The first of the month always brings a slew of great new Netflix offerings, and February 1 is highlighted by the premiere of season 1 of “Better Call Saul.” This spinoff of “Breaking Bad,” one of the best television programs ever made, is a prequel detailing the rise of lawyer Saul Goodman, played by the great Bob Odenkirk. The prospect of following one of the greatest shows ever is nearly unheard of, save for “After-MASH,” but “Better Call Saul” lives up to its predecessor, and its first season was one of the best debut seasons ever.
What’s immediately apparently about “Better Call Saul” is its confidence. “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould (who wrote some of the best episodes of “Breaking Bad”) aren’t in a rush to tell their story, setting up the character of Jimmy McGill, whose life as weasel defense attorney Saul Goodman is still a ways off. Despite some early callbacks to “Breaking Bad” in the first couple of episodes, “Better Call Saul” is interested in telling its own story. Odenkirk is superb as the struggling McGill, who seems a world away from Saul’s swagger. It’s a brilliant creative choice, with McGill’s intelligence and resourcefulness on full display while still allowing for Jimmy to have a Walter White-esque character arc of his own.
Jonathan Banks is also on hand once again as Mike Ehrmentraut, who begins this show as a parking lot attendant. The episode “Five-O” serves as a Mike “origin story” of sorts, and provides Banks with an Emmy-worthy showcase. Michael McKean is also very good as Jimmy’s older brother whose phobias keep him a shut-in.
Featuring ace characterizations and dark 70s-inspired cinematography, “Better Call Saul” launched onto the air in the shadow of one of the finest shows ever made. Its first season presents the possibility that this show may stand side by side with its antecedent one day. It’s the highlight of a great first day of the month on Netflix.