BINGE WATCHER: 'Better Call Saul' differentiates itself from 'Breaking Bad' with new style

Matt McKinney is a senior journalism news major and writes ‘Binge Watcher’ for the Daily News. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper. Write to Matt at mdmckinney@bsu.edu.

Matt McKinney

*"Breaking Bad" spoilers throughout.

Before each and every time James McGill enters the courtroom to defend his latest client, he stands in front of a bathroom mirror, practices his arguments, waves his hands and says, “Showtime.” It’s a microcosm of his personality.

McGill is a lawyer in New Mexico, trying to make ends meet as honorably as he can in AMC’s latest promising show, “Better Call Saul.”

The opening of “Better Call Saul” takes place after the “Breaking Bad” finale. McGill is now the manager of a Cinnabon and has a new identity, Gene.

Everything in black and white, we see how the Cinnamon rolls are made. The scene is set to The Ink Spots’ old-timey, “Address Unknown.”

With McGill forced to relocate to Nebraska in the last episodes of “Breaking Bad,” showrunner Vince Gilligan continues the tradition of using music as foreshadowing and Easter eggs for the plot.

After returning home from work and pouring a drink into a glass, McGill channel surfs for a while before finding a VHS tape he has hidden away. We see McGill start to break down and cry behind the reflection of his old Better Call Saul commercials — the only color on the screen.

Although the opening sequence takes place in the future, “Better Call Saul” is the prequel/spinoff of “Breaking Bad,” AMC’s Emmy-winning series about a high school chemistry teacher, Walter White, who becomes a meth cook when faced with terminal cancer.

It’s clear from the first two episodes that while there are a lot of similarities to “Breaking Bad,” it’s not the same show, or the same style. “Breaking Bad” was a tragedy. “Better Call Saul” is more of a comedy. It has a much lighter tone than the previous AMC hit. If “Breaking Bad” is Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” then “Better Call Saul” is “Tempest.” But they’re both Shakespearean.

The references and nods to “Breaking Bad” are found throughout, but I hope Gilligan lets “Better Call Saul” breathe more in later episodes. It has the potential to really grow into something special, and I hope it doesn’t eventually become over saturated by all the “Breaking Bad”-ness.

I understand what it’s done for the first few episodes. The creators want to really draw in fans of “Breaking Bad.” “Better Call Saul” is a spinoff, but it’s still its own show. Fans of “Breaking Bad” will love this, but it’s not a prerequisite. If you haven’t seen “Breaking Bad,” shame on you, but also you can still jump in now. You won’t get the “Aha!” moments, but it can still be appreciated without viewing White’s story beforehand.

Bob Odenkirk is fantastic as James McGill (he has yet to truly become Saul Goodman, his alias from “Breaking Bad”). This show is a great opportunity for Odenkirk’s character to really shine. In the first two episodes it’s clear McGill wants to be successful. And not starve to death.

It’s easy to feel sorry for him, but you still feel like a lot of his problems are his own fault. He hasn't yet grown into the amoral person he eventually becomes, but there are definite hints of his true self.

Jonathan Banks returns as Mike Ehrmantraut, only he’s a tollbooth attendant. Ehrmantraut‘s deadpan tone returns with his character – McGill berates him by telling him how hard he’s worked inside the courtroom when Ehrmantraut asks for money to get through his tollbooth. Ehrmantraut’s response is as perfect as it can be:

“Oh gee, that’s swell,” Ehrmantraut says. “Thank you for restoring my faith in the judicial system.”

Ehrmantraut had a small role in the first two episodes, but he’s sure to return in a bigger role as the series continues.

If you previously thought Gilligan wasn’t a fantastic show runner and that “Breaking Bad” was a fluke for him, “Better Call Saul” will prove you otherwise.

Specifically, the montage of McGill three-quarters into the second episode is great. It demonstrates McGill’s want to set his career straight and become a success the professional way after he has a run-in with some not-so-friendly people who I won’t spoil here. It’s edited brilliantly, with McGill entering and exiting the courtroom simultaneously and getting enough instant coffees to keep him running.

So far, I’ve been glued to every minute of “Better Call Saul.” I can’t wait for it to continue, and I’m thrilled Odenkirk is getting his opportunity to take center stage on TV.

Showtime.

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