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AMC Says Hello to 'Better Call Saul,' Goodbye to 'Mad Men'
January 11, 2015  | By David Bianculli  | 2 comments

PASADENA, CA – AMC’s portion of the Television Critics Association press tour was highlighted by salutes to its first, and next, hot TV series: Mad Men and Better Call Saul…

Mad Men, of course, is the Matt Weiner creation that put AMC on the map in 2007, a period drama ending its long, influential run with a seven-episode farewell burst beginning in March. Better Call Saul, premiering next month, is a period drama as well: It’s the eagerly anticipated spinoff prequel of Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan’s equally influential and beloved AMC series.

Better Call Saul launches with a two-night premiere beginning Feb. 8, right after the midseason premiere of yet another white-hot AMC series, The Walking Dead, then continues in its regular night and time slot on Feb. 9. Mad Men returns on April 5, spooling out its final seven episodes in weekly doses.

Set six years before the beginning of Breaking Bad, the prequel Better Call Saul, co-created by Gilligan and fellow Breaking Bad writer-producer Peter Gould, shows how Bob Odenkirk, playing a struggling attorney named Jimmy McGill, eventually adopts the shifty shilling-on-TV alter ego known as Saul Goodman. Co-stars include Jonathan Banks (reprising his Breaking Bad role of Mike Ehrmantraut) and Michael McKean, and Gilligan, for one, is proud of what it’s turned into thus far.

“It is a risk,” Gilligan admitted at Saturday’s AMC press conference.

“I was scared the whole time,” he added. “I am still anxious about how it will be received. I would be lying if I said otherwise… Speaking as the director of the pilot, I had fun shooting the pilot from day one. I loved working with these guys… I feel so good about this show right now, but I don’t think I necessarily did until the writing was over, when the six of us finished writing.

“We have four excellent writers, along with us two. The writing was over, and we were in the editing room and seeing the script. It’s almost like the architectural blueprints for a building or something. It doesn’t really show the building.

“It’s not until you see these wonderful actors embody these parts that you know if you have anything or not.

Ultimately it took, for me at least, to see these episodes in aggregate and concrete, made tangible in the editing room, to suddenly say, ‘Shit. I don’t know if the world’s going to like this thing, but I really do. I am really proud of it.’ You guys always hear a lot of smoke blown at these things from the guys up on stage. The first two I’m really super proud of, and they only get better from there.

“It’s a goddamn good show, in my opinion.”

Matt Weiner, in his press conference for Mad Men, expressed similar pride, but with less profanity. He was proud, he said, of how the show stayed true to the characters even when it disrupted expected narratives – and, while providing no details, also expressed pride at the way his series was ending.

“It kind of worked out this way the last seven episodes,” Weiner explained. “I would say each one of them feels like the finale of the show… And there was sort of a kind of thing like, ‘Wow, what’s going to be next week? Like how could there be something else?’

“We committed to the story, as we have on the show. Not a lot of people would have their two main characters get divorced, and commit to it, or commit to a new agency just from an expense point of having to build a new set.

“We always committed to the story, and the audience is rewarded for knowing that entire story. But in these last seven, it just organically became a thing where every one of these episodes was the end of the show. And I didn’t expect that, and the writers, we didn’t expect that. It was just like, ‘Hey, this is that story we were going to tell when we got to the end of the show.’

Series star Jon Hamm, meanwhile, was asked if he was happy the show was ending so he wouldn’t have to answer any more questions about its final plot lines. His answer elicited wave after wave of laughter from the assembled group of TV critics and reporters.

“Yeah, I’m thrilled that it’s ending,” Hamm said dryly. “I’m so looking forward to being unemployed for as long as I’ll be unemployed. I’m so happy not to see any of these people ever again. And all of that is really great. Hashtag: sarcasm.”

When the laughter subsided, Hamm added:

“No, honestly, there’s no version of this ending that is not super painful for me, and mostly it’s because of these people…

“They’ve been the single constant in my creative life for the last decade. So that’s kind of tough.”

But Hamm had one last laugh line to deliver – an ad lib that brought down the house, and alluded to Mad Men supporting player Vincent Kartheiser (who plays Pete Campbell, and was on stage with Hamm, along with other founding players Elisabeth Moss, January Jones, Christina Hendricks and John Slattery).

It came after the follow-up question, when a reporter asked, “Are you guys prepared for a new bunch of questions about who will be in the spinoff?”

Hamm’s instant, memorable reply: “Better Call Pete."

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Donald Cohen
I still maintain that Jon Hamm should next do some type of comedy show. He's a natural comedian in many ways. A creative sitcom would be perfect.
Jan 13, 2015   |  Reply
Vincent Kartheiser contines to be the most under appreciated actor working on tv today. His acting is a work of art and, fortunately, serious tv viewers love & appreciate his very nuanced performance. The fact he has never even been nominated for an Emmy is just criminal.
Jan 12, 2015   |  Reply
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