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Will Finding Your Roots Explain Bob Odenkirk's Lack of an Emmy for Better Call Saul?

Even if it doesn't, Tuesday's episode also features a deep dive into comedian Iliza Shlesinger's family history.
  • Bob Odenkirk in Finding Your Roots (Photo: PBS)
    Bob Odenkirk in Finding Your Roots (Photo: PBS)

    Like LeVar Burton, Wes Studi, and many other actors before him, Bob Odenkirk turned to Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Finding Your Roots for help researching his past. The erstwhile star of Better Call Saul was born in Berwyn, Illinois, a working-class suburb of Chicago, but grew up in the much more affluent Naperville. Odenkirk confesses to Gates Jr. that he always felt out of place in what became his hometown. He was part of a large, Irish Catholic family, with a distant father and a mother who struggled to put enough food on the table, but would do anything for her seven kids.

    Odenkirk’s Chicago-adjacent roots became a part of his Better Call Saul character Saul Goodman’s (née Jimmy McGill) backstory (though, as a Chicagoan, I must note that Cicero, which is where Jimmy is from, is distinct from Berwyn, let alone Naperville). Though Odenkirk had already won Emmys for Outstanding Writing for Saturday Night Live and The Ben Stiller Show, and co-created the brilliant sketch comedy series Mr. Show with David Cross, it was his portrayal of Saul, a role he originated on Breaking Bad, that catapulted his career to a new level. He scored the lead roles in the action thriller Nobody (which earned raves) and the AMC limited series Lucky Hank (which was canceled). And, as Saul Goodman, Odenkirk earned six Emmy nominations for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series, and went on to win… zero of them.

    How does this happen, when Odenkirk turned in one of the most nuanced and memorable depictions of a morally compromised lead in the 21st century so far? (We won’t even get into the perpetual snubbing of his co-star Rhea Seehorn, who just tore our hearts out as Kim Wexler.) Surely, while going through census records, old family photos, and marriage proposals written by noblemen, Gates Jr. and his team were able to uncover the root of this injustice. Right?

    Of course not, that’s not what Finding Your Roots is about! (Sadly — we’ll have to continue our grumbling on Slack instead.) But tonight’s episode, which also features comedian Iliza Shlesinger, is still very much worth watching. Gates Jr. is particularly impish as he takes Odenkirk on a journey through his ancestral past, which belies his humble beginnings. And it’s a joy to watch Odenkirk, who remains Midwestern to his core, react to all the revelations, including the fact that he’s a distant cousin of Charles III.

    But this week’s entry isn’t just about uncovering royal connections. As the Finding Your Roots host observes, Odenkirk’s and Shlesinger’s family histories are marked by survival, something they have in common with fellow Season 10 subjects Burton and Studi. Tune in tonight at 8:00 PM ET, either by streaming on PBS.org or by checking your local listings.

    Danette Chavez is the Editor-in-Chief of Primetimer and its biggest fan of puns.

    TOPICS: Bob Odenkirk, PBS, Better Call Saul, Finding Your Roots, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Iliza Shlesinger