Any spin-off derived from what many consider to be the best television ever created, will understandably have to withstand fastidious scrutineering and obsessive deliberation from fans and critics alike. Vince Gilligan’s ‘Better Call Saul’ (BCS) tells the story of a journey that ultimately transforms Jimmy McGill into Saul Goodman: a less-than-ethical lawyer from the highly acclaimed ‘Breaking Bad’ (BB) universe. BCS – then a prequel to BB – has received critical acclaim from fans and critics alike. According to Metacritic, it has ranked as the third most popular new release for 2016 thus far, and it features at number twenty-two in the most discussed programmes category. IMBd ranks it as the seventh most popular show of all time, whilst The Telegraph simply describes it as the number-one show on Netflix. These figures alone establish BCS as worthy of further study.
One thing British and US critics have consistently praised is its tantalising pace. Rotten Tomatoes critic Melanie McFarland believes that the new series feels “more meticulously paced, which is a good thing”, (2016). Referring to the season-two opener, The Telegraph’s Ed Power infers this controlled pace was already evident in the first series: “the opening hour of the new series was essentially a very elegant holding pattern…and that was fine”, (2016). John Doyle writing for The Globe and Mail is particularly gracious when he categorises the return of BCS as “a lesson in storytelling technique… a model of leisure” (2016). The Guardian’s Brian Moylan also considers that this slower paced development facilitates a more intricate character construction, or “a gripping tug of war for Jimmy’s soul”, (2016). Even those critics that might prefer a faster momentum still appreciate the show’s appeal. Writing for Time Entertainment, Daniel D’Addario considers the production a resounding success, despite the pace adopted by Gilligan. He suggests that BCS has broken the spin-off curse, regardless of the fact that season one “noodled around the Albuquerque, N.M., legal scene and showed us, again and again, how much fun it is to pull off a score”, (2016).
However, not all agree. David Segal from The New York Times makes reference to the season opener’s switch incident as “a pretty good metaphor for this episode, which, after 10 ‘Better Call Saul’-free months, is distressingly anticlimactic”, (2016). Furthermore, The Independent’s Christopher Hooton takes exception to the programme as a ‘slow burner’ when he states “It’s slow alright, painfully slow. Perhaps this mirrors the tedious pace of small court law, but it doesn’t make for great TV”, (2016). Such negative reviews might encounter opposition, given the programme’s popularity. In its defence, Segal and Hooton are equally called out by fans for unfairly expecting a style more akin to BB, and are quick to point out that 93% of viewers might disagree.
It would then seem that anticipation is half the fun, and as Sean T. Collins points out when he writes for The Observer’s culture section, such pacing is equivalent to a sustained “hiss of a fuse before the dynamite blows”, (2016).
Christian Gadd (500 words).
Semester 6 (January – May 2016) : Contemporary Television.
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Collins, Sean, T., ‘Better Call Saul Season Premiere Recap: The Calm Before the Storm’, in The Observer, 16th February 2016, [online]. http://observer.com/2016/02/better-call-saul-season-premiere-recap-the-calm-before-the-storm/ [Accessed 2/3/2016].
D’Addario, Daniel, ‘A Better Better Call Saul Proves It’s Broken the Spinoff Curse’ in Time, 4th February 2016, [online]. http://time.com/4208309/better-call-saul-review-season-2/ [Accessed 2/3/2016].
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Metacritic, (2016), ‘TV Show Releases by Score’, [online]. http://www.metacritic.com/browse/tv/score/metascore/90day/filtered?sort=desc [Accessed 2/3/2016].
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Power, Ed, ‘Better Call Saul, season 2 episode 1: Switch was a hoot and 6 other things we learned’, in The Telegraph, 16th February 2016, [online]. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/tv/2016/02/15/better-call-saul-season-2-episode-1-switch-was-a-hoot-and-6-othe/ [Accessed 2/3/2016].
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