We’re Not Afraid to Say It: Better Call Saul Sucks

I remember when Saul Goodman was introduced on Breaking Bad; Walter White seeks him out when one of his dealers is arrested.  Jesse talks him into it by pointing out they don’t need a criminal lawyer, they need a criminal lawyer.  Saul initially looks like just cheap shyster with a ridiculous office and shady clients.  However, when Walt and Jesse later kidnap him at gunpoint, he proves himself to be a cool, extremely capable attorney.  Walt and Jesse try to bribe Saul to keep a client quiet, and Saul suggests simply killing his client instead.  On Breaking Bad, Saul was smart, dark, and entertaining flamboyant, which made him a welcome presence on a show that dark.  We were excited that he was getting his own show to fill in his backstory; then, with the promise of Jonathan Banks as his wingman, Better Call Saul looked like a knockout.

The show suggested some high stakes action in the first few episodes, but now the most exciting things Jimmy does are bribing Kinko’s employees and making lots of copies.

After two seasons, we’re ready to throw in the towel.  We know that Breaking Bad writers can fill episodes with low-key events and then provide a surprising payoff and we hoped the second season of Better Call Saul might provide some reward for patient viewing.  Nope.  All we had was Saul’s brother recording him saying something unethical; how will Saul get out of this one?  This is a tough bind, unless he’s willing to lie about it and/or destroy the tape (we’re a long way from Walter watching Jesse’s girlfriend choke to death at the end of Breaking Bad’s second season).  Meanwhile Mike decided not to kill a guy at the bequest of a mysterious letter suggesting that yet another character from Breaking Bad will appear on Better Call Saul.  Who’s next? Jesse? Badger? Skylar?  Seriously, at this point they may as well have Bryan Cranston show up and just be done with it.

These guys get up to some really bad things, like secretly altering files and recording conversations. Yeah, we’re a long way from hiding bombs in wheelchairs and poisoning children.

This is my problem with this show; the show seemingly has no interest in building its own identity and seems entirely content to simply serve as a lesser prequel to Breaking Bad.  The show has never rivaled Breaking Bad in terms of exciting plotlines or interesting characters and, instead, simply pilfers characters from Breaking Bad.  For two full seasons, we’ve watched Saul (now Jimmy McGill) as a low-rent attorney who flirts with mainstream success but can’t seem to stop hustling people out of free drinks.  He has a fairly mundane existence that he is mildly unsatisfied with.  Meanwhile, Mike Ehrmantraut is seemingly on an entirely separate show where he faces off with some Breaking Bad villains, which is interesting but completely unrelated to Saul’s life.  The show has become a Phantom Menace of sorts, seemingly unable to produce any original interesting characters or plotlines of its own.  I can’t imagine anyone enjoying this show who hadn’t watched Breaking Bad, and I did watch Breaking Bad and I’m getting sick of this show.

On one crazy episode of Breaking Bad, Walter White robbed a train. On a particularly crazy episode of Better Call Saul, Jimmy wore a cowboy hat.

It’s clear why Better Call Saul continually reintroduces characters from Breaking Bad, the show really can’t stand on its own.  The central conflicts aren’t terribly interesting.  In this season, Saul took a job at a prestigious law firm and then left it to start his own firm, events which were almost as exciting as my description of them.  Saul also engaged in a slow-moving struggle with his brother over an important client, events that would have consumed maybe half an episode of The Good Wife or even Suits.  Mike, who had the most engaging scenes this season (but nothing compared to his action scenes in Breaking Bad) started a feud with a local drug lord but ultimately decided not to kill him, which makes sense, as this drug lord has to survive so he can appear in Breaking Bad.  Between knowing who has to survive to appear on Breaking Bad and the sheer pointlessness of Saul’s conflict with his brother, the stakes on this show couldn’t be lower.

One thrilling twist this season was that time Jimmy filmed a commercial without his partners’ permission. It was all we could talk about at the watercooler that week.

I probably wouldn’t mind Better Call Saul as much if it didn’t win such inexplicable praise from critics, many of whom insist that the show is better than Breaking Bad.  I even agree with many observations these critics make but disagree with their opinions of them.  For example, I totally agree that Better Call Saul has “understated, methodical, and deliberate plotting,” (i.e., is boring), that “the stakes are not life or death,”(really they’re about as low as they can get), and certainly there’s no other more interesting plotline the show could have used for its cliffhanger (but I really wish there had been).  It’s even crazier to me that some critics we enjoy like Matt Zoller Seitz are seriously blaming themselves for wanting something to happen on the show.  Dude, it’s not you, it’s this show.  Heck, Seitz even suggests he’s been conditioned by TV to expect something to happen.  Yes, you’ve been conditioned by Breaking Bad, by these same characters and by these same writers.  You expect something to happen because last time you saw these characters, things would happen.

Just when the proceedings get ridiculously boring, Better Call Saul will call in a familiar face from Breaking Bad.

I’d also be a lot more open to the argument that Better Call Saul is a very different show than Breaking Bad if the show didn’t undercut that argument by tying itself so tightly to Breaking Bad.  The show can’t have it both ways.  If it wants to be a different show than Breaking Bad, then we need to stop seeing all of the same familiar faces (and the show needs to stop relying on the introduction of a Breaking Bad character to heighten suspense).  If it wants to be an extension of Breaking Bad, then we need something interesting to happen.  The show can’t just be a reunion party for Breaking Bad characters, particularly when the two stars of Breaking Bad are the only two who can’t be invited.

I love Bob Odenkirk but he seems about as natural a resident of New Mexico as David Caruso was of Miami.

Don’t get me wrong, Better Call Saul does some things really well.  Better Call Saul looks a lot like Breaking Bad, with great camera work and an ability to make Albuquerque look beautiful. The acting is uniformly pretty good and Bob Odenkirk is a surprisingly capable leading man.  So if I had a chance to speak to the writers of Better Call Saul, I’d ask them to give their cast some material worthy of their talents.  I’d ask them to commit to either being the prequel to Breaking Bad or being something new, and if they choose prequel, then interesting things need to happen.  And, yeah, in season three, it would be cool to finally see Jimmy call himself Saul.  Meanwhile, I’m gonna catch up on Aaron Paul’s new show The Path (it’s really good!) and look forward to Bryan Cranston as LBJ.  Those two guys took their success on Breaking Bad and went on to do new things that are also really, really good, maybe season three of Better Call Saul could try to do the same.

  • Michael O. Callaghan

    I totally agree w/ this. I think a lot of other people do too but are afraid to look bad/just miss breaking bad/are emperor’s-new-clothes conformists. I like BCS but I still think it could be much better if it did the things you say!

    • Coopdojo

      Thanks, Michael. Let’s hope Vince Gilligan and the team take some risks next season to merit this show’s existence. BTW, huge fans of UCB having had a chance to see Asssskat a few times when we lived in LA. Glad to see it’s still going strong.

  • Adam

    I’ll say it straight up: Better call Saul sucks. It’s lame and I’m giving up on it now. Maybe I’m not “sophisticated” enough to understand it. Whatever.

  • Stanczyk

    Excellent review.

  • illnagas

    Note: Beware the unholy wrath of the BCS fanboys.

    This show really isn’t that bad, it does what it does well. The problem is what it doesn’t do: move forward. No, that isn’t a cry for explosions and car chases. I just want it to move forward but in 2 seasons it is just sitting there floating like Saul in a swimming pool. Any minor plot advancements are negated by the fact that they’re circular.

    This is a prime example of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Critics are falling over themselves to praise it but their critiques avoid all the obvious issues of the show, instead blaming themselves for not getting it. I’ve never seen that before. “I don’t like it, but it must be my fault…”

  • mandawg

    Are you inside my head? I agree with this 100%. Just look at the act breaks: Saul plays with tethered balls; Mike puts out a Welcome mat. I’ve seen Matlock episodes that were more enthralling.

  • Just finished season 2. What a waste of time. The story lines are going nowhere.

  • dave

    Season 3 episode 1 sucks too Imsick of reynolds wrap man Kim wexler semicolon or period Who Cares? Saul was great Jimmy is a snooze fest

  • mouth of redmayne

    why are they dragging out this story… if it werent for mikes story this show would be unwatchable

  • DAVE KIEGEL

    Now they are repeating story lines that sucked

  • DAVE KIEGEL

    I am sick of Lenny. Wrap him in tinfoil and put him in a RV and let him make meth or roll it off a cliff.

  • Dawid Borejszo

    I disagree. I love the show and I’m very invested in it.

  • Austin Flores

    I agree and disagree…. The show moves at a snails pace and it makes me feel that Vince and Peter are writing the show like they’re trying to explain a joke to that person in your family or office who “just doesn’t get it!”
    I love the show because I know Mike Ehrmantraut, and Tuko and Don Hector and Gus Fring and know the demise that awaits each character as it played out in B.B.! Should they speed the show up? OF COURSE! I would love to be able to have to rewind (I always DVR this show) or watch the show again because I think I missed something that’s vital to the story-line. Will I give up on Better Call Saul? NEVER!
    Speed up the story-line! PLEASE!

    *BTW, AMC has added way too many commercials – Hence the reason I DVR!!

    • Coopdojo

      We agree that Vince and Peter are insanely talented at tightly written, cause-and-effect shows like Saul and Breaking Bad. But these stakes are so low we wish they were taking their considerable talents to a story that had more weight to it.

      Oh, and they need all of those commercial breaks to tell you how awesome Badlands is.

  • Vittorio Frangilli

    Really, season 3 finale is the worst thing ever seen in series… the entire season 3 could be done in 3 episodes, total…

  • Jim

    10 FUCKING episodes is not a fucking season!!!

  • Ree Actionary

    Good piece.
    Season 3 just finished and it was just as pointless as Season 2.
    Gilligan is punking us.

  • abc

    I’m just catching up on season 2 and you are SOOO RIGHT!

    Breaking Bad was a great show but Better Call Saul is just a jerk off for Vince Gilligan. It’s completely boring. This show can’t stand on its own legs at all. Only thing it has is Gilligan’s pretentious “artistic” crap like the coffee mug scenes.
    The scenes with Hector Salamanca are so cheesy and they don’t even make sense. He knows that Mike is an ex-cop, yet he threatens to kill a little WHITE girl over a gun charge. A bit over the top and unrealistic if you ask me. I also can’t believe that they even brought back the cheesy twins who wear shark skin suits all the time. Shouldn’t Gilligan know by now that it was too much?
    But the Mike storyline is at least somewhat interesting. I’m at episode 8 and I’ve come to the point where I just fast forward through all the Saul stuff because I know it’s going to be boring and pointless anyway.

    The thing that made the first Breaking Bad seasons so special was that you never knew what was going to happen next. With Better Call Saul it’s the opposite. You always know what’s going to happen next. Something boring.