Better Call Saul: Critics are giving rave reviews to the Breaking Bad spin-off ahead of February release

 
Lynsey Barber
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Better Call Saul is coming to Netflix in the UK (Source: Netflix)

Breaking Bad fan? It’s time to get excited.

The arrival of the hugely anticipated spin-off from smash show and binge-watch essential Breaking Bad is imminent.

Better Call Saul, based on the character of Walter White’s morally questionable lawyer Saul Goodman, is due to air in February, but US critics have already given their verdict.

Will it be a Frasier-style spin-off success? Or more of a Joey disaster?

Here’s the roundup of what they said- without (too many) spoilers- ahead of its airing on AMC in the US on 8 February. Though the exact release date has yet to be revealed, UK viewers will be able to fix their eyeballs on Better Call Saul on Netflix shortly afterwards.

ESQUIRE

I'll just say it: The first few episodes that I saw are better than Breaking Bad. They are smarter. They are sharper. I have never seen a prequel handled so cleverly. What we know from the previous series about Saul Goodman, or James McGill as he is known in Better Call Saul, provides a kind of counter-intuitive suspense mechanism. In the very first shot, in silent black and white, we see the ruins of Saul Goodman after the action of Breaking Bad, just as he said he would be. He's working at a Cinnabon in a mall, terrified of anyone slightly threatening who walks into the store. The question for the plot is: How did he become this way? How did he fail so catastrophically? [Read the full review]

VARIETY

As played by [Bob] Odenkirk, McGill is a combed-over mess, filled with ambition and simmering rage… In short, Better Call Saul requires a certain leap of faith, trusting that Gilligan and Gould – having so excelled in delivering unexpected twists and surprises on the first show – can gradually build this into a more compelling and fully realized concept. In the early going, they display a deft touch at slowly peeling back layers on the characters, if perhaps a bit too assiduously to as yet establish 'Saul' as anything approaching the sort of addictive experience its predecessor became.

To be fair, the series is unlikely to ever approach the operatic highs of Breaking Bad, which also traced a middle-aged guy’s moral descent into darkness, but did so with the heightened stakes of a fatal diagnosis, a family and the notion of Mr. Chips becoming Scarface, as Gilligan has described it. And matching one of the great series ever is too much to ask.

Indeed, it seemed pretty obvious going in that this spin-off promised to be a narrower concept – and unlike “Breaking Bad,” the show won’t have the luxury of sneaking up on anybody. For now, ‘Saul’ contains some attractive elements, fine moments and a fabulous pedigree, but even Jimmy/Saul might be forced to concede the jury’s still out in terms of proving it has the right formula. [Read the full review]

THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

The first hour moves slower than people might be expecting, but builds to and ends on a wonderful cliff-hanger that is partly but not fully solved in the second episode (luckily airing only a day after the pilot).

What's arguably unheard of with Better Call Saul is that it's a spin-off from one of the greatest dramas in TV history, a feat not attempted by The Sopranos, The Wire, or (at this point) Mad Men. That's a risk that's fascinating and bold. Whether it's one that's worth watching will settled in the weeks and months (and maybe years) ahead.

But there's no question that Gilligan and Gould have earned the right to attempt this. So going along for the ride, no matter how it unspools, seems absolutely essential. [Read the full review]

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

As a character study of a postmodern Willy Loman, as a satire about self-creation, as a subversive poke at those who find wish fulfillment in antihero fantasy, Better Call Saul has promise and purpose. But the show doesn't yet know how to entertain as anything but deep-dive fan service. Like Saul himself, its identity is a work in progress. The energetic visual storytelling engages, but the deliberate pacing left me restless. I like the offbeat black comedy and downbeat poignancy, but the qualities don't mix well at present. (Though the McKean character nicely shades Saul, he's absurd all the same.) Odenkirk is fine, but he might be more compelling if the role were modified to express his broad range of comic talent. Saul has a story in it. A series? For now, that call's on hold. [Read the full review]

WASHINGTON POST

I’ll spare you more details, since all you really need to know is this: It isn’t too long before Jimmy/Saul is bound and gagged and thrown to the desert ground under a big, blue sky dotted with clouds — and Breaking Bad fans are home. The instant the duct tape is ripped off his mouth by his captors, a certain Saul-ness kicks in and Odenkirk’s talent is on full display as Jimmy delivers a pleading, philosophical monologue on — among other things — the awful nature of revenge. It’s a beautiful, even melodious act of BS-ing. [Read the full review]

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