Hear-ye, hear-ye, we’re gathered today for the case of Call Saul vs. Bad to determine which AMC drama truly reigns supreme. EW editor-at-large James Hibberd will present the case that Breaking Bad remains the better series while EW TV critic Darren Franich will argue for the defense. Court is now in session…
And before that, Nacho (Michael Mando) dropping off Lalo (Tony Dalton) at the well. The way the show played that moment out. “Do you want me to stay?" No, no, go. “Sure you don’t want me to stay?” No, no, it’s fine. Your feeling of tension started to rise. You knew something bad was going to happen. Nacho is allllllmost gone when Lalo knocked on his window. Then it led to Goodman chatting blithely away with Kim, ignoring that cell ringing over and over again, then Mike’s urgent Taken-like speech as Kim fearfully backs away from their door. It was all a world-class scene construction that wrung every ounce of drama possible out of their confrontation.
But I've come around to respecting Better Call Saul's eccentric pacing. Saul Goodman was a fabulous grotesque on Breaking Bad, and it's stunning how completely this spin-off has deepened our understanding of his motivations — and made his shady con-man act the stuff of corrosive drama. Odenkirk keeps plumbing new dark corners of Jimmy McGill's self-defeating psyche. And Saul co-creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have turned willful detours into unexpected delights. Jimmy's goofy Elder Law practice turned into a subplot that totally riveted me. The production design is impeccable; I've been obsessing about the fish tank in Jimmy and Kim's apartment for years. And now season 5 has been one incredible hall of fame moment after another. The seventh episode, "JMM," was the best hour this universe has ever produced, from the oddly sweet bad-decision marriage to Jimmy's eruptive "God in Human Clothing!" speech.
I think there’s some recency bias going on with Saul — like the way fans disappointed by a show’s final season suddenly think badly of the series as a whole, except in this case, it's just the opposite. The first three seasons of Saul were a weird bifurcated show — part-time legal dramedy and part-time weak Breaking Bad prequel, jumping between relatively mild-mannered corporate intrigue and ho-hum activities in the criminal underworld. It’s easy to forget poor Mike spent an entire season working in a parking lot. Or that Jimmy’s brother Chuck was a very off-putting character; the scenes of Chuck and his space blanket were pretty painful. Saul was always incredibly well made, but even most of its fans concede its first few years were a mixed bag.