Jon Hein knows TV. In the late 1990s, he coined the phrase "Jump the Shark" when he founded the site of the same name. Since then, he's written about television everywhere from The New York Times to TV Guide. In his column for Primetimer, he shares his thoughts on what's new and good on TV and the shows on his radar for the coming week.
I remember enjoying Breaking Bad during its first season when, frankly, not a lot of others were watching. The dad from Malcolm in the Middle played a dying chemistry teacher who started making meth in order to build a nest egg for his New Mexico family. It was an intriguing, well written and superbly acted show that left you wanting more after its quick first season.
A Netflix jolt helped Breaking Bad undergo an incredible surge of popularity leading all the way up to its finale four seasons later. The swelling audience got caught up in the life of Walther White and everyone involved in Heisenberg's world. A small AMC show became an international Emmy-winning phenomenon.
Naturally a spinoff made sense. The saga of Jesse? The remnants of Walt's family? Badger, Skinny Pete, or one of the other sketchy characters who survived the reign of Heisenberg? Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould chose to focus on another notable character — a shifty lawyer named Saul Goodman. The origin story of Mike Ehrmantraut, a heavy who (spoiler alert) doesn't make it through BB, would be the other half of the puzzle.
Bob Odenkirk, who provided comic relief and slimy connections as Saul, would be the star of this new drama. A guy who made his bones in sketch comedy would be the lead. Jonathan Banks would play a younger Mike figuring out life in Albuquerque. Vince Gilligan was back at square one with two beloved minor characters and one of the best series of all-time under his belt.
There was plenty of skepticism going into Better Call Saul despite the creators' dramatic pedigree. No one would be interested in the sleazy lawyer as a main character without Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn or Aaron Paul to watch every week. But right from the start, this drama would defy expectations like:
"You're making a prequel to Breaking Bad? Why would you mess with that legacy?"
There was plenty of fear returning to this New Mexico universe without its main stars. But the creators had a few aces up their sleeves. BB's acting got plenty of acclaim, but the show's writing and directing were at the same level. That feeling of the original series seamlessly transferred to its prequel.
"It's about Saul and it's starring Bob Odenkirk, so it's going to be a comedy, right?"
Saul Goodman was very funny on Breaking Bad, but the character is multi-dimensional and packs plenty of drama. How did Saul Goodman become so unscrupulous? What happened after his trip to the vacuum repair shop where new identities were assumed and he said goodbye to Walt? And what was Saul's life outside of his cheesy office and media blitz? Better Call Saul has a fine sense of humor, but the intense drama is what makes it special.
"How can you make a prequel? We know what's going to happen!"
The lives of Lalo and Kim are the only undetermined fates on Better Call Saul, but since Gus proclaimed he was taking care of the "last of the Salamancas" on BB, things don't look good for the charming Lalo. As for Kim, Rhea Seehorn embodies the best character on the show. Better than Mike, Gus, Jimmy, Saul, Gene... any of the others. And frankly, it doesn't matter that we know the others make it through to the next series.
"How can you make a Breaking Bad prequel without Walt and Jesse? Is this show going to be more than just cameos?"
Whenever someone from the original series appears, you can't help but smile. Seeing old cast members alive and kicking is a thrill. But these appearances are expertly woven into Saul's storyline. None seem like a reach. And who doesn't want more Gustavo Fring? I can't wait to see Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul this season, but they are the icing. Not the cake.
"Don't the events of Breaking Bad limit what can happen in Saul's universe. It's just going to be some crazy clients and bad TV ads."
Never underestimate the writing on Better Call Saul, which has always come first. Just ask any of the cast members. The difficulty in keeping three timelines consistent is no small feat. But everything lines up. Seeing early versions of characters whose fates play out on BB is a joy.
Of course, there's Saul, Mike, Gus, Hector and other notables from Breaking Bad. But there's also Kim, Lalo, Nacho (RIP), Howard (RIP), Chuck (RIP), and countless others new to this world.
Tonight the first of the final episodes finally arrives, and the main character has three fates to predict.
Jimmy McGill - This one is easy. We know that Slippin' Jimmy will go full Saul Goodman. The question is, what puts him over that edge to full-scale sleaze? It's gotta be Kim related.
Saul Goodman - Saul ends up busted and on his way to Nebraska courtesy of Robert Forster's vacuum shop. But how did he get there and was his estate of excess with the golden toilet all that he left behind. Kim grew up in Nebraska. Just saying.
Gene Takovic - Here's the biggest mystery of all. This is Jimmy/Saul in the present day, and we have no idea how things will turn out for the Cinnabon man. He has been made by a nosy cab driver, but where does he turn? Is there anyone alive to turn to? And who is looking for him?
There are a ton of other unanswered questions. What about Mike Ehrmantraut? This show started as a 50/50 split between these two, but the later seasons naturally have focused more on Jimmy and Kim. Mike isn't Gus' number two just yet, but we know something has got to change. I'll take more Mike any day of the week.
Main characters do perish in this universe, but I believe Kim Wexler will survive these final episodes. Lalo's days are numbered, but it will be Mike that pulls the trigger and not Gus. Truthfully, I have no idea how things are going to turn out. And that's just the way I like it.
If Vince Gilligan has another spinoff about Wendy's trips to the Crossroads Motel or Francesca's life as a temp, consider me there. In the meantime, let's all savor these final trips into the world of Jimmy/Saul/Gene.
Here's what else is worth watching this week…
What We Do In The Shadows (FX)
Tuesday, July 12th 10:00 PM ET
I originally missed the boat on this very funny series that documents the lives of vampires on Staten Island. But now I'm all caught up and ready for season four with baby Colin Robinson.
This season, their Staten Island residence needs some renovations, Nadja wants to open a vampire nightclub, and Lazlo decides to raise Colin Robinson as one of his own. Expect the same dark wit and so-called attempts to blend into society from these beloved creatures of the night.
The Rehearsal (HBO)
Friday, July 15th 11:00 PM ET
Nathan Fielder fans, rejoice. The star of Nathan For You and producer of How to With John Wilson returns with a six-episode series. Nathan is once again trying to help people with their everyday lives.
This time, actual rehearsals for big moments in life are set up so people know what to expect when the real thing happens. The sense of humor from Nathan's previous work is all over these practice sessions. The journey is often more entertaining than the end result. Watch trailer.
My Daughter's Killer (Netflix)
Tuesday, July 12th
A true-crime documentary about a dad who fights for decades in France and Germany to bring his daughter's killer to justice and left to resort to his own devices.
THIS WEEK'S STIHTGT!
(Shows That I Hope To Get To!)
How To Change Your Mind (Netflix) - A four-part series that examines the effects of LSD, MDMA, mescaline and psilocybin on our brains. Tuesday.
Victoria's Secret: Angels & Demons (Hulu) - This docuseries uncovers everything you wanted to know about the infamous brand and those who were involved. Thursday.
(Really Good Shows You May Have Missed)
This Week's Pick: Mr. Show (HBO Max, Hulu) - One of the most underrated sketch series ever produced. Bob Odenkirk (yes, Saul Goodman) and David Cross go full Monty Python goofing on everything from politics and religion to every corner of pop culture. You'll recognize a bunch of young L.A. comedians destined to be future stars. This is sketch comedy with a true edge.
Downton Abbey (Peacock)
Banshee (HBO Max)
Police Squad! (Prime Video)
Party Down (Starz)
The Great (Hulu)
Magic City (Peacock)
For All Mankind (Apple TV+)
Abbott Elementary (ABC)
Luther (HBO Max)
Downton Abbey (Netflix)
The Good Wife (Paramount+)
Freaks & Geeks (Hulu)
Patriot (Prime Video Prime Video)
Battlestar Galactica (Peacock)
The Split (Prime Video)
Halt and Catch Fire (AMC+)
If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.
Get vaccinated. Get a booster. Stay healthy and safe!
Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.