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'm not ready to say so long to Saul Goodman.
Better Call Saul is not Breaking Bad. But it's the best drama on TV right now. The tale of Jimmy McGill's transformation to Saul Goodman has gotten better every season. And now its end is approaching… even though we know exactly where the flashy lawyer will end up once Walter White enters his office with his Badger concerns.
Some people haven't bothered with Saul. They think Bob Odenkirk was just the comic relief of the show's predecessor. We know who's going to live and who's going to die. It doesn't have Bryan Cranston or Aaron Paul. None of those thoughts could be further from the truth.
It's only natural to compare the two series. Saul is a prequel to Breaking Bad and they share the same Albuquerque universe. The creators and many of the writers, directors and performers live in both worlds. BB is rightfully hailed as one of the best dramas ever to air on television. Saul gets critical love but hasn't reached that level of acclaim… but should it? Let's break it down…
Transformation - Breaking Bad transformed high school chemistry teacher Walter White into meth mogul Heisenberg. Better Call Saul transforms Chicago con man Slippin' Jimmy McGill into low-rent lawyer Saul Goodman who becomes Cinnabon manager Gene Takovic. Walter White devolved into a bad guy who did bad things with no apologies. Saul Goodman does bad things but seems to have more regret than Walt ever did. Both compelling premises.
Family - On BB, Walt put his wife Skyler, son Walter Jr, and in-laws Hank and Marie through the ringer lying about his double life. Saul fails to hide his sinister side from his partner Kim while being tortured by the shadow of his late brother Chuck. Family issues all around.
Mike - On BB, Mike Ehrmantraut was a breakout character as Gus Fring's cleaner and Walt & Jesse's eventual partner which leads to his demise. Mike is a co-star on Saul as his Nacho and Gus problems align with Saul's world. Their loose co-dependence carries the early Saul seasons.
Gus - Of the many "bad guys" on BB, Gus Fring stood above all others. The chicken man was Walter White's most formidable foe. On Saul, Gus is introduced to the Albuquerque world of drugs and forms an early bond with Mike that carries over. The next prequel has got to be the story of Gus Fring - can't wait.
Male Lead - Bryan Cranston won a bunch of Emmys playing Walter White/Heisenberg. Bob Odenkirk has been nominated for multiple Emmys playing Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman/Gene Takovic. Bob is overdue.
Female Lead - Anna Gunn won two Emmys playing Walt's wife, Skyler. Rhea Seehorn has never been nominated for her stellar performance as Kim Wexler. Emmy voters, wake up! She has been knocking it out of the park for years, and her character's fate should lead to a deserved Emmy win.
Directing - Breaking Bad was a marvel to look at, even if you muted the sound. Better Call Saul is an extension of that New Mexican visual beauty.
Supporting Cast - Badger and Skinny Pete. The cousins. Tuco. Tio. Lalo. Howard. It's an endless list of quirky characters who more than hold their own. The perfect complement to a compelling universe.
The Details - The painstaking attention to the little things is what puts these shows above all others. There's a reason for everything. It all lines up. As crazy as the premises might get, there's always logic behind them with a clever approach. The challenge of having any plot development in Saul lead into its outcome on BB while maintaining suspense has not only been met but exceeded.
Both shows are stellar. I will be rewatching Breaking Bad after writing this column. And I can't wait to devour the final Better Call Saul season (divided into two parts) on AMC.
Time and COVID have slowed momentum from past seasons, but it truly doesn't matter. This creative team knows what they're doing and will have us immersed in Jimmy/Saul's world before we know it. They are masterful at tying up loose ends without having it feel like a reach.
I didn't want to say goodbye to Walt and Jesse, but I loved how they wrapped things up on Breaking Bad. I'm confident Jimmy/Saul/Gene will get the same fond farewell.
Here's what else is worth watching this week…
Russian Doll (Netflix)
Tuesday, April 19th Season 2
It's hard to believe that three years have passed since Natasha Lyonne relived her 36th birthday over and over again. The Groundhog Day premise with a NYC twist was a quirky idea and Netflix sensation during its initial run.
Nadia is now back with her story picking up four years later under spoiler-free different circumstances. Prepare for more time leaps and wrinkles along with the same sense of humor in this seven-episode second season. Watch trailer.
Sunday, April 24th 9pm Season 3
Bill Hader is not your typical lead actor, and Barry is not your typical show. The Emmy winning dark tale is back for a third season picking up right where things left off. Bill Hader, Henry Winkler, Anthony Carrigan and Stephen Root give acting clinics every time they're on the screen.
Barry sticks with you. The staging of a chase between Barry and the athletic daughter of a victim from previous seasons has stayed with me. Barry doesn't want to be a killer, but he's just so good at it. Not really sure what to expect this season, but I know it will be different, dark and entertaining. Watch trailer
A Very British Scandal (Amazon) – This time it's the Duke and Duchess of Argyll and one heck of a divorce. Friday.
THIS WEEK’S STIHTGT!
(Shows That I Hope To Get To!)
The Flight Attendant (HBO Max) – Kaley Cuoco continues her craziness in the second season of this fun tale. Thursday.
Oprah + Viola (Netflix) – Viola Davis has a memoir, and Oprah has another network to chat on. Friday.
They Call Me Magic (Apple TV+) – Winning Time is fun fiction - this four-part documentary chronicles the real life of Earvin "Magic" Johnson. Friday.
Gaslit (Starz) – Sam Esmail retells the Watergate story based on the Slow Burn podcast. Sunday.
The Man Who Fell To Earth (Showtime) – Chewetel Ojiofor takes David Bowie's role in this loose remake of a visiting alien. Sunday at 10pm.
(Really Good Shows You May Have Missed)
This Week's Pick: Imposters (Netflix) – You've married the girl of your dreams, only to find out that she is too good to be true and heading out the door. This dark comedy is about tracking down that dream girl in a unique way that I don't want to spoil. Good acting and lots of cons are spread over two solid seasons.
For All Mankind (Apple TV+)
Abbott Elementary (ABC)
Luther (HBO Max)
Downton Abbey (Netflix)
The Good Wife (Paramount+)
Freaks & Geeks (Hulu)
Patriot (Amazon Prime Video)
Battlestar Galactica (Peacock)
The Split (Amazon 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.
TOPICS: Better Call Saul, AMC, Barry, Breaking Bad, Russian Doll, A Very British Scandal, Bob Odenkirk, Giancarlo Esposito, Jonathan Banks, Rhea Seehorn, Vince Gilligan