There are a lot of people out there concerned about whether or not Better Call Saul is going to be any good, but Bob Odenkirk is not one of them.
The star of the Breaking Bad spinoff, which premieres Sunday night at 10 p.m. on AMC (followed by a second episode in its regular time slot Mondays at 10 p.m.), admits that most actors following in the footsteps of Walter White and the legacy of the beloved AMC series would feel a lot of pressure.
“I should be sweating in my boots, but I’m not,” Odenkirk told Bio while chatting with TV critics last month in Pasadena.
“I think that the star of the show is [creators] Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould — and their writing,” Odenkirk explained to us. “In the end, when people talk about these shows that they love, they’re talking about the story and the characters.”
This story and these characters are indeed in very good hands, and after having seen the first three episodes of Better Call Saul, I can tell you that this series should be able to stand on its own just fine and emerge from the shadow of its hulking predecessor. It’s good. And just like Breaking Bad did in Season 1, Saul needs some time to grow (and it will – AMC already gave it an early Season 2 renewal), but it’s off to a well-balanced and engaging start.
Set six years before Breaking Bad takes place, Better Call Saul is a prequel that gives us the backstory of everybody’s favorite sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman, the whipsmart, morally questionable attorney who quickly became a breakout character after debuting in BB’s second season.
But Saul, as we know him, doesn’t exist yet. As we dive back in time to Albuquerque 2002, we meet Jimmy McGill (Odenkirk), a down-on-his-luck public defender who’s barely scraping by on $700 paychecks, working out of a makeshift office, driving a crappy car, with a phone that isn’t exactly ringing off the hook.
While Saul provided much of the comedic relief among the Bad world of Heisenberg and Co., Jimmy McGill is a much sadder sack. This Saul’s tone will still feature the dark humor that fans love about the criminally clever lawyer, especially as we witness his gradual transformation from Jimmy McGill into Saul Goodman, but there are some gloomier moments as viewers get a glimpse of who is he behind the façade.
“There are some emotional scenes but I still get to be funny,” Odenkirk told us.
“We talked about making him more of a sympathetic character,” Odenkirk continued. “I was surprised how many people liked him in Breaking Bad. Why? He’s a shifty guy who’s out for himself,” he laughed, “but I thought there had to be more dimensions to him now and clearly Vince and Peter agreed.”
A good example of that is his relationship with one of the new characters introduced: Michael McKean, who plays Jimmy’s older brother Chuck, a wealthier, more successful attorney whom Jimmy helps take care of after he’s plagued by an as-yet-to-be-revealed health issue.
Familiar faces abound as well, most notably future “fixer” Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), featured here as the parking lot attendant at the courthouse, who, for now, is McGill’s daily nemesis. There’s another surprise Breaking Bad connection revealed in the final seconds of the premiere episode that I won’t spoil, so make sure you keep your eyes peeled.
To that end, with Gilligan and Gould at the helm, of course, the show naturally gives a few winks to its heritage with occasional sly nods to Breaking Bad subtly embedded here and there for sharp-eyed fans to pick up on (take note of the location of Saul’s seedy “law office” for one).
That begs the one big question BB fans surely have: Are Walt and Jesse going to show up at some point?
Gould gave a frank answer to reporters in January: “Walt and Jesse don’t show up in Season 1,” he confirmed, saying he didn’t want to mislead viewers. “Having said that, everything else is on the table.”
Added Gilligan with a grin: “A big part of the fun for us in setting the series as a prequel six years earlier is that all the characters who are deceased when Breaking Bad ends could theoretically show up.”
Even Saul Goodman himself is eager for the day when he might get to meet Walter White again. Or, for the first time, rather.
“Every time I come in the office on this show I say, “Has Walter White called yet?” joked Odenkirk.
Better Call Saul premieres with a two-night event, beginning Sunday, February 8 at 10 p.m. on AMC. A second episode airs Monday night at 10 p.m. in what will be its regular time slot.