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Better Watch AMC's 'Better Call Saul'
February 4, 2015  | By David Bianculli

Better Call Saul, AMC’s prequel series to its brilliant Breaking Bad, arrives Sunday and Monday with a two-part premiere. Like its mother ship, it’s a ride you owe it to yourself to take…

Better Call Saul, in lesser hands, might have crumbled from the pressure of high expectations. But Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad, and Peter Gould, a Bad writer-producer who created Bob Odenkirk’s character of sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman in that show’s second season, have not only met expectations with Better Call Saul – they’ve defied them.

It’s a prequel, which picks up the story of Saul Goodman – then known as Jimmy McGill, before he adopted that brassy, advertising-on-TV “Better call Saul!” persona – back in 2002, years before the events dramatized in Breaking Bad. Yet some scenes flash back to an even earlier time, while the series itself opens in the present – in other words, after the events in Breaking Bad are over.

This makes Better Call Saul, by definition, both a prequel and a sequel. It’s also, like Breaking Bad, both a comedy and a drama – intensely serious at some points, and, at others, almost hilariously funny. That’s why Bob Odenkirk, a comic actor familiar from both HBO’s The Larry Sanders Show and Mr. Show, is as bold and good a choice here as Bryan Cranston, the sitcom dad from Malcolm in the Middle, was for Walter White in Breaking Bad. The angst and character metamorphosis are tricky, but the comedy is trickier – and Odenkirk, like his series co-stars and guest stars, nails both.

I’ve previewed the first three episodes of Better Call Saul, which premieres Sunday night at 10 ET, just after the midseason return of AMC’s biggest hit series, The Walking Dead. The second episode follows Monday night, as the show nestles into its new evening and time period, claiming another night of TV excellence for AMC.

These first episodes are ridiculously enjoyable: beautifully directed, slyly written, and wonderfully performed, with surprises, jokes, twists and shocks all along the way. The music on the soundtrack, the movies alluded to by McGill, the unexpected but immensely welcome familiar faces from Breaking Bad – all of it’s great. And if you’ve never seen Breaking Bad, you can start here and enjoy yourself.

At this point, I don’t even want to indentify Odenkirk’s co-stars, because discovering all that is part of the fun. I do set the stage for the opening scene, and why it’s so effective and delicious, in my review today on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross. You can read and hear that review on the Fresh Air website, without concerns of learning too much.

The thing you have to learn before Better Call Saul starts, though, is that it’s absolutely, positively not to be missed. If this new series show ends as superbly as it begins, Gilligan and company have another TV masterpiece on their hands.
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