Better Call Saul is a solid TV show. How could it not be? The creative team behind Breaking Bad are masters of crafting a tense, detail-oriented, character-driven drama. If I examine only that which exists between opening and closing credits then I find it pleasing. Jimmy's struggles are interesting. Mike is compelling.
But the show can never stand alone. The shadow of its predecessor leaves it in perpetual twilight.
During Lost's later seasons I found the pile up of flash forwards deeply frustrating. By showing us a character's fate we were robbed of the immediacy of the present. No matter how well told Mike's story is it can never be emotionally engaging in the way good television should. In the finale he ascended a rocky outcrop to assassinate Hector. The scene was beautifully put together and there was tension. But the conclusion was flat. How could it not be? We know who left the note.
Now to be fair Jimmy's story is more twisty. And there is emotion to be drawn from his relationship with Chuck. But rather like Game of Thrones all that is being offered to you is sadness. How depressed do we want to be? Will Chuck die? Or just reject his sibling forever? Will Kim break up with Jimmy or be professionally disgraced? Or worse? Here the conclusion won't be flat, it will be tragic.
Tragedy is fine, tragedy can be great. But hope must be squashed for emotion to be had. There is no hope for Jimmy. He will become Saul; he will end up in that Cinnabon. There were times this year when Kim was talking to Howard or Chuck and I was gripped by that cringey feeling I get whenever a Westerosei hero looks happy. The show is just teasing us until the guillotine falls. I can't be happy watching a show like that. I need hope to breathe.
Better Call Saul was a no-brainer for everyone involved. I don't blame the actors. You can't blame AMC. I do look with quizzical eyes though at Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould. They sure sound like they're having a blast on their long podcasts. But I wish they had refused to make this show and dreamt bigger.
I would defend the show against someone who dismissed it for simply not being Breaking Bad. But there is one aspect in particular that I find troubling. To overcome obstacles both Mike and Jimmy resort to schemes. Mike creates a hose pipe puncture kit. Jimmy photocopies his way out of a jam. Each individual caper is entertaining. But put them all together and they create a pattern.
Walter White had to use schemes. He had no resources and he lived under a death sentence. By constantly resorting to the same tactics the writers expose their limitations. And they risk making Better Call Saul into the very thing they fear - a pale imitation of the original.