Breaking Bad was a stalwart TV Series. You can see its influence in shows like Ozark and Peaky Blinders, coercing us into empathizing with flawed antiheroes like Marty Byrd and Thomas Shelby. However, BB also grew a spin-off. And the funny thing? The spin-off in question was actually better than its parent show.
Better Call Saul follows the exploits of Saul Goodman (AKA James McGill) in the days before he joins forces with Walter White and Jesse Pinkman. The brilliance of the show lies in its delicious irony. In Breaking Bad, the showrunners created Saul Goodman to provide comic relief just as Hank entered his dramatic story arc. In BCS, however, McGill’s life is as much a tragedy as it is a comedy.
So, what exactly are the top ten reasons Better Call Saul remains a more addictive drug than Breaking Bad? Let’s start with…
10) The Actors
This point is by no means a form of shade thrown at Breaking Bad‘s cast. In fact, I would be so bold as to say that Breaking Bad‘s cast is among the best in television drama. However, even upon saying that, I’d still argue that Better Call Saul tops its predecessor’s cast. That is just a testament to how phenomenal the acting is on the show.
Bob Odenkirk ups his acting chops in scenes both comedic and dramatic. And Michael McKean simply nails his role as Jimmy’s upstanding brother, Chuck McGill. And where Rhea Seahorn is concerned, she gets better as Kim Wexler every season. This isn’t even scratching the surface of actors like Giancarlo Esposito and Jonathan Banks, who continue to thrive in their roles as Gus Fring and Mike Ehrmantraut respectively, gelling well with the new cast.
9) We See the Evolution of Hector Salamanca
The advantage of Better Call Saul isn’t merely its focus on the evolution of Jimmy McGill. The show takes pains to show us how other iconic BB characters ended up the way they were in the original show. These include the likes of Hector Salamanca and his transition to disability, Gus Fring’s rise to the top of the drug-dealing tree, and Mike’s journey into his employ.
In this manner, the show adds another layer of satisfaction as we explore how these famous characters got to where they are. Beautifully, in watching their stories in Better Call Saul, their arcs in Breaking Bad make more sense. And, inevitably, you’ll never see them the same way again, giving the original show even more rewatch potential.
8) Makes the Lawyer Genre More Exciting
The Crime Drama genre is nothing new. Think of examples like Law & Order, Suits, Ally McBeal, Damages…you name it, there are plenty of examples out there. However, Better Call Saul takes this tired, formulaic model and turns it on its head. Because of the compelling, human nature of its characters and their relationships, it’s far more watchable than, say, Law & Order. Better Call Saul makes its genre more watchable than Breaking Bad ever did to its own.
Because of the long-running nature of shows like Law & Order, the lawyer segments can often feel robotic and hashed out like a toy in a production line (to be fair, writers have to craft roughly 22 episodes a season!). Since Better Call Saul has a handful of episodes per season – and possesses a premise that promises a final conclusion – the whole series feels like an overall journey as opposed to a ‘case of the week.’ We can explore law and order through the differing perspectives of Jimmy and Chuck, who are tangible, sympathetic characters, instead of the robotic nature of many Law Drama characters.
7) Saul Goodman’s Transformation Happens Slowly
In Breaking Bad, Walt breaks bad from the first episode when he decides to join forces with Jesse Pinkman to make meth. By no means is this a bad story decision, as it allows us to watch Walt’s criminal career build-up to drug kingpin. However, Better Call Saul proceeds more compellingly than Breaking Bad due to its decision to change Jimmy in a slower timeframe.
While certainly mischievous and crooked from the beginning, Jimmy at least shows some signs of morality in Season 1. He tries to find evidence that the Sandpiper Elderly home is being conned. And he even turns down a large sum of money. Most recently, in Season 6, the lawyer gives the Kettlemans some money, despite his increase in seediness over past seasons. Despite his Saul Goodman persona, we can see swatches of Jimmy’s empathy underneath. Yet, his transformation to seedy Saul Goodman is starting to overshadow his good qualities.
6) Jimmy’s Future is Unpainted
The beauty of Better Call Saul is that it takes place in the past and present. Usually, each season opens up with a series of scenes showing us Jimmy live his post-Breaking Bad life as Gene Takovic. He’s obviously depressed and hates his new identity. However, it also acts as an additional narrative hook for loyal viewers as we wonder if Jimmy/Saul gets a happy ending. Unlike Walter White, whose fate is sealed in BB’s final season, Jimmy has potential room for redemption and his ultimate fate open.
5) Inevitability as a Hook
This one isn’t really fair in Breaking Bad‘s case. However, it nonetheless remains a fact. The writers themselves admitted nobody would be interested in Better Call Saul‘s concept if BB hadn’t been such a raging success. The truth remains that the fact we, the audience, know how Jimmy ends up makes the series far more compelling than if it had been otherwise. We know he will become the big-time go-to lawyer for Albuquerque’s lowlife criminals. And we know Kim is absent during BB. So, what happened on the journey towards this setup? Such intriguing questions compel us to keep watching…
4) Kim Wexler
By no means do I dislike the character of Skyler White in Breaking Bad (certainly not to the rather maniacal lengths some fans seem to go when discussing her). However, she often remained a pretty passive character who was ultimately helpless at the expense of her drug-dealing husband. As a result, Skyler often lacked agency, and her stories were limited.
In comparison, Kim Wexler, Jimmy McGill’s love interest, is more active and resourceful. She also matches Jimmy in terms of intelligence, making her a more compelling character. Given that she’s in on Jimmy’s shady exploits, this enables Kim to be part of the show’s main action as opposed to being a bystander.
3) Mike Ehrmantraut
Mike may have died at Walt’s hands in Breaking Bad. However, Better Call Saul‘s prequel nature means we spend even more time with him than before. Mike’s arc in the series shows a more human and relatable side to his character. The show explores Mike’s mindset after his son’s death and his desire to look after his daughter-in-law and granddaughter. All these things contribute toward Mike’s eventual alliance with Gus Fring, whose employment gives him a steady paycheck that’ll ensure his remaining family will never want or need it again.
2) Jimmy is a More Compelling Protagonist
I was one of many who rolled his eyes at the thought of a Breaking Bad spin-off. Obviously, I thought the series was created to capitalize on the success of its predecessor. And we all know how bad TV Spin-Offs can be (Joey, Rosewood, That ’80s Show). So, when I saw the show would focus on BB‘s comic relief lawyer character, I was initially skeptical.
However, I was wrong. Despite focusing on Breaking Bad‘s most prominent example of comic relief, the show chronicles the conflicts and tragedies that lead Jimmy McGill to become Saul Goodman. Doing so reveals a more human and relatable side to the character. McGill becomes a far more tragic character than Walt because he isn’t an underappreciated science whiz. Instead, he’s a man with great charisma and tendencies to cut corners whenever he can.
1) Better Writing
Now, you’ll look at the subtitle here and moan, “well, okay then – does he mean that Breaking Bad‘s writing sucked?” To which I would hypothetically respond, “no.” Indeed, I maintain that Better Call Saul‘s existence or not, Breaking Bad remains one of the best-written and painstakingly-crafted shows in existence. Its massive impact on modern television is by no means a coincidence.
However, I maintain that Better Call Saul contains the better writing of the two shows. This opinion ties in with the show’s slower pace. By no means is the aforementioned pace suitable for all viewers. However, the slow pace enables the show to flesh out characters like Jimmy, Chuck, and Lalo more in-depth. It also allows for a more subtle transformation of Jimmy into Saul Goodman.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you think Better Call Saul is better than Breaking Bad?