In a jam? Well... you Better Call Saul!
Ever since we got word that of this Breaking Bad prequel - which spins off the Bob Odenkirk character of Saul Goodman - we’ve been dying to know how the new show measures up.
The series, which has already been renewed for a second season, follows Saul six years before he met Walter White. Aside from Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks reprises his role as Mike from the original series.
Since the Better Call Saul Season 1 premieres this Sunday on AMC (with a second episode airing the next night), we had the chance to grill creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould recently to find out what we can expect from the new series...
Spinning Off Saul Keeps Breaking Bad World Alive: Gilligan said he hadn’t really created Better Call Saul to basically keep a foot in the world of its predecessor, but he also doesn’t discount the thought. “That’s got to be a part of it is that we didn’t want to…I didn’t want to let it go.”
He added that that wasn’t the sole reason, though: “We just loved the character of Saul and I should preface it by saying there’s a lot of characters we loved in Breaking Bad and a lot of characters that we truly believed could carry their own show. I’d like to be precise and say that this is not the only character we think could carry his or her own series.”
The Title Was A No-Brainer: “We just assumed it was going to be Better Call Saul,” said Gilligan. "And then, a couple of months into it, I think we said to each other, ‘is that the best title?’ But we just assumed it. Then, suddenly, we started discussing it but we couldn’t think of whatever the hell else we’d call it…we never really thought of even one alternate.”
We’ll Learn More About Saul: One of the key reasons that Saul was chosen to spin off over anyone else, according to Gould, “we never learned that much about Saul.”
One thing the co-creator also knew for sure? “I wanted it to reflect well with the work that we’d already done.”
Who Is Jimmy?: Not to confuse things, but detail-oriented viewers of Breaking Bad will remember that Saul early on admitted that his name was not actually Saul ... even though that’s the name we would come to know him as. In the new series, Saul is known by his real name, James McGill, aka Jimmy. We will learn more about Jimmy, including the fact that he has a brother, Chuck, played by Michael McKean.
Chocolate + Peanut Butter = Saul & Mike: Mike Ehrentraut, played by Jonathan Banks, is another face from the Breaking Bad world that is a part of Better Call Saul. For Gould and Gilligan, it made sense to make Mike a part of the world since there are big differences between the two characters that work in the show’s favor.
“[Mike’s] the man who hardly speaks, who weighs every word,” Gould explained. “Jimmy is a motor mouth. Mike has great physical courage. He’s got physical cool. Jimmy, you can practically see little sweat droplets flying off his head, and we just felt that having those two characters together that there would be sparks. They would be like peanut butter and chocolate.”
More Breaking Bad Characters Could Show Up: “There are so many cast members from Breaking Bad we would have loved to have brought back if it would have fit the story,” said Gould. And while there are no plans yet to see earlier incarnations of Walter White or Jesse Pinkman in Better Call Saul, the creators aren’t ruling anything out.
Of any Breaking Bad characters we could see in the future, Gilligan would only say, “maybe we will see them.”
The Sky's The Limit! During the recent panel for the show at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour, the producers said there’s no limit to what they can do on the show. Is that necessarily a positive or a negative in the creative sense?
“It’s mostly a good thing,” Gilligan admitted, “but if I had to look at it as the glass half empty, I would say sometimes the best art comes from limits. A canvas has edges to it. You’ve got to paint the painting within the canvas. That self-imposed limitation of the canvas helps you focus your thinking. Helps refine and focus your art. Bear with me when I use the word art, but I mean, we all like to believe that it is.”
We Will Return to the Present…Someday: While we do get a glimpse of the present day at the start of the new series, it’s set in the past. That said, will we see the present again moving forward? “We definitely left that option open for ourselves,” Gould teased. Gilligan added: “Not to be overly coy, I would suspect the answer is yes... unless the show just gets flat-out canceled, I’d be surprised if we never went there again.”
Newbies Welcome: While it seems unlikely that anyone hasn’t watched Breaking Bad, the question did come up if viewers needed to know it to enjoy the prequel. “I mean, there’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re not in on the joke when you watch something,” said Gould. “I think that people will be able to get it even those who understand and certainly follow the story without having ever watched Breaking Bad.”
That said, you may get something extra if you have. “I think it’s definitely going to add a dimension because you have a sense of the direction of the story,” said Gould. “I think a better sense of direction of the story. But I think the episodes [do not] hinge on knowledge of Breaking Bad.”
Gilligan added, “We didn’t spend maybe as much time as we even should have thinking about how will people who’ve seen Breaking Bad versus those who haven’t. We sort of went forward and just came up with the story.”
Prognosis For Success? I’ve seen the first two episodes and while the new series is different than its predecessor, Better Call Saul is very engaging, mostly thanks for Odenkirk and the efforts of Gilligan and Gould to not rehash their earlier success but give the new series its own look and feel. Will audiences sign on for the long haul? “Well, we don’t know if it’s going to work,” said the ever-humble Gilligan to which Gould added, “We just know it works for us.”
Better Call Saul premieres with episodes airing Sunday and Monday at 10/9c on AMC.
Jim Halterman is the West Coast Editor of TV Fanatic and the owner of JimHalterman.com. Follow him on Twitter.