Although “Better Call Saul,” the “Breaking Bad” spinoff about the early days of the shyster who would be Saul Goodman, doesn’t premiere until February 8, AMC lifted the review embargo last night, and the first few notices are trickling in. They’re appropriately light on details, with little in the way of spoilers or even descriptions of the series’ many new characters: As previously announced, “Breaking Bad’s” enforcer Mike Ehrmentraut (Jonathan Banks) will be a fixture, although “Saul” is taking its time about bringing him into the mix, but so will Michael McKean. In other words, creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould are taking their time establishing the world of Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), who hasn’t yet discovered that criminal prefer their lawyers to at least sound Jewish. They know they’ve got an audience right off the bat, and they’re spending more effort in trying not to lose them than winning new converts. (Although it’s possible, it’s hard to imagine anyone watching “Better Caul Saul” who hasn’t consumed “Breaking Bad” in its entirety.)
Jimmy McGill isn’t just different in name from Saul Goodman: Gilligan, Gould and Odenkirk himself have made important changes to the character to allow “Breaking Bad’s” comic foil to take center stage. He’s neither as much of a buffoon nor as cold-hearted a realist, though presumably “Saul” will be about moving him in that general direction. By showing the first two episodes on consecutive nights — the show premieres after “The Walking Dead” on Sunday, then settles into its regular Monday slot — they’re giving viewers a double shot and quickening the pace a tad, but “Better Call Saul” is developing at its own speed, and while they’re not regulars yet, critics are willing to put Jimmy on retainer for a while.
Reviews of “Better Call Saul”
Tim Goodman, Hollywood Reporter
Taking time, it’s clear, is what Gilligan and Gould intend to do. What can’t be known early on is whether Jimmy McGill, this confused, searching bottom-feeder, will be as immediately interesting to “Breaking Bad” fans as Saul Goodman, who’s desperate and often hilarious advice fueled much of the chaos (and the humor) of the original series. Odenkirk, for his part, is superb here. He proves yet again what a fine, grounded actor he is. Sure, he gets to unleash himself in fits and starts, but is primarily seen as introspective, still mostly innocent, as the series starts. Showing compassion (particularly as he interacts with brother Chuck) and lost-lamb desperation are the qualities that illustrate Odenkirk’s range. He’s in pretty much every scene, so coming to love his character (as well as understand him in these early days) is essential.
Brian Lowry, Variety
Best-known as a comic actor and the source of considerable mirth in “Breaking Bad” (one reason “Saul” was originally conceived as a comedy), Odenkirk is perfectly fine in bringing added dimension to the character. It’s asking a lot, though, to build virtually every scene around him with minimal support in these opening hours, considering Jonathan Banks’ enforcer, Mike, has yet to fully emerge as a significant player. In short, “Better Call Saul” requires a certain leap of faith, trusting that Gilligan and Gould – having so excelled in delivering unexpected twists and surprises on the first show – can gradually build this into a more compelling and fully realized concept. In the early going, they display a deft touch at slowly peeling back layers on the characters, if perhaps a bit too assiduously to as yet establish “Saul” as anything approaching the sort of addictive experience its predecessor became.
Alan Sepinwall, HitFix
if I began watching “Better Call Saul!” as a skeptic, the first three episodes have mostly made me a believer. There are nods to the parent show — and those are among the more emotionally affecting parts of this young series — but “Saul” quickly learns to function as its own thing, rather than taking the easy approach of being “Breaking Bad, Episode 1: The Phantom Ehrmantraut.” The Saul Goodman of “Breaking Bad” couldn’t carry a series, and Gilligan and Gould have wisely humanized him to the point where Jimmy McGill (and Bob Odenkirk) can.