Better Call Saul - Uno/Mijo

How do you follow Breaking Bad? Vince Gilligan's masterpiece about the descent of a milquetoast Chemistry teacher into a morally decrepit meth kingpin scooped enough awards and critical acclaim to make any attempts to expand the franchise extremely risky. With the Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul premiering with an opening salvo of two episodes last week, expectations were sky high for the prequel, starring criminal lawyer Saul Goodman - but did Better Call Saul live up to the hype?

The first two episodes functioned essentially as a two-part pilot - episode one re-introducing viewers to Saul (or Jimmy, as he's still called here) and the sun-dappled, crime-filled city of Albuquerque, and episode two seeing Jimmy's first real test dealing with the shady underworld - and thankfully, despite some issues that will need to be ironed out before Saul can go toe to toe with Breaking Bad, it was a throughly convincing opener for the prequel. Bob Odenkirk, who functioned often as a comic relief character in Breaking Bad, impressed with the meatier and more dramatic material he was given here - Odenkirk may be a comedian, but it's clear from Uno and Mijo that he has the dramatic chops to carry a series with a far darker tone than I expected. Likewise, Jimmy's ill and paranoid brother - Chuck - played by Michael McKean, is already a well-developed and interesting creation with a strong dynamic with Odenkirk, demonstrating that Gilligan and co-showrunner Peter Gould's talent for fleshing out characters in a short space of time is still present and correct.

As for the Breaking Bad connection, Uno and Mijo served up two fan-favourite characters from the earlier series in the form of Mike (currently a parking attendant rather than a bodyguard) and thrillingly, the psychotic Tuco (just about as crazy and drug-addled as usual), who are both used fairly sparingly but extremely well. However, Better Call Saul managed to begin carving out its one separate identity from the mothership - it might be visually similar and sport a handful of characters to Breaking Bad, but Saul has its own, very distinct tone. It's darker than one might have expected from the light-hearted trailers, but sports a lightness of tone (as seen in the very funny montage in episode two) that keeps the show from feeling disproportionately grim.

Better Call Saul may not ever quite reach the towering standards of Breaking Bad - episode one feels somewhat languid at points, and some of the more antagonistic supporting characters feel two-dimensional - but the first two episodes have laid a very solid foundation for the future of the show. Wherever Jimmy's transformation into Saul takes us, I'm very excited to see it all unfold.

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