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Better Call Saul: The Case For and Against the Breaking Bad Spinoff

Nuanced and well-reasoned arguments for both sides of this debate

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Ursula Coyote

Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) on Breaking Bad

AMC today announced that it was moving forward with plans for a Breaking Bad spinoff prequel, Better Call Saul, based on Bob Odenkirk’s shady bus-bench lawyer, Saul Goodman. (It is not entirely clear from the wording of AMC’s announcement whether it is committing to pick up a season of the series, or simply committing to develop it.) The timing is fortuitous for the network, since not only did AMC just re-cancel The Killing but it will, inside a year, lose Breaking Bad and Mad Men as well–and Breaking Bad is notching by far its best ratings ever.

But is it a good idea? Let’s summon the lawyers and make the case for—and against:

THE PROSECUTION

The Condiment Conundrum. Do  you love ketchup? God, I love ketchup. Give me a stack of salty fries and a juicy burger and I’ll empty half a bottle of the stuff. I love its its savoriness, its tomatoey richness, its tanginess—and this is the key point—with other food. I do not want to eat a bowl of ketchup. Saul Goodman is the ketchup on Breaking Bad‘s burger. He sets off the darker elements of the show; he delivers exquisite one-liners; he is also, at times, key to the plot. But he works well because he works in small doses. No better to base a show on him than to make a Lost spinoff about Hurley, or Frogurt. (In a way Vince Gilligan did this once, producing the X-Files spinoff The Lone Gunmen, with mixed results.)

Enough Already. Sure, if Breaking Bad is a great series, it will continue to be great no matter how well a this series turns out. But one assumes, if the show to date is any guide, that Walter White’s story will end with a certain degree of tragedy and emotional heft. Does anyone really want to undercut its impact with a new series, in the same universe, about the zany antics of their cynical lawyer? As many a sports legend has discovered, one key to capping off a great career is knowing when to walk away.

It’s a Prequel, Which Limits the Possibilities. According to AMC, the show will follow Saul and his practice before he ever meets Walter White or Jesse Pinkman. This may solve some problems—say if Saul should inconveniently die by Breaking Bad‘s end—but it also limits the sense, present in a show like Breaking Bad, that anything can happen, because we know where Saul ends up.

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THE DEFENSE

It’s a Spinoff, Not a Remake. Lou Grant wasn’t The Mary Tyler Moore Show. And, okay, AfterMASH wasn’t M*A*S*H. The point is, a spinoff, or a prequel, doesn’t have to be the same in tone or structure to the series that birthed it. Better Call Saul needn’t copy or imitate Breaking Bad to be a good show. Saul’s a rumpled, cynical character in the style of a ’70s TV protagonist—Jim Rockford, say—and if his writers know their stuff, they’ll probably build a show that fits him: a kind of sleazy legal-procedural that can be entertaining in its own way.

Saul’s Not Entirely Comic Relief. Lest we forget, these past few weeks it’s Saul who first suggested the idea of sending Jesse on a trip to “Belize,” putting him down Old Yeller-style. For a funny guy, Odenkirk has shown range with the character, and its possible that a dark comedy-drama built around him could have surprising intensity.

It’s a Prequel, Which Expands the Possibilities. Life is long, and people change. There are vast tracts of Saul’s past that we don’t know about, and if it was interesting to see how Mr. Chips becomes Scarface, could it not be interesting to see how one gets to become Scarface’s lawyer? Hell, maybe he didn’t even live in Albuquerque! And think of the possibilities for raise-the-dead cameos. (Giancarlo Esposito, call your agent.)

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THE VERDICT

Fortunately, we don’t have to issue one. That is, if a Better Call Saul series is made, and it’s terrible, no court can compel you to watch it–and they can’t take those seasons of Breaking Bad away from you. So let AMC try to call on Saul one more time. But Mr. Goodman, and Mr. Gilligan: I would tread lightly.

SEE ALSO:  The Big Surprise of Martin Luther King’s Speech

19 comments
dodo125025
dodo125025

I think it'll be great to have Shady Saul do his own stories. Hopefully it'll be black humorous

MrMLK
MrMLK

I really like Breaking Bad. The acting is great and the stories are interesting. But in no way can this be considered a show "that anything can happen". While we don't know how it is going to end, nothing that happened until now has been much of a surprise. Walter hasn't gotten caught, no main characters have died, and Bryan Cranston's character's progression from episode one to now - while brilliantly written and acted - has not had any surprising twists at all.

daily_praise
daily_praise

I think Odenkirk could pull off the show, I just don't know if I want the show. At least not in prequel form. Prequels just never seem as dynamic or exciting. I like speculating on Saul's past and how he learned to be such a good lawyer for criminals rather than actually knowing what it is in canon.

Mr.Wallingford
Mr.Wallingford

I'd watch just to find out Saul Goodman's real name. There has to be a story behind that.

superglide8
superglide8

Ever notice when Saul needs to call someone he opens a desk drawer full of throw down phones. Obviously these aren't all just for calling Walt and Jesse. Ever wonder who those other phones call? There's your series.

freekyfried
freekyfried

One main downside to American culture is we have to bleed every drop out of something successful.


Rare in the media world is the Seinfeld who has the taste to walk away while a show is still good.


BB's last episode with lots of shots fired and no one hit is wearing thin; they should just end it.

KyleEvans
KyleEvans

As long as "Mike" is involved in his cleaner role, the show will be excellent!

JoseG.Garcia
JoseG.Garcia

In Vince I trust, i'll definitely be  seeing this. You know how many connections Saul has with shady types? i would love to see how he became "GOTTA CALL SAUL'" and all the circumstances that lead to him being so well connected. Many brilliant stories to be seen there. Get to it Vince.  

therealdude
therealdude

We can all speculate on it's success but it all comes down to what Vince and the writers do with it. To me, the prime example of success for this idea was how NBC spun Frasier off from Cheers, which had very little to do with Cheers, had it's own storyline, characters and everything it needed to be a successful stand-alone show. This has a very good chance of being a very successful show.

josefdodgson
josefdodgson

He was going to send Hank to belize not jesse.

IPFletcher
IPFletcher

I wasn't nuts about the idea until something occurred to me: exactly what you state in the last sentence of the Defense's 3rd point: could we get to see Mike again? Or- hope against hope -Gus? Absolutely, take that idea out for a spin!

alynch3
alynch3

You forgot the primary defense: "Bob Odenkirk's getting his own TV show on a prestigious cable network. Now shut up and just enjoy how awesome that is."