The first half of Better Call Saul’s excruciating and exceptional final season ended with a literal bang. At the end of “Plan and Execution,” Lalo Salamanca walks into Jimmy McGill and Kim Wexler’s apartment and shoots a distraught and unaware Howard Hamlin in the head. Howard was always an antagonist to Jimmy and Kim, but the episode carefully builds sympathy for him as it focuses more on his personal life, making his death even more visceral. It was a calculated and gutting cliffhanger, one of the most emotional TV moments of the year, the kind of storytelling that leaves you breathless for several minutes. “Plan and Execution” was the episode Emmy nominee Bob Odenkirk submitted for consideration, and the episode also received a nomination for writing. And yet, another Emmys ceremony has passed and Better Call Saul is, yet again, empty-handed, despite 46 nominations throughout its six seasons.
The first half of season six of Better Call Saul – the portion of the season eligible for this year’s Emmys cycle – featured not only some of the best television writing, performances, and direction of the year, but some of the best television writing, performances, and direction in television history. From page to performance, Better Call Saul was the best drama on television throughout its entire run and yet, it is 0-46 at the Emmys. The Emmy-eligible episodes were the strongest stretch in its entire run, with careful pacing that stayed true to its character-focused narrative sprinkled with a few action-packed, visually remarkable episodes that left you on the edge of your seat, shaking, with an extremely high heart rate. Bob Odenkirk – who had a nearly fatal heart attack during the filming of this season – delivered his most transformative, vulnerable performance yet as Jimmy McGill gradually became Saul Goodman.
Seeing a bearded Odenkirk in cheap sunglasses and a suit at last night’s ceremony, it’s almost impossible to believe he’s the same man who played Jimmy McGill. Odenkirk has been nominated for his performance every season and has never won. Rhea Seehorn’s clever performance as the conflicted Kim Wexler is legendary, a master class in subtlety. But judging by her loss for her first (and long overdue) nomination in a category that reduces her lead performance to a supporting one, subtly is not appreciated in the awards circles. They want more Julia Garner screaming in a southern accent, I guess.
Better Call Saul has a lot working against it in the awards space. It’s in the most competitive Emmys category and it’s not a new show anymore. In its earlier seasons, the series was overlooked by buzzier shows that swept the Emmys like Game of Thrones and The Handmaid’s Tale, shows that saturated culture so much that they were impossible to beat. Better Call Saul is also a spinoff of one of those buzzy shows that swept the Emmys every year, so many television academy voters probably didn’t even bother with it. Voters are more interested in what’s popular and fresh, like winners Squid Game and Zendaya. While Odenkirk and Seehorn are stars in their own right, they’re also more elusive celebrities. They’re beloved, but they aren’t flashy and they aren’t wrapped up in Hollywood’s inner circle. Essentially, they are normal people who act. Next year, they’ll thankfully have another chance and they have the best narrative yet: this is their final chance. For the last eligible year for The Americans, that worked for Matthew Rhys but not Keri Russell, and I could argue that the Emmys have been a joke ever since.
Every time I write about awards shows, I must include the caveat that awards shows do not matter. Awards shows are not essential. They are possibly even stupid. If Bob Odenkirk won an Emmy for best actor in a drama, my life wouldn’t fix itself. If Rhea Seehorn won an Emmy for her performance as Kim Wexler, the climate would remain in ruin. But awards do amplify shows or films for larger audiences and have historical significance. Throughout Better Call Saul’s entire run, it has been either one of the best shows on television or the best show on television. Its performances, from Odenkirk to Seehorn to performances from its supporting cast including Michael McKean, Tony Dalton, Giancarlo Esposito, Jonathan Banks, Michael Mando, and Patrick Fabian have been some of the best of all time. Better Call Saul deserves more than just 46 nominations.
It’s an honor to be nominated, sure, but for a show as good as Better Call Saul, it’s become insulting that it hasn’t won a single Emmy. Hopefully next year, embarrassing Emmys history won’t repeat itself.