Better Call Saul - Season One - Blu-ray

When Better Call Saul was announced as the prequel to the seminal, Breaking Bad, I wondered just how the team behind the show could possibly match the greatness of the multi award winning parent show. There was no need to worry, as co-creator Vince Gilligan, the mastermind behind Breaking Bad, was still on board and with a pedigree which also includes producing some of the best series of The X-Files, the new show was in very reliable hands.

Better Call Saul is the story of how James 'slippin' Jimmy' McGill (Bob Odenkirk), an ex con-man, now small time lawyer becomes the Saul Goodman we all knew from Breaking Bad. Jimmy lives a complicated life, working from his cramped office in the back of a nail salon, defending petty criminal cases while also caring for his brother, Chuck (Michael McKean), who suffers from an apparent heightened sensitivity to electromagnetism. Chuck is a main partner in the successful law firm Hamlin Hamlin & McGill (HHM), having helped build it up but is now housebound and basically lives the life of a recluse in his darkened home with no power.

Jimmy aspires to a job within HHM but is seemingly blocked at every turn by Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian), another partner in the firm, who becomes a delicious hate figure for the season. Keeping on in his daily grind though, Jimmy gets involved in a $1.6 million embezzlement case with the kooky Kettleman family and eventually uncovers a massive, multi million dollar fraud case against a chain of retirement homes. This earns him the pride of his brother, Chuck and admiration from Howard at HHM, who wants to take the case over from him. However, with STILL no offer of a permanent position in the firm forthcoming and a desire to take his prized case away from him, Jimmy rails against Howard and determines to keep his case to himself and to hell with HHM.

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In a fantastic (and fascinating) aside to the main story we also learn more about Mike's murky past as a police officer in Philadelphia and we meet his daughter in law and granddaughter, who we'd briefly met in Breaking Bad, who manage to bring out the softer side of the intimidating, bald headed enforcer.

What Vince Gilligan and his brilliant writing team have created here is damn near perfect television. Cleverly crafted and honed. Beautifully shot with fantastic, natural dialogue. Perfectly cast and flawlessly played by EVERYONE, this show is pure gold. The U.S. are knocking TV out of the park just now, while in the UK, the best we can muster is dumbed down drama/fantasy, soaps and cooking shows.
Better Call Saul is a sharp, funny and emotional look at familial concerns, working relationships and life itself. I'd pay my admission fee for Bob Odenkirk and Michael McKean alone but the show is SO MUCH more. "It'(s all good, man)!

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THE DISCS

Better Call Saul, like Breaking Bad, is a 10 x 45 minute episode affair and arrives in a 3 disc pack with a good selection of special features. Shot on digital in a 1.78:1 aspect, it immediately looks better than the BD sets of Breaking Bad did.
Breaking Bad had a deliberately washed out, filmic look and the transition to HD, especially the earlier seasons, was definitely lacking that HD pop, but Better Call Saul looks fabulous on Blu.
Colours are striking, bright and bold with the sun drenched Albuquerque locations looking gorgeous, details are pin sharp on fabrics (witness Howard's 'Hamlindigo Blue' fabric neckties), surfaces, rocky desert locations and the actors faces. Contrast is just perfect, whether it be a night/day/interior/exterior scene and black levels are magnificently deep. I know in the realm of digital media that the filmed result can look a little too perfect, too smooth and, well....just not filmlike but I love how this series looks in HD.
The audio side fares just as well with a solid and sparkling, lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track which packs a great deal of punch for gunshots, fistfights, car engines and action scenes, while being stunningly clear with ambient, low level background shades. Dialogue is always crisp and the fantastic music soundtrack is like having a band in your living room.

EXTRAS

Vince Gilligan and Sony know how to put together an extras package for their home video releases and they've done a top job again with this first offering of Better Call Saul. Featuring commentaries for every episode, around 45 minutes of behind the scenes features, including Day One, Creating the First Season and Good Cop/Bad Cop: Becoming Mike, deleted scenes, a gag reel, a full table read of the first episode, the Better Call Saul music video and a 30 minute chat between Bob Odenkirk and Michael McKean, who have known each other for a LONG time, which is marvelous. There are also a few hidden Easter Eggs sneaking around the Blu-ray menu's.
The commentaries are great. Mixing and matching different cast and crew for nearly every episode, they cover all bases with good cheer and genuine love for the show. Vince Gilligan tends to be very enthusiastic about EVERYONE, "Oh, you guys are just great in this", but he's eminently listenable and only appears over a few episodes. Bob Odenkirk, Michael McKean and Jonathan Banks are ALL brilliant to hear from, and often hilarious, but nearly anyone who's anyone on the show puts in an appearance somewhere. We even get a bonus Kettleman Kommentary which is good fun, if a bit superflous.
The behind the scenes material is decent but not quite as fully encompassing as some would like.
The deleted scenes are great, with some really insightful extra beats being played out which we've never seen and, let's face it, more Jimmy McGill and Mike Ehrmantraut is a good thing. The scenes are all fully graded and broadcast quality and have optional commentaries.
I love being a fly on the wall in a table read so the one here, for the episode 'Uno', is just a joy to witness, with almost all the main players present.
The gag reel is what it is. Brief, funny enough and welcome.
I don't think much to the music video but it's inclusion completes the set and what a set it is!

Some of the best television drama of the year in a cracking BD/DVD set.

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