“Better Call Saul” feels like we never left Albuquerque

It would be all too easy to write off “Better Call Saul” as a cash-grab prequel to one of television’s biggest hits  – and co-creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould know this. Kicking “Better Call Saul” off with a stylized flash-forward immediately paints a picture for what Jimmy McGill is in for down the line. He’s always looking over his shoulder, paranoid and yearning for his glory days as Saul Goodman, the best lawyer in the business.

“Better Call Saul” does a great job of differentiating Jimmy McGill from the enigmatic Walter White. Jimmy’s softer, calmer, and tries to be smarter. His disposition is expertly characterized by Bob Odenkirk, who steals any scene he finds himself in. Despite this, Jimmy isn’t the man we found in “Breaking Bad”. He’s brash, inexperienced, and puts his faith in the wrong people. Despite his adherence to the law, there are glimpses of Saul Goodman even from the outset.

“I just talked you down from a death sentence to 6 months probation. I’m the best lawyer ever!” boasts McGill, right after his two clients get their legs broken by an psychotic Tuco.  Right from the get go, its easy to see how his string of victories will lead to his hubris down the line.

What the show does best, however, is shedding new light on characters we thought we had pegged. Tuco Salamanca was a rather one-note foil for Walter and Jesse, but in “Better Call Saul”, there’s a sense of valiance to Tuco that shines through his more psychotic episodes. His progress through the first two episodes both show glimpses of good in his heart, but ultimately foreshadows his more gruesome acts he would commit down the line.

Little touches like the technology being a few years before “Breaking Bad” make the show almost feel like a period piece at times. Cell phones still have antennas and need to be flipped open. Cars are slightly dingier. The Albuquerque desert remains unchanged, clearly in homage of its older brother show.

The use of grayscale and stylized shots are expertly done, especially in the show’s introduction sequence. Scenes occasionally meander longer than they should, but the cuts and transitions made are often used to great effect.

“Better Call Saul” has me hooked – not just because it’s a prequel to “Breaking Bad”, but that it forgoes the problems with prequels. Despite a predetermined future for Jimmy and company, the immediate future is still a question mark. Nobody knows just what’s next for Jimmy McGill, other than that the road to Saul Goodman won’t be pretty.