Saturday 21 October 2017

TV guide: Who you gonna call?

By now we all know what "Netflix and chill" really means (sex; it means sex) but the return of Saul must be prioritised over nookie

Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman and Rhea Seehorn as Kim in Better Call Saul
Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman and Rhea Seehorn as Kim in Better Call Saul
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

A year ago we were sceptical. Was Better Call Saul, the Breaking Bad prequel, just an act of charity on Vince Gilligan's part, trying, perhaps to soften the intolerable cruelty of Breaking Bad being over forever? Or was Vince just being greedy?

We were naturally squeamish at the mention of the phrase 'spin off', with its connotations of a cash cow being milked of all its goodness. And even after the first episode we doubted that Saul, the story of how a small time lawyer transforms into a gangland counsel, could ever become the kind of engrossing, sprawling epic that Breaking Bad matured into. In Breaking Bad itself Saul provided  little bursts of levity; moments of relief as Walt and Jesse slid inexorably toward their fates. But this might have been a weakness in his own series. Jimmy McGill, the shifty, huckstering antihero of Better Call Saul, seemed like he might be too comedic and buffoonish a protagonist to sustain our attention the whole way through.

But as Saul progressed - stingily doled out by Netflix week-by-week in single episodes (we've come to expect to be able to mainline a series all in one weekend) - it became clear that we need not have fretted. The prequel is already a classic after just one series. Visually it was beautiful enough - with all those enigmatic opening shots - that you could watch it with the sound off and still enjoy it. But to do that would be to miss Jimmy's irresistible patter - an antic mix of humility and sleazy guile - and an incredible starring performance from Bob Odenkirk, who always captured just the right note of affable desperation in Jimmy/Saul. Like Breaking Bad this was also an ensemble piece - with riveting contributions from Thurles-born actress Kerry Condon (whose character has the glint of a schemer in her eye), Rhea Seahorn (above) as Jimmy's wistful and well-meaning love interest and the weary, grizzled Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrentraut.

Condon is not the only Irish link to the series. In Breaking Bad Jimmy hilariously revealed his own origins, explaining that he adopts the Jewish name Saul Goodman because he thinks it will play better with those looking for a lawyer: "Faith and begorrah! A fellow potato eater! My real name's McGill. The Jew thing I just do for the homeboys. They all want a pipe-hitting member of the tribe, so to speak…"

According to a report by Variety, Odenkirk said that his character "fights like hell to not be Saul, and then he just gives up for some reason that's probably pretty potent and painful," he revealed.

Later in the week we have Judd Apatow's new series Love, which starts on February 18, to look forward to. It is billed as a stoner anti-romcom which draws on Apatow's own dating experience (he may be taking a leaf out of Amy Schumer's book - the two worked together on last summer's hit movie Trainwreck). As the series opens we meet Gus, an on-set tutor for the 12-year-old star of a TV series, as he discovers his girlfriend has been cheating on him. Across town, Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) who works at a satellite radio station, is ending her relationship. The two begin an unlikely friendship that slowly grows into something more. Along with Better Call Saul it is expected to solidify Netflix's pole position in an increasingly crowded streaming marketplace, which now includes Amazon, Mubi and others. In terms of original content (if not price-point) it remains streets ahead of its rivals and while 'Netflix and chill' was one of last year's funnier euphemisms (sex; it means sex) these will be series we could actually see ourselves prioritise over nookie. No higher praise.

The second season of Better Call Saul premieres February 16 on Netflix

The first season of Love premieres February 19 on Netflix

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