Tuesday 12 December 2017

Better call Netflix... Saul is on the case

Breaking Bad’s dodgy lawyer gets his own series. Is it any good?

Saul Goodman played by Bob Odenkirk
Saul Goodman played by Bob Odenkirk

Tanya Sweeney

From the minute Saul Goodman (or Jimmy McGill, as he is known) sauntered into the fray on Breaking Bad, it was clear that the character would be a rich televisual seam to mine.

The shady lawyer avoided Breaking Bad's final bloodbath, electing instead to start anew in Nebraska. Little wonder that Breaking Bad's creator Vince Gilligan and writer Peter Gould decided that while Walter White's number was up, there was life in the wheeler-dealer yet.

Gilligan himself saw potential in White's sleazebag sidekick as far back as 2012, saying: "I like the idea of a lawyer show in which the main lawyer will do anything it takes to stay out of a court of law. He'll settle on the courthouse steps, whatever it takes to stay out of the courtroom. That would be fun."

And what was a pet project two short years ago is primed, preened and ready for a global audience.

Anticipation is running at fever pitch for the prequel series, with a 'surprise appearance' of a familiar character already mooted for the first episode.

Fans will also find out in the first ten seconds of Better Call Saul what fate befell Goodman when he fled to Nebraska (spoiler alert: the show opens in the post-Walter present, with Saul working in a fast food outlet).

Bored with wiping tables in his McJob, he begins to reminisce about the good old days, when he was a struggling trickster lawyer. Cue the dreamy harp music and rippling screen as we go back in time to six years before Goodman ever clapped eyes on Walter White.

And, as with Walter, Saul Goodman often runs a very fine line between being a good guy and a horrid one.

Historically speaking, TV spin-offs are rarely a good idea. They're the result in a tug-of-war between commerce and common sense. TV execs chase loyal fan bases with a remix of the original format, with varying degrees of success. The less said about Joey, the parasitic flop that was borne out of the Friends behemoth, the better.

Frasier, the show that sprung from the Cheers franchise, was a notable exception to the rule, in that it didn't tarnish the original.

Initially, Bob Odenkirk, who plays Goodman, baulked at the idea of the project.

"While filming Breaking Bad we would say, 'In a few years when we're doing the Saul Goodman Show. . ." he told the Radio Times. "Then we started to realise, we're making this joke an awful lot."

When the call officially came, it was a resounding 'no' from Odenkirk's camp, until his teenage son intervened.

"When my son heard I wasn't doing it he said, 'You're going to disappoint a lot of people'," he said.

Still, Odenkirk would do well to be wary, even with a master of the form presiding over the project. That Breaking Bad was an iconic slice of televisual gold is a given. Career-defining performances and seismic plots were delivered season after season; its multidimensional characters rewrote the rulebook.

The big question is this. What hope does Better Call Saul have in its long shadow?

So far, things are looking good. Though the project has doubtless been burdened by the weight of expectation, critics stateside have given Better Call Saul a resounding thumbs-up.

Though Better Call Saul will air on US network AMC, the episodes will go on to Netflix worldwide a day later.

In much the same way that Breaking Bad was delivered to the online streaming service, the 10-part series will be available for streaming exclusively on Netflix on Monday and Tuesday, February 9-10, followed by every Tuesday at 7am Irish time (effectively, a day after its airing in the US).

This of course means that fans won't be able to swallow Saul's antics in one delicious, binge-watch gulp. Bye-bye, spoilers.

Could the unthinkable happen, though? Could Better Call Saul even outperform its predecessor? Though the desert-suburbia of Albuquerque, with its petrol stations and strip malls, is certainly familiar, Better Call Saul hits a very different tonal note.

With a trickster rather than a conflicted criminal mastermind at the heart of the action, it's a show with a much lighter touch. For all its comedic broad strokes, there is a finely textured drama at its heart, too.

Better Call Saul starts ­streaming on Netflix on ­Monday. See netflix.com for details.

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