‘Better Call Saul’ is criminally underrated

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Allow me to preface this with an explanation: There are those who will attempt to argue that “Better Call Saul” isn’t exactly underrated. They’ll point to the 23 Emmy nominations and the 97% on Rotten Tomatoes as definitive proof of its mainstream recognition. To which I’ll respond, “Fair enough.” I can’t argue that the show doesn’t get praise from tastemakers. 

That being said, how many people do you hear talking about “Better Call Saul”? I’m willing to bet you’ve heard some buzz around it. I’m also willing to bet that the people producing that buzz are the same people who haven’t stopped hyping up “Breaking Bad” since it ended seven years ago. And that’s not to throw shade at the fanbase — as someone who spent all of last October asking people if they’d seen “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” yet, I don’t think I’m in the position to do so. 

“It’s such a great sendoff to ‘Breaking Bad,’ ” I’d say, “the best five and a half seasons of television ever produced.” Then I’d pause. “Well, besides ‘Better Call Saul.’ You’ve watched ‘Better Call Saul,’ right? The new season starts next February — you’ve got to watch it!” 

I’ll be the first to admit that the “Breaking Bad” fandom has become a bit of an exclusive club. So, I’ve decided to refine my approach. The new season of “Better Call Saul” is currently airing. On behalf of the fanbase, I’m making adjustments to the required viewing because more people need to be talking about this show. Although it’s technically a prequel, “Better Call Saul” works without prior knowledge of “Breaking Bad.” In fact, I’d even say it works better as an entry point. And here are a few reasons why:

The characters

In case you’re going into this completely blind, “Better Call Saul” follows con man and lawyer Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk). By “Breaking Bad,” he’ll be known as Saul Goodman, Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) attorney and guide to the criminal underworld of Albuquerque, New Mexico. “Better Call Saul” also follows Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), a retired cop struggling to find a greater sense of purpose in his later years. By “Breaking Bad,” he’ll be a fixer for New Mexico’s most dangerous drug kingpin. 

Both characters are fan favorites in the original show, but they exist mostly as secondary characters. Their lives revolve around the actions of Walt and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), and we see them act primarily in reaction to the leads. But “Better Call Saul” is given the space needed to flesh Jimmy and Mike out as protagonists, and the show absolutely nails it. Their respective descent into criminal life is just as finely crafted as Walt’s, but their parallel narratives, in addition to the insanely charismatic supporting cast, makes “Better Call Saul” — in this humble stan’s opinion — the superior show in terms of characterization. 

Suspense

“Better Call Saul” relies on a lot of plot points that set up moments in “Breaking Bad.” Without spoilers, much of the show’s later plotlines revolve around a particular construction project that doesn’t get completed until “Breaking Bad.” Watching it as a prequel gives insight into the intricacies of this underworld, especially with the knowledge that Walt will eventually come along and throw a wrench in it. But watching the show chronologically? You find out about these projects in real time. It’s as if they made a movie about building the Death Star before Luke Skywalker shows up to blow it up. Actually, that might be a bad example. But you get the idea. 

“Better Call Saul” is also a legal procedural, and it might just be the funniest and most creative show in the genre since “Boston Legal.” A lot of cases don’t come up much in “Breaking Bad,” but when they do, they put entire plot arcs into new perspectives. “Better Call Saul” adds so much nuance to the world of “Breaking Bad” in ways that you won’t even notice until you watch the original series, and these plot points work even better in reverse.

Active fanbase

One of the things that made “Breaking Bad” such a great experience when it was still on television was its online fanbase. Theories, discussions, Easter egg hunts — these all thrived while the show was airing. And the community is just as active now with “Better Call Saul”: post-episode discussion threads, theory-building and excellent niche memes all await you on the show’s subreddit, and now’s a better time than ever to dive in.

So, if you’re looking for a slow-burn character study to fill your time in self-quarantine, you can’t go wrong with “Better Call Saul.” Don’t be intimidated by its prequel status, though, because “Better Call Saul” refines everything that made “Breaking Bad” so great and then some, not to mention the fact that it features some of the greatest cinematography and comedy in any show out right now. Hopefully, now that I’ve written this, I’ll have more people to talk to about “Better Call Saul.”

Seasons 1-4 of “Better Call Saul” are currently available on Netflix.

“Streaming Diaries” articles are recommendations from Daily Cal staff members on underrated content available on streaming platforms. Contact Olive Grimes at [email protected].