TV Season Pass alert! Your television viewing schedule should be getting another hour busier as of Sunday night. Why? Because that’s the night the Breaking Bad universe officially expands in the AMC spin-off series, Better Call Saul.
Birthed by creator Vince Gilligan and writers from his Breaking Bad team, Better Call Saul fills in the back story of everyone’s favorite morally compromised lawyer, Saul Goodman (played by actor/comedian Bob Odenkirk), who first appeared in the second season of Breaking Bad. Slimy, charming and really good at his job, Saul helped Walter White (Bryan Cranston) ascend to the status of meth-making myth, Heisenberg. However it’s via Better Call Saul that we get to witness the downward spiral that led Goodman to Walter’s world.
In a perfect media consuming world, all of us would have diligently watched Breaking Bad from its premiere in 2008 all the way to its triumphant finale in 2013, but we all know that’s not how most of us roll anymore. Maybe your DVD ate it, or Netflix kept offering you new, shinier shows. Or hell, maybe you just forgot to catch up. Relax, we’re here to help you bypass the homework and provide 10 key pieces of knowledge that will allow you to jump right into Better Call Saul. (And in the meantime, you really need to get on those five seasons of Breaking Bad which are available on DVD, Blu-ray, Netflix and Amazon Prime.)
1. SAUL GOODMAN IS ACTUALLY JAMES “JIMMY” MORGAN MCGILL
Early on in Breaking Bad, Jimmy tells Walter White that he purposely renamed himself as Saul Goodman because it had a better marketing hook with impressionable clients. So despite this show’s title implying otherwise, we’re actually going to get to know the guy whose face isn’t plastered on bus benches or hawking his services via cheesy green screen commercials. The Jimmy McGill of yore in the series is a recent transplant from Cicero, Illinois to Albuquerque, New Mexico. He sets up his legal shingle servicing blue collar clients, and taking lowly PI gigs for the police department to make ends meet, while trying to help his older brother, Chuck (Michael McKean). Turns out old Jimmy still has a heart beating inside his cheap suits.
2. VINCE GILLIGAN IS BEHIND BETTER CALL SAUL.
When you get to partake in a show as fine as Breaking Bad, there’s the inevitable push/pull of never wanting the show to end while being terrified that it overstaying its welcome will forever taint the goodness we were gifted. Thus, when it was announced that Better Call Saul was actually going to exist, there were equal responses of delight that Saul would return, along with the rumblings of “cash grab”. However, when it was announced that beloved Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan was also helming this new series, the masses calmed because at the very least the man has earned us shutting up and seeing what he’s got to offer. So at the very least, you have Gilligan as a motivator to watch.
3. BETTER CALL SAUL IS A PREQUEL
Another check in the win column for those who are Breaking Bad deficient! This new series goes back in time to 2002, a healthy, long-running series encouraging length of six years before Walter White meets Saul Goodman in the Breaking Bad second season episode, “Better Call Saul” (see what they’ve done there!). Thus, we get to see Odenkirk have to wig it up a little as younger Jimmy, but nothing that’s going to push plausibility into the hot zone.
4. JIMMY’S JOURNEY WILL PARALLEL’S WALTER’S JOURNEY
Vince Gilligan has often said that he didn’t originally intend to send Walter White down such a dark path but that is where the story took him. And so it goes with Jimmy McGill in this series as Gilligan and his writers have already discovered that the payoff of who Saul will become is best served in a slow, dark spiral of compromised morality and increasing greed. Not unlike the Walter we met at the start of Breaking Bad, Jimmy will start out as much more sympathetic guy who still cares about his family and his own moral standing. As the series proceeds, we’ll see him get better at bending the law to benefit his less than stellar clients and his own wallet.
5. CHUCK MCGILL, JIMMY’S BROTHER, IS THE HEART OF THIS STORY
The producers of the series admit the heart of the series is exploring the complicated brotherhood between golden boy, Chuck (McKean), and far less successful, Jimmy. Chuck is a partner in ABQ law firm, Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill, and a do-gooder with a staunch moral compass. Jimmy…not so much. It’s only because Chuck suffers a mental health crisis that effectively renders him agoraphobic that Jimmy even moves to town to help look after his brother and his brother’s vulnerable interests at the law firm.
6. JIMMY’S NEMESIS IS PERSONAL
With Chuck housebound in recovery, Jimmy quickly realizes that the partners at Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill aren’t going to patiently hold a space for their partner to return — especially not the one with an annoying moral compass. An opportunist with a smile, Howard Hamlin (played by Patrick Fabian) is more than ready to take advantage of Chuck’s “sabbatical” to move the firm in directions more of his choosing. He just doesn’t count on loud, mouthy Jimmy showing up to make problems.
7. THERE’S A CORNUCOPIA OF NEW ASSOCIATES TO EXPLORE
If you did watch Breaking Bad, there might be some sadness knowing that familiar Saul posse members like bodyguard Huell Babineaux (Lavell Crawford) and secretary Francesca (Tina Parker) aren’t part of the Better Call Saul mix. However, we do get new associates like Kim Wexler, a Hamlin lawyer who clearly shared a past with Jimmy, and up-and-coming criminal Nacho Varga (Michael Mando) who is going to teach Jimmy a whole lot about working the system to their advantage.
8. MIKE EHRMANTRAUT IS BACK!
One of the greatest badasses to grace the small screen in recent years, Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) worked as Saul Goodman’s “fixer” on Breaking Bad. All you need to know is that the man was quiet, wise, did not suffer fools, and could be scary as hell. In Better Call Saul, we get to meet Mike Ehrmantraut, the parking attendant. Discovering how that occupation ever made it to Mike’s resume is going to be worth the price of admission alone.
9. THE OPENING TEASER REVEALS SAUL’S FATE
If you do want to go back and binge Breaking Bad, be warned that the fate of Saul Goodman gets answered more precisely in the opening minutes of Better Call Saul than it was in the original series. Therefore, if you’d rather not know, it might be a smart idea to skip the first few minutes. Otherwise, you’re going to learn some life-defining context early regarding Jimmy’s life journey.
10. DON’T EXPECT BREAKING BAD CAMEOS…YET
Any spin-off born from a successful show ultimately has to weather the expectations of the audience wanting to see cast from the original series. Yeah, it kind of sucks because the new show is trying to be its own thing. On the other hand, audiences are watching because they loved the original world. In this case, Vince Gilligan has let it be known that Breaking Bad favorites like Walter White (Cranston), Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), Skyler White (Anna Gunn) or Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) will not be appearing in season one of Better Call Saul. They want to give Jimmy and his new/old crew a chance to stand on their own before familiar faces, perhaps, make it into the story.
Tara Bennett is a pop culture writer, author of Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show and the upcoming The Sons of Anarchy Official Collector’s Edition. She might be overly enthusiastic about xenomorphs and otters. Follow her at @taradbennett.