Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan's spinoff offers a fix to Walter White fans and the uninitiated alike

By Amanda Michelle Steiner
Updated February 08, 2015 12:30 PM
Credit: Ursula Coyote/AMC

Since Breaking Bad‘s wrenching finale in September 2013, fans have been craving another fix from showrunner Vince Gilligan – especially after the announcement that Bob Odenkirk‘s character Saul Goodman would lead his own spin-off.

Better Call Saul has finally arrived, and it’s (dare we say it?) addictive.

Rather than trying to ride a few more miles on Breaking Bad‘s success – as so many other spin-offs before it have – AMC’s newest offering thrives as a standalone. Breaking Bad fans will of course enjoy the callbacks and cameos as we learn how James “Jimmy” McGill became Saul Goodman, but the series also cleverly avoids alienating viewers who have never seen the dad from Malcolm in the Middle cook meth.

For the uninitiated, Saul takes place in 2002 Albuquerque, New Mexico. Jimmy McGill is a small-time criminal attorney who, despite the desire to make it big, ends up spending most of his time going through the turnstile at the public defender’s office.

With a fairly crooked past, Jimmy is intent on remaining on the straight-and-narrow until dire circumstances involving his family force him to dip into the more calculating side of himself. This sets off a chain reaction that will eventually lead us to the man we saw in Breaking Bad: A shifty criminal lawyer adept at finding legal loopholes, helping his clients launder drug money and making people disappear.

As if you needed more convincing, here are a few reasons to watch.

Breaking Bad Tie-ins

The Saul universe is still intimately entangled with its predecessor’s, and it’s thrilling to catch those moments, big and small. Diehard fans will especially lose their minds over one cameo at the end of the pilot, “Uno.”

It’s Darkly Funny

Like Breaking Bad, Saul can be undeniably grim. That tone stems from the show’s realism in depicting details ranging from how Jimmy psyches himself up in the mirror before trials to the pitiful printer-paper “nameplate” on the door of his tiny office inside a nail salon.

These tiny, sad moments are offset by a dark sense of humor that Odenkirk plays perfectly. For example, Jimmy’s interactions with cantankerous parking attendant Mike (Jonathan Banks) are equally as hilarious as when his dramatics (“You will atone!”) fall flat.

Odenkirk Will Win Awards

There’s no doubt why Odenkirk was singled out to expand Breaking Bad‘s legacy. He is utterly engrossing as Jimmy McGill, playing the role with heart and sympathy – but not too much. He’s a flawed person you can’t help but root for, but not in a way that feels like your morality is being chipped away. (When did you stop rooting for Bryan Cranston‘s Walt, and what did it do to your soul?)

Watching Jimmy in action, you can see him developing the persona that made him a Bad breakout. He’s a nervous mess who tells himself, “It’s showtime!” in the mirror before every courtroom appearance, but he bursts through the doors with all the confidence we know him to possess as Saul Goodman. It’s totally captivating, and Odenkirk will absolutely win awards for his portrayal.

Better Call Saul‘s two-part premiere begins Sunday at 10 p.m. ET on AMC. The second episode airs during its regular timeslot on Monday at 10 p.m. ET.