Friday, March 06, 2015

Better Call Saul - First Impressions

I started writing this for a forum post, then decided I might as well share it around elsewhere, so here we go:

Is anyone here getting into Better Call Saul yet? I just started watching on Amazon and we're 5 episodes in at this point. My feelings are a little mixed so far and I think I know why.

A wordy first-impressions review follows, with very mild possible spoilers:

Coming from the creators of Breaking Bad, I was expecting more of an edge-of-your-seat nail-biter of a drama from the start. The very first scene of this series establishes a very different tone. There's an uncomfortable melancholy surrounding the whole thing. I think it's still essentially a story of one man's struggle to survive and the transformation he undergoes. Unlike Walt though, Jimmy (not known as Saul yet) doesn't have a cancer diagnosis to contend with. It's just his need to pay the bills, keeping food on the table for himself and people he cares about, his wish to overcome his past, his need to deal with the failing health of a family member, and his general anxiety over the disproportionate success of his peers. That's all strikingly relatable stuff.

It's not that there is no danger in the series so far, but the more Breaking-Bad-ish plot threads I've seen picked up so far in the series have been dropped just as quickly. Meanwhile, I've been waiting for a certain beloved character who is present in this series to start doing things, and so far they've only appeared in a couple of scenes. It feels like quite a tease.

Now, in the positives column I can say it is pretty funny, though not constantly so, and the humor is generally of a darkly funny nature as we've come to expect. As a semi-funny-semi-serious character drama the show actually does very well. I love Jimmy (and Odenkirk's performance as him), and the new characters are growing on me. There is a lot of solid characterization going on.

The show is just paced strikingly differently, not only from Breaking Bad but from many similar series. It's not an erratic EKG of constantly rising and falling tension. It's a slow steady heartbeat with only occasional blips of high tension amid an otherwise constant level of low-to-medium intensity that is on average too low to be really exciting but too high to be truly boring.

In the end though all that doesn't matter much, because I'm still a sucker for great characters and solid writing, and the show still has that in spades. The only characters who feel at all unnatural or generally stupid are clearly minor to the plot and played mostly for laughs anyway. The central cast is great and their interactions fun and engaging intellectually. I haven't had any real laugh-out-loud moments yet but it's been amusing throughout and I'm looking forward to the rest of the season.

So, my overall impressions thus far: a little underwhelmed, but I'm still optimistic.

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