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Is a Saul Goodman 'Breaking Bad' Spin-off Really a Good Idea?

Photo of Alison Willmore By Alison Willmore | Indiewire April 10, 2013 at 12:50PM

"Breaking Bad" creator Vince Gilligan has been tossing around the possibility of a spin-off series centered around Bob Odenkirk's shady lawyer Saul Goodman for a year now, ever since his landmark AMC drama entered into its end game.
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Ursula Coyote/AMC (Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman on 'Breaking Bad'

"Breaking Bad" creator Vince Gilligan has been tossing around the possibility of a spin-off series centered around Bob Odenkirk's shady lawyer Saul Goodman for a year now, ever since his landmark AMC drama entered into its end game. "I can’t say that it is genuinely in the works at this moment," Gilligan told journalists at Comic-Con last year. "But certainly Bob Odenkirk and I have talked about it a little bit. As fan number one of this world, meaning the first one to partake of these plot moments and whatnot, I would love to see a good Saul Goodman show. I like the idea of a lawyer show in which the main lawyer will do anything it takes to stay out of a court of law. He’ll settle on the courthouse steps, whatever it takes to stay out of the courtroom. That would be fun -- I would like that."

While a Goodman spin-off is far from finalized, yesterday Deadline reported that it's also no longer just theoretical -- series producer Sony Television Studios and AMC are apparently in talks with Gilligan and series writer-producer Peter Gould, who scripted the season two episode "Better Call Saul," the one that introduced the character. Deadline's Nellie Andreeva writes that "I hear the potential spinoff is eyed as a comedy, which could be one-hour, but a half-hour format also is being explored."

Saul's value in the series has always been not just to provide comic relief, but also criminal expertise.

"Breaking Bad" has done such a tremendous job of building out its world of southwestern suburbs balanced atop a rotting foundation of meth manufacturing and abuse that it's understandably hard for both fans of the show and its creators to let it go, even as Walter White's (Bryan Cranston) story comes to a natural end. Walt's made his transformation from downtrodden sad sack to full-on villain, and it's looking like the final eight episodes will find his world blowing up just as he's decided to retire. Whether he dies or somehow walks away, there's no more stretching out of Walt's story, and it wouldn't make sense to spin out one following Jesse (Aaron Paul), given how bound up in Walt his narrative fundamentally is.

Abrasive, immoral, hilarious Saul, however, has a life outside of his Heisenberg account, one that includes multiple ex-wives, making wonderfully tacky ads and dealing with an array of other sketchy clients. But Saul's value in the series has always been not just to provide comic relief, but also criminal expertise -- like Mike Ehrmantraut (R.I.P., sniff), he's been amused, bewildered and financially supported by Walt and Jesse's unlikely rise to power and by their amateurish forays into narcotics, even as he's grown wary with them. The whole point of "Breaking Bad" has been the transformation of its hero into a genuine antihero, a competent, frightening drug kingpin. Saul's dirty deeds, while by no means cheaps, are not quite as serious -- but they're also consistent. How would he change?

The likely answer is, he wouldn't, not in the same way. A half-hour Saul comedy would be a legal sitcom, at least per Gilligan's description of the character scrambling to cut deals out of court. And while Gilligan and Gould are tremendously talented, it's hard not to think that the pleasure of Saul is in his context of the darker drama of "Breaking Bad." He's come in small doses, and he's the final representative of criminal competence to have witnessed the bulk of the Heisenberg empire building. It seems unlikely that Walt, Skyler (Anna Gunn) or Jesse would stop by to pay periodic visits (the live studio audience applauds!), so why keep this world going at all?

There are far more misses than hits in the history of the spin-off TV series -- for every "Laverne and Shirley" there's a dozen "Joanie Loves Chachi"s. And as critic James Poniewozik astutely pointed out on Twitter, what the proposed Saul Goodman series brings to mind foremost is the "X-Files" spin-off "The Lone Gunman," which centered around the quirky conspiracy theorist trio Mulder and Scully sometimes consulted in their cases. "The Lone Gunman" was co-created and executive produced by Gilligan and ran for a single season on Fox, where it elegantly demonstrated that lovable size characters do not always a solid show of their own make. It's possible there's a viable comedy to be found in Saul -- and certainly the character and Odenkirk's performance are great -- but it's all too easy to imagine one just running what was so endearing about the guy into the ground.

This article is related to: Television, TV Features, Vince Gilligan, Breaking Bad, Bob Odenkirk