It starts where it left off in the pilot episode of “Better Call Saul.” A Cinnabon. In fact, it is the Cinnabon that Saul Goodman imagined he’d be managing in the penultimate episode of “Breaking Bad.” Behind the counter is the sad, drone-like shell of what used to be Saul (now Gene, according to his plastic nametag), kneading the gooey dough for which Cinnabon has built its empire upon. The scene plays out in a dreary black and white that contrasts the searing brightness of his previous life. What was once a life filled with corruption, drugs and greed has been watered down to making Caramel Pecanbons. At night, he drinks in front of a flickering screen in his home while watching his old commercials.
Then we are transported to a world of color, but no sound. A courtroom. The judge is waiting. The jurors are waiting. The prosecution is waiting. But waiting for whom? Practicing his defense in the bathroom is a dainty brown haired Irishman named James McGill. He looks about five years younger than fans might remember, and with considerably more hair. As a public defense attorney, he is at the court’s whim, a slave to the judicial system. Due to financial concerns, we play witness to the events that create the titular character.
“Better Call Saul” is a godsend for Easter egg lovers. In the premiere episode, the viewer is treated to at least two “Breaking Bad” alumni appearances, while there are dozens of other nods to the sequel series. These are the kinds of goodies that define a successful spinoff series. Saul Goodman, aka James McGill, aka Gene, aka your friendly neighborhood sleaze-ball lawyer, is a strong enough character on his own, but the fact remains that people miss Walter White and Jesse. Whatever can reanimate their essence is the top expectation of the fans.
Bob Odenkirk delivers a solid performance as Saul Goodman. A reliably funny guy and single-season “Saturday Night Live” writer, Odenkirk knows how to present the package of Saul. We were first introduced to him in “Breaking Bad” as a man all about the money—but a confident one at that. Now, we are reintroduced to him as a man still all about the money, but quite lousy at it. Odenkirk does a standup job detaching from the Saul we know to the Saul we never knew.
“Better Call Saul” will be an exceptional series because, for all the tributes it pays to its successor series, viewers can still watch this show with fresh eyes having never seen “Breaking Bad.” Sure, it will stir emotions seeing a familiar face now and then, but the story progresses whether you know who Mike Ehrmantraut is or not. It is tough living up to the success of such a power show, but “Better Call Saul” will be the spinoff series that stands out as a confident, comedic, contemporary powerhouse.
Gilboard is a member of the class of 2015.