A few years ago when I really started to get into film and television one of the first shows that I binged watched from start to nearly the end was Breaking Bad. Like many in 2012, I had heard that the show was hands down amazing and once you start watching it you would not be able to stop. At the time I was half way through High school and did not really consider myself a big film or television person but I figured I might as well see what everyone was talking about. Within the next two and a half weeks I caught up on the 54 episodes I was behind on and had to wait another nine months for the final eight episodes to be released. Now do not get me wrong, this nine-month wait felt like an eternity, but the original 54 episodes really opened my eyes to level of quality a television show could emote which kept me quite busy. Since this experience, I really become consciences of not just story in television but film as well. In a lot of ways Breaking Bad was one of my primary motivations that got me into writing. Now while I could write pages about how perfectly crafted every element of Breaking Bad is, there is already enough of that online that others can supply you with. What really needs to be discussed more is the spin-off show that has come out of Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul. Like many, I was concerned how a spin-off show of such a beloved show could meet expectations when spin-offs of lesser shows have failed miserably, but with two seasons under its belt, Better Call Saul is right where it needs to be to secure its place in television lore.
I would like to point out that a lot of television shows fail because of how difficult it is to cater to an audience. In order to make your audience come back you need to make sure that not only does something interesting enough happen for this week’s episode to make them entertained, but also make sure you have enough story left over to entice them to come back the following week. With pretty much every show this balance is not found until nearly the second season. Seinfeld’s first season was limited to five episodes and it was considered a miracle that it got extended to a second season, Parks and Recreation’s first season is not even watchable by diehard fans, unbelievably enough even the Simpsons struggled its first season and did not improve until the writers started centering the show around Homer instead of Bart. The point is, shows often start out badly and Breaking Bad while better than most first seasons still was not great and would not have become as big of a hit if it continued in the same style. But with a stroke of luck during the 2007-2008 Writer’s Guild of America strike that gave Vince Gilligan enough free time to really work out issues within the show and lay the framework for the next few award winning seasons. It was at this point that Gilligan conquered the television frontier by fully understanding how to please his audience. Therefore, the reason Gilligan has been able to create not one but two fantastic shows is because he keeps what works by making Better call Saul in the same vain that he would Breaking Bad allowing him to skip the first season struggles most shows face.
When a spin-off show first comes out most if not all of its audience as fans of the original show it spawned from, as a result they already have deeply pre conceived notions about what the new show should be like and do not go into it with an open mind since they are really just looking for an extension of their old show. This proves difficult for show creators as now they are forced to either attempt to change the notions of their audience which may discourage fans from watching the show or they must tell the story of the spin-off character in the same tone as the main character in the original show which may not be the best way to present the characters story. This is where the true genius of Gilligan and the other writers of the show present their talents and prove how well they understand the audience. Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad was more or less the comedic relief/realistic view point of Breaking Bad, he didn’t have the same notoriety as Walt or the underdog strive of Jesse but his screen time made the audience laugh and also opened characters eyes up to what situation they were really in. The character of Saul worked great as a supporting role in Breaking Bad but as the standalone lead he would be destined to fail. This is why Gilligan took the character of Saul and took the audience back in time with him in order to present him in a different light. This time Saul, now known as Jimmy would be more closely like Walt and Jesse. In the same way Walt struggles with being a high school chemistry teacher or drug dealer, Jimmy struggles with being a by the book lawyer or a con artist. In the same way Jesse seeks approval from Walt as a father figure, Jimmy seeks approval from his older brother Chuck. Through this transformation Gilligan is more or less telling the same story thematically as he was with Breaking Bad. However, to ensure that audiences were getting the same enjoyment out of Better Call Saul as they were with Breaking Bad there also needed to be some engaging criminal sequences so why not give the fans their favorite supporting character in Breaking Bad back by intertwining Mike Ehrmantraut with Jimmy’s stories.
In today’s world where things can become hyped up more easily than ever due to the globalization caused by the internet Breaking Bad was one of the few things that lived up to the talk around it and inspired many writers and filmmakers like myself to try their hand at the craft. While many choose to rewatch Breaking Bad hoping to get the same feelings out of it the first time they watched it many are ignoring the fact the show is still living on through Better Call Saul because of the stigma most spin-offs receive. But I say that if you are really looking for something to compare to Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul is the right answer and just like Breaking Bad, about four seasons in the rest of the television community will hit Netflix to binge and catch up before it’s over.
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