portrayed on television as realms of glamor and intrigue. The reality can be quite horrible.
While breaking bad felt slippery and gritty, Better Call Saul it feels painfully real. Jimmy is not the idealized antihero that Walter White is. He is not a Dexter Morgan or a Tony Soprano. In any case, Jimmy is one of life’s losers, struggling to hold on to his individuality in a corporate system that thrives on conformity.
We like Jimmy because he is kind, irreverent, witty and idealistic. His girlfriend-turned-wife Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) remains the leading voice of reason until the end of season five, when she succumbs to the allure of Jimmy’s scheming.
Like Jimmy, Kim is torn between the stability of corporate life and her passion for public defender cases. She also realizes that law and justice are not always the same.
Better Call Saul it resonates because it’s filled with characters who feel stifled by dead-end commitments, like Ignacio “Nacho” Varga (Michael Mando) and Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), who are caught in the orbit of the drug cartel. Like Jimmy, his tragic arcs are amplified by the choices they feel they are being forced to make.
We feel sorry for Jimmy in particular, as tries in vain to be accepted by the corporate mainstream. But his past as a small-time con artist makes this transition impossible. As much as Jimmy tries to appease the establishment and his brother Chuck (a formidable Michael McKean), he can never shake his reputation as “Slippin’ Jimmy”.
For Berman, this is where he excels Better Call Saulby showing us the hypocrisy of the American judicial system, where “even the lawyers who defend this system don’t really believe in second chances”.
Jimmy and his clients, he says, are locked out of the institutions they’ve earned the right to re-enter, so they do whatever it takes to survive outside of those institutions.
Faced with these unsustainable conditions, Jimmy ventures deeper and deeper into the world of swindling, slowly abandoning his idealism and fulfilling a destiny that others—institutions, colleagues, his brother—have written for him.
This is what makes Jimmy’s slow transformation into Saul Goodman so maddening and yet so relatable. Unable to be himself and yet unable to make real change by following the rules, the corporate world eats away at your determination until there’s nothing left but the thrill of the scam.
As Odenkirk himself pointed out: I think one of the themes of Better Call Saul is that real, fundamental change in a person is driven by some pretty hard and powerful forces. You really have to crush a person’s psyche to get them to fundamentally change.
Like its predecessors, Better Call Saul combines powerful, cinematic visuals with methodical storytelling to give audiences a complex portrait of the shadow world of the land of opportunity.
As it draws to a close, so does the golden age of television. In the age of streaming, we seem to be running out of patience with this kind of storytelling, with shows constantly outperforming each other in shock value, from The Witcher to dramas of rise and fall super-pumped Y WeCrashed.
As Taylor Antrim of Vogue explains: “Saul looks like nothing else on TV“.
He writes that its meticulously unkempt look inspires nostalgia for a slightly less overheated era of television, chen shows didn’t have to push, compete and yell “look at me!” For call the atention.
The universe that Gilligan and Gould created will not be forgotten, their departure marks the end of a great era of television.
* Siobhan Lyons. The Conversation. Reuters.