Better Call Saul: Here’s What Critics Think About The Breaking Bad Spinoff

January 21, 2015 | Rhett Jones

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: A sleazebag lawyer walks into the desert, finds trouble, gets involved with some shady drug kingpins and maybe loses his own soul. If it sounds familiar that’s because it was the basic character arc of Saul Goodman, the beloved weasel attorney on Breaking Bad. It was never clear if Saul was a good man or not on Breaking Bad, so now he’s getting his own show to explore the days before the meth-dealing and money laundering.

Better Call Saul reportedly begins where Breaking Bad ended — Saul is in hiding, working at a Cinnabon. He goes home and pops in a videotape of one of his old TV commercials, advertising his ambulance chasing ways and then the show flashes back to win he was a straight-arrow, small-time attorney just getting his start. Back then his real name was Jimmy McGill and from all the early notices it seems the show will focus on his many bad decisions that lead to a life of crime and changing his name.

You can see some highlights from the reviews that started coming in below.

Business Insider: Extremely Positive

It’s everything you could possibly want from a spin-off of the hit series — musical montages that pull at your heart strings, cameos from some of your favorite Albuquerque natives, and plenty of Saul trying to talk his way out of trouble.

Since it’s a prequel series, you know the stakes are a bit lower for some characters — Mike’s not going anywhere — yet, “BCS” still has the ability to fill you with excitement and laughs at one moment while tearing the rug out from under you so that you’re rocking back and forth in your seat a bundle of anxiety-ridden nerves. Still, in some ways, it slightly feels like something we may have seen before.

Does the pilot episode stand up to that of “Breaking Bad”? No, but, to be fair, I don’t think many opening premiere episodes do.

Variety: Positive With Some Criticisms

Best-known as a comic actor and the source of considerable mirth in “Breaking Bad” (one reason “Saul” was originally conceived as a comedy), Odenkirk is perfectly fine in bringing added dimension to the character. It’s asking a lot, though, to build virtually every scene around him with minimal support in these opening hours, considering Jonathan Banks’ enforcer, Mike, has yet to fully emerge as a significant player …

In short, “Better Call Saul” requires a certain leap of faith, trusting that Gilligan and Gould – having so excelled in delivering unexpected twists and surprises on the first show – can gradually build this into a more compelling and fully realized concept. In the early going, they display a deft touch at slowly peeling back layers on the characters, if perhaps a bit too assiduously to as yet establish “Saul” as anything approaching the sort of addictive experience its predecessor became.

Hollywood Reporter: Very Positive

Better Call Saul should be able to overcome the initial feeling out period Breaking Bad fans may have with it. But the success of Breaking Bad has also led Gilligan and Gould to perhaps feel less obliged to make a show that may have been hinted at, or bantered about like an idea in a brain-storming session. They made a show they clearly love … But they also reiterated that the freedom to tell a different kind of story, to tinker with familiar characters and to set whatever tone which strikes them … So Saul is very much its own beast, a fairly clear departure stylistically from Breaking Bad and a drama with wholly different roots as well.

The first hour moves slower than people might be expecting, but builds to and ends on a wonderful cliff-hanger that is partly but not fully solved in the second episode (luckily airing only a day after the pilot).

Odenkirk, for his part, is superb here. He proves yet again what a fine, grounded actor he is. Sure, he gets to unleash himself in fits and starts, but is primarily seen as introspective, still mostly innocent, as the series starts.

HitFix: Very Positive

If I began watching “Better Call Saul!” as a skeptic, the first three episodes have mostly made me a believer. There are nods to the parent show — and those are among the more emotionally affecting parts of this young series — but “Saul” quickly learns to function as its own thing, rather than taking the easy approach of being “Breaking Bad, Episode 1: The Phantom Ehrmantraut.”

The Saul Goodman of “Breaking Bad” couldn’t carry a series, and Gilligan and Gould have wisely humanized him to the point where Jimmy McGill (and Bob Odenkirk) can …

So far, it’s fun to be back in that world, and to be getting a more fleshed-out version of Saul.

Hypeable: Positive

For his part, Bob Odenkirk is playing a different version of Saul while leaving us a small trail of personality traits that are fully expanded by the time the events of Bad roll around. It’s fun to watch this weaker version of Saul try to get his way when he had much less experience.

Better Call Saul is off to a captivating start … Season 1 looks like it’s going to focus largely on the origins, and that’s perfectly okay in our book.

Anyone who’s skeptical about the show should give it a try and hang in there for at least the first two episodes to get a sense of where the show is going. Since the show has been slowing revealing answers to the big questions, we’re feeling very eager to see the future episodes.

(Photo: Better Call Saul Promo)