‘Better Call Saul’ Aims To Do What Most Spin-Offs Have Not – Succeed

Better Call Saul

When beloved TV shows end while at the height of their popularity, fans bemoaning the loss of their favorite characters hunger for spin-offs, sequels or even prequels. When Breaking Bad stopped filming, its creators knew that the franchise was still golden, and worked on finding a way to keep it alive in some way. What they created was Better Call Saul, a television show that aims to do what most spin-offs have not – succeed.

Better Call Saul premieres with a two-part episode on Sunday and Monday nights on AMC. The show features the character Saul Goodman (as played by Bob Odenkirk), who appeared frequently on Breaking Bad as the questionable lawyer of its protagonist, Walter White.

The show is set approximately six years prior to the meeting of the two men and details the life of Saul Goodman before he became an attorney for a drug kingpin; when he was known as Jimmy McGill. The character of McGill is portrayed as an ambulance chaser who is deeply in debt and whose life is going nowhere fast.

Although spin-offs and prequels of successful shows often disappoint, advance word from critics is that Better Call Saul is a winner. The show is described as faithful to the way Breaking Bad was delivered: Brutally honest with dark humor thrown in for good measure. Much of the credit for the freshness of the prequel is given to creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould.

Saul Goodman was not entirely involved with Walter White and his drug enterprise in Breaking Bad, but he was an essential piece to the operation. Odenkirk’s portrayal of Saul Goodman as a smooth-talking Midwesterner made the character a well-loved part of the show. The name of the prequel stems from the comically blatant TV spots his character placed to advertise his business and which used the tagline, “Better call Saul.” Fans of Breaking Bad loved the fake ads so much that AMC filmed longer ads to post on its website.

Television spin-offs have proven to be a gamble, no matter how well-loved the original show was. Even the television classic All in the Family, which ran for eight years, had mixed results with its seven spin-offs. Although The Jeffersons enjoyed 10 seasons on the air, Maude lasted six and Good Times had a run of five years, Gloria was on for only two seasons and 704 Hauser just one. Even the classic television western, Bonanza, which aired for 14 years, did not have success with its spin-off, Ponderosa, which lasted for just one year.

There are examples of spin-offs that worked. Benson, which ran for seven years, was a spin-off of Soap, which lasted just four. Although Cheers spin-off, The Tortellis, lasted just one year, Frasier matched its predecessor’s run with an 11-year run of its own. If reviews of Better Call Saul are accurate, the show is guaranteed to be just as successful as Breaking Bad.

Creators Gilligan and Gould have made sure that pieces of the Emmy-winning Breaking Bad will make a showing in the spin-off, not only in the appearance of characters from the old show, but in the settings of some scenes as well. However, people who did not watch Breaking Bad will still be able to fully enjoy Better Call Saul, which retains not only the character of Saul Goodman, but also the style of the preceding show. It is expected that fans who still crave a taste of the world of Walter White will be fully satisfied with the world of his future attorney.

By Jennifer Pfalz

The New York Times
The Atlantic
Star Tribune

Photo by Suman Park – Flickr License

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