The first season of AMC’s Better Call Saul did something that fell somewhere on the difficulty spectrum between “Tricky” and “Borderline Impossible”: It took a spinoff of one of the most beloved and critically-acclaimed shows of its era and made it a success. In hindsight, we probably should have seen it coming. The show came from Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan and longtime Breaking Bad producer and writer Peter Gould, and it starred Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks, and maybe everyone should have just trusted that all those people didn’t suddenly forget how to make a quality television program. But at the time, I mean, what was the precedent there? Frasier? And does that make Chuck McGill Niles in this analogy? Because that almost works, but then who’s Daphne? His tin foil suit? The whole thing just falls apart too quickly.
The point I’m getting at here is that season one of Better Call Saul was very good, and the second season, which debuts on February 15, is off to another strong start through the two episodes released to critics.
Season two picks up moments before season one ended and hits the audience with an immediate swerve. (Season one drops on Netflix February 1, so it might be good to double back on the finale — or just the last 10 minutes, or the entire season, up to you — before picking things up again.) We end up exactly where we ended up before, with Jimmy saying “I know what stopped me and it’s never stopping me again” and speeding away from the courthouse humming “Smoke on the Water,” but it fills things in a little and sets up his next step. Which, as pictured above, involves floating in a lazy river and drinking grifted boat drinks for a bit. It’s a fun step.
And that, as they say, remains the rub. Jimmy’s tormented by the push and pull between flim-flam man and respected member of the legal community, which he seems to want to be equally at different times, even while knowing he can’t really have both. He can combine them to make a suspicious flim-flam lawyer — which, as we know, he will — but right now we’re still mid-struggle. So, yes, he will put the suit back on and continue pushing forward with the big nursing home case he and Chuck started working on last season, but he’ll also fudge the lines a bit in some other areas, and his eyes will light up with glee when he does.
What else, what else…
Well, the cinematography and writing are still both top-notch. And the people who work at the show still appear to be having quite a bit of fun. Examples: Mike has a delightful little arc doing some work for the pill-selling pharmaceutical employee that features about three or four Level 5 Jonathan Banks Eye Rolls; Chuck is moving quickly from troubled genius mentor to something like a supervillain; and if you enjoyed last season’s “Chicago Sunroof” reveal (and who among us doesn’t enjoy an unhinged lawyer interrupting bingo to tell a group of seniors about pooping through a sunroof?), I am pleased to announce that the phrase “Hoboken squat cobbler” is a major part of Jimmy’s defense of a client in the second episode.
That’s one of my favorite things about the show. Not specifically the vivid scatological humor it sprinkles in (although that, too), but the fun, in general. A big part of that is the fact that they get to point a camera at Bob Odenkirk every day, but think about this: The first season of this show featured jokes about a sexually suggestive talking toilet and Jonathan Banks’ gut-wrenching “I broke my boy” speech. Not a lot of shows can pull that off. And the result of it all, which I realized while watching the second episode of season two, is that I think I might enjoy watching Better Call Saul more than Breaking Bad. That’s not me saying it’s “better.” One full season and two episodes of the second is way too soon to make a call like that, and the bar to clear is located somewhere in the stratosphere. But, for a drama, any drama, it is almost a joy to watch.
The other interesting thing about Better Call Saul is that, just by its nature as a prequel, we know where he ends up. We know at some point he makes the full-on transition from Jimmy McGill, small-time criminal lawyer working out of the back of a nail salon, to Saul Goodman, a flashy and felonious “criminal” lawyer working out of a strip mall. So the question with the show isn’t so much “Where is all this headed?” as it is “How are we getting there?” Season two might be too early for Jimmy to print up new business cards and buy fuchsia dress shirts, but so far, it’s definitely providing more insight into how that happens.
Better Call Saul, like life, is about the journey, not the destination. And sometimes, also like life, it’s about drinking margaritas in a lazy river. So it’s like life in two ways, really.
Better Call Saul returns to AMC on Monday, February 15 at 10 p.m. ET.