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‘Better Call Saul’: Finding Its Own Voice While Haunted By the Ghosts of ‘Breaking Bad’

'Better Call Saul': Finding Its Own Voice While Haunted By the Ghosts of 'Breaking Bad'

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul (or at least their characters) will not be appearing in Season 1 of “Better Call Saul,” producers revealed today during the show’s TCA press tour presentation. “We want it to stand on its own,” co-creator Peter Gould said. But because “Better Call Saul” is a prequel, though, he added “having said that, everything else is on the table.” 

“All the characters who at the end of ‘Breaking Bad’ are deceased could still show up,” according to co-creator Vince Gilligan, and in fact by the end of the first episode, “Saul” does feature more than two “Breaking Bad” alumni. 

But while Gould said “It’s always on our mind” — in fact, in the “Better Call Saul” offices, there is a board of all the names they could bring back — “we want it to be organic. We don’t want a detail in the background to distract you from the foreground.”   


Plus, Gilligan said if “Better Call Saul” ever got to the point where the show needed a guest star appearance by Bryan Cranston, “Hopefully that’s the day I quit.” Because if it doesn’t feel organic, “It’ll feel like a stunt.”  

Meanwhile, the “Saul” cast does include some faces new to Albuquerque, including Michael McKean: The legendary “Spinal Tap” star tracked the beginning of his involvement with the “Better Call Saul” team to when he appeared in several episodes of “The X-Files” as Agent Morris Fletcher, a character created by Gilligan. “TV as good as a movie really started with ‘The X-Files,'” McKean said. “It was a real damn movie, a real experience.” 


Cut to today, with Gould declaring, “We see it as a movie, with these big screen TVs — you can really start telling the story visually” and Gilligan saying that while he was inspired by William Friedkin’s work while directing the pilot of “Breaking Bad,” he drew from Sergio Leone for “Better Call Saul.” (Gould also invoked Bertolucci.)

“We’re kind of contrarian — we like to show people stuff they haven’t seen before,” Gilligan said.  

Overall, as one might expect from a spinoff of a hugely popular series that also serves as a prequel, the differences between “Breaking Bad” and “Saul” dominated the discussion. Some were technical: There’s more location work in “Saul,” for example — “a touch of Philip Marlowe,” Gould said, since Saul/Jimmy doesn’t spend much time in his office. 

Also, “Bad” used more handheld camerawork than “Saul” does. “[‘Bad’] always had a little bit of motion. This show… the camera tends to be more static and locked down,” Gould said. “It changes the feeling of it. You feel like [Odenkirk] is struggling against the corners of the frame.”


Banks said he originally felt the presence of cast members from the original series: “Their ghosts are there.” But by episode 6 or 7, he felt there was a different show and a different rhythm.

The fundamental difference between the two shows, it seems, may come down to theme. While both had interest in exploring morality, Gilligan described the core question of “Better Call Saul” as “Is it better to be true to yourself? Or is it better to be a good person? Or is it some mix of the two?”

“Why be good?” Gould added, noting that while traditionally in storytelling, behaving ethically always leads to good results: “We know that sometimes being ethical lands you in the shitter.” 

Because “Saul” is a prequel, we know where Saul Goodman’s behavior ultimately lands him. But Saul himself, at the beginning of the series, remains a mystery — as he doesn’t even exist yet. 

Star Bob Odenkirk, who starts the series as struggling lawyer Jimmy McGill, noted from his first appearance on “Breaking Bad,” “Saul Goodman is not who he is. He’s a creation.” The journey of that creation is ultimately what “Better Call Saul” hopes will hook in viewers — maybe even viewers who never got to know Walter White.

READ MORE: Watch: ‘Better Call Saul’ Reveals How Saul and Mike Met

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