Reinventing the spinoff

It had been almost a year and a half since the heartbreak of the Breaking Bad finale. I was left in an empty feeling with my stomach after I finished the last episode and realized that the story of Walter White had come to an end.

However, in February, the creators of Breaking Bad released the first episode of Better Call Saul, centered on the character of Walter White’s lawyer, Saul Goodman. The show serves as a prequel to Breaking Bad and showcases the life of a lawyer, James McGill, before he became Saul Goodman.

After watching the first season I can now say with satisfaction that Better Call Saul has filled the void left by Breaking Bad. No longer am I left hunting for a new series to become completely enthralled in; I can watch one that I already know will be good. Best of all, Better Call Saul possesses almost all of the elements I loved about Breaking Bad.

Both Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad are filmed in a way that no other broadcast television program would dare to experiment with. They have the same minimalistic lighting in many scenes and clever shots from the obscure angle of an inanimate object. Both have wide establishing shots in the middle of the scene that allow the viewer to see a detail as small, but important, as the exhale of breath of a character and even the same occasional montage sequence.

I would go as far as to say that Better Call Saul has eclipsed its predecessor in that it has developed an entirely new style of show. Walter White was the anti-hero that the viewers loved to root for even though what he was doing was wrong. Whereas, Saul, known as James McGill in this series as he is yet to change his name, is a good-hearted, hard-working lawyer who just can’t get a break. However, he is a bit of a rule bender and thinks he can talk himself out of situations most of the time so the viewer feels as though he has his misfortunes coming to him.Saul wants to do the morally right thing for the good people in the world while Walter White became an evil power-crazed drug manufacturer, yet we are able to root for them both as the hero.

While the show also shares the obvious similarities with Breaking Bad because of the overlap of characters, there are still apparent differences. Saul Goodman, played by Bob Odenkirk, was the character in Breaking Bad that would often provide witty remarks as comic relief in the crime drama.

However, Better Call Saul is a combination of a crime drama, a law drama and a black comedy, which has forced Odenkirk to turn Saul into a far more complex character than the viewers assumed he was in Breaking Bad.

Mike Ehrmantraut, played by Jonathan Banks, is another character who has a very interesting past that wasn’t explained in his role as a hit man in Breaking Bad. Banks has developed this character in a way so compelling that I wouldn’t mind having another spin-off show based on him.

Better Call Saul is not only revolutionary in the way that it differs from its parent-show, but it also differs from the standard spin-off.

Norman Lear, one of the most famous situation comedy producers, set the standard for spin-offs in the 1970s. He was a pioneer in the way he could interweave shows into each other to create a legacy people would remember.

All In The Family, about a racist man called Archie Bunker from Queens, turned into The Jeffersons, in which the African-American family The Jeffersons strike it big with their dry cleaning business and move next door to Archie Bunker.

Similarly, Maude, a sitcom about a divorced, opinionated loud woman, spun off to Good Times, in which Maude’s cleaning woman moved to a poor part of Chicago.

Vince Gilligan has similarly been able to create a legacy by taking a character like Saul from Breaking Bad, but he has done so without the typical spin-off stereotype that the character makes it big; things are not going well for James McGill in Better Call Saul. Therefore, viewers are far more hooked and want to continue watching to see what happens next just as they did with Breaking Bad.

The beauty of art is in its scarcity, and in today’s day and age consumers have decided that they no longer want art in the form of television to have value. Companies like Netflix have allowed television to be cheap, unlimited and easily attainable. However, Vince Gilligan has established himself as a pioneer of the new generation of television. He has adapted and he is giving the people what they want, but doing so in a way that preserves his sophistication and artistic mission. He is our generation’s Norman Lear.