Monday, 9 February 2015

Better Call Saul: Episode 1 "Uno" Review - A Rocky Start?

I recently finished watching the first episode of Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul on Netflix, and I find myself with mixed feelings. On the one hand parts of the show seemed to show that the Vince Gilligan magic that made the original show such a smash-hit is still burning brightly, but on the other I couldn't help but feel that this show seems like an inferior and somewhat unnecessary addition to the Breaking Bad mythology.

At it's core, Better Call Saul is a very different show to Breaking Bad and so perhaps it's unfair to compare the two - but that's what I'm doing, so get over it. The first episode of Breaking Bad set up a plot that left you on the edge of your seat, introduced us to a large group of characters that were all interesting in their own ways, and even told a relatively self-contained story in the process. In this sense, Better Call Saul is the vastly inferior show. To start with, after watching the pilot episode it feels like the plot of this show is really all over the place. While the beating heart of Breaking Bad was a relatively simple story - of a desperate man getting involved in crime, and the effect that has on his loved ones - here it feels like there's simply too many moving parts. The show sees Saul teach some local youths how to scam people, attempt to win some dodgy legal cases, take care of his sick brother and also explores Saul's life after the events of Breaking Bad. That is too many plot threads!

The effect this has is that it takes a very long time for this episode to gain any momentum or sense of direction. As a result, I would argue that the first half an hour of this show is actually pretty bland and dull with the final twenty minutes serving as a saving grace and providing a great hook for the next episode. These final twenty minutes are where the show really lives up to it's potential - why? Because it's focused on one plot thread. In the last twenty minutes of this episode there isn't much more jumping around, the show becomes focused purely on the story of Saul and his two apprentices attempting to scam a customer. It is here that the energy present in the best episodes of Breaking Bad can be found, the scenes in this final act left me on the edge of my seat and I hope that this is the direction that they go in with the rest of the series.

Unfortunately, as good as the final twenty minutes of the episode are this première is still bogged down by that tedious opening thirty. Additionally, I was disappointed by the lack of any real supporting characters established here. In the first episode of Breaking Bad Walt's entire family had won my heart and cemented themselves as a fantastic supporting cast. In the first episode of Better Call Saul, you have only one supporting character developed in any depth - that's Saul's brother - but even he isn't particularly memorable. Meanwhile, the character of Mike Ehrmantraut is thrown in there for one scene but doesn't have anything fun to do, and the two hooligans Saul begins to tutor show promise but they lack the depth that the characters of Skylar, Walter Jr, Hank and Marie showed in the first episode of Breaking Bad. If there's one thing that this show improves upon in it's second episode, it should be the supporting characters. The reason for this is because a good supporting cast will add an element of unpredictability to the show. We know that nothing too bad will happen to Mike and Saul, and we know that by the time Better Call Saul wraps up they'll have changed their names and moved to New Mexico. These two facts will suck all the tension out of the show, unless the writers can throw in some characters and plot points that we as an audience can really sink our teeth into.

As for the performances in this episode, Bob Odenkirk and Michael McKean are both solid in their roles but to be frank, no one else stands out as requiring praise. As I say, there simply aren't any great supporting characters to come out of this first episode, and as a result the supporting actors are equally forgettable.


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