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  • Writer's pictureJacob Boelman

No Call For Saul

Updated: Jan 19

No Call for Saul

The Emmys just took place this Sunday, and after all was said and done, many shows were acknowledged for their incredible work. The Bear and Succession were particularly successful during the evening. And from the many episodes I've watched of these two shows, they are worthy of accolades. Despite some troubling forecasts, all the television celebrated in this year's Emmys makes a good argument that we may still be experiencing a golden age of Television. But there was one evident absence in the celebration: Better Call Saul. Out of their seven nominations for their final season, Better Call Saul won nothing. This, in fact, sets an unwanted record: 0 awards despite 53 nominations in the show's six-season run.

Watching the entire series of Breaking Bad was one of the best television experiences of my life. When Better Call Saul was announced, my initial reaction was surprise. As much as I liked his antics, I thought Saul was a one-note character in Breaking Bad and didn't have the foggiest idea of what they would do with him in a leading role. I also believed it couldn't possibly be as good as the original series. But even back in 2015, I had faith in Vince Gilligan and his creative team and knew I would need to give Better Call Saul a chance.

Like with Breaking Bad, I couldn't imagine waiting a whole year before continuing to experience the storyline. So, I put the show on hold until it was finished. The word on the street was good. Many of the friends and critics I admired made a point of singing the show's praises. However, Better Call Saul never built the traction Breaking Bad did. Though the positive critical reception seemed to keep the show afloat, the viewership was down, and, as pointed out at the beginning of the post, the awards were just not quite there.

When the time came to watch the show, since the entirety of the series finally arrived on Netflix, I was concerned I would not stay engaged. The show is an accumulation of about 63 hours of entertainment. That is an investment. It was also the prequel to Breaking Bad, so I already knew the outcome... right?

Without going into any spoilers, I was entirely wrong about my first impression of the show. Though comparing the two is not a good idea, I found Better Call Saul as engaging and brilliant as anything I saw in Breaking Bad. The creators, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, are genius storytellers who were given even more tools to play with for their spin-off series. The transition from shooting on film to digital was positive, allowing the creators to experiment with the camera more. A more extended shooting schedule and a little more room to work with color and effects in the post were also crucial to holding to a high-quality product. The writing throughout is masterful. And the performances were simply out of this world. I was outraged when I found out co-star Michael McKean, who played Saul's brother, was never even nominated for an Emmy during his primary time on the show. And Rehea Seehorn, who became a sort of co-lead on the show, only receiving two nominations during her tenure on the show is criminal. I consider Bob Odenkirk, who plays the title character of Saul, to be the weak link between these three performances, and yet he is entirely worthy of all six nominations he was given for the show.

One can say countless things about Better Call Saul's brilliance and how it represents the gold standard for television, let alone spinoffs. I plan to go into some details in the future. What hits me now is the difficulty of being passed up when one believes in the product being made. This difficulty seems to be a theme for this blog at the moment (Check out prior posts covering my struggle with getting recognized here and here).

The truth is Better Call Saul was not as flashy as the juggernaut that was Breaking Bad. I mean, come on, you just can't beat the immediate interest that comes with the premise of a burnt-out high school chemistry teacher deciding to make meth to provide for his family. Better Call Saul has a premise revolving around the nuanced life of being a lawyer and working on legislation. If you don't frame it right, you risk turning people off to the show.

I want to frame Better Call Saul by appealing to the more patient observer. When we are first introduced to Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad, he presents as a man who has lost his soul. He only cares about a quick buck and pleasing his basic self-interest. He lacks purpose. Better Call Saul makes it their mission to show us the nuance of a man losing his soul and its cost to those around him.

The show asks us to trust its storytelling and takes time to set up the core drama. Gilligan and Gould never tried to rush delivering on their hook. Instead, they built their series brick by brick. There are highs and lows throughout the run, but the magnificence of the piece is how everything seems to build on itself. Where other shows would try to throw everything and the kitchen sink at you in the pilot, Better Call Saul has faith their audience will keep engaged. Don't get me wrong, the series is engaging throughout, but the real payoffs happen six or nine episodes into the season and sometimes five or six seasons into the series. Nothing feels better than a show ending things when they are on top and in a way that feels like they've completed a story they started to set up from episode one.

Better Call Saul is must-watch television. It requires patience but will not disappoint if you choose to invest. The fact that the show is the black sheep in this superb era of television only makes what it's trying to do more interesting to me. They provide a tapestry of rich characters and in-depth narratives I cherish and want to study to incorporate into my work. Though this post may not be as impactful as an Emmy Award, I thank Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, and their creative team for nearly a decade of inspiring work.

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