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Volume One, Issue Forty-Six: The One About How Great "Better Call Saul" Is

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Illustration for article titled Volume One, Issue Forty-Six: The One About How Great Better Call Saul Is

Natasha Richardson died on March 18, 2009, at the age of 45. 

March 18, 2017

Better Call Saul returns to AMC on April 10, so I’ve been spending my spare travel hours and those not-quite-ready-to-fall-asleep hours catching up on the first two seasons. This is just a terrific show, people. I love how it takes characters from a show I loved very much and deepens them, gives them more nuance and shading, slows down their stories to let them breathe and live. Breaking Bad was a fantastic show, but it was obsessive, meticulous about narrative, about constantly flooring it, plot-wise, lest you lose interest and look away for even half a second. It was great, but it was also a little insecure: You can see it making certain it has your attention at all times, and being nervous and meeting the expectations viewers began to have for it as it closed its run. The ending of Breaking Bad is satisfying, but maybe a little too satisfying. It feels like it was written by people who started out with a simple, prickly smart little show and realized they had to end it in a way that wouldn’t have the whole planet screaming at them forever. Lost ruined that part for everybody.

Better Call Saul, at least two seasons in, doesn’t have to worry about all that. It’s a far more casual, comfortable-in-its-own-skin show. Because we all know the ending — Jimmy McGill turns into Saul Goodman, Mike Ehrmantraut becomes a ruthless contract killer, Walter White is somewhere out there, lurking in every corner, unaware of the monster he’s about to become — the show doesn’t to rush anything. We get to luxuriate with these people, figure out what makes them tick, see their euphorias and their frustrations. The show is not so desperate to dazzle and impress, which, to me, makes it all the more dazzling and impressive.

It’s a show that does everything right. It turns an actor I’ve enjoyed for two decades — when I lived in L.A., friends and I used to go to “Mr. Show” tapings all the time; a friend once claimed you could actually see a floppy-haired Leitch in the audience in one of the old episodes, though I’ve never found me — and makes him a legitimate star. I wasn’t sure he could do it — I love him as Saul, but to carry a series? — but he steps up to every challenge. I care about poor Jimmy McGill, and it’s gonna break my heart when he turns into the truly sleazy asshole that is Saul Goodman. Oh, and did you ever think, “Boy, Bob Odenkirk is a guy who has dynamite chemistry with his leading lady?” I find Jimmy’s relationship with Kim Wexler to be as mature, and smartly considered, and yeah, a little sexy, a relationship between two intelligent, reasonable adult human beings as I’ve seen in a movie or a TV show in a long time. They’ve both got their flaws, and they both make life more difficult for each other sometimes, but they are impossibly drawn to each other in a way that’s either going to end wonderfully (I sometimes sign on to the fan theory that she meets him in Omaha long after Breaking Bad is over) or in harsh, horrible tragedy. They’re just perfect.

Illustration for article titled Volume One, Issue Forty-Six: The One About How Great Better Call Saul Is

And when the show’s getting too Casual ‘70s Law Show for you — it never does this for me, but it might for you — Mike Ehrmantraut is out there, having his own tragic backstory filling out and inching us ever closer to the world of Breaking Bad. (That Gus Fring returns this year is even more intriguing: I’ll learn whatever more about one of the best villains in TV history that you want to tell me.) And we haven’t even got into Jimmy’s brother Chuck, who might actually be the most nefarious guy of them all, behind everything whether he realizes it or not.

I don’t get time to watch a lot of television — writing about every sporting event and almost-every movie puts severe limits on my consumption of entertainment, not to mention, you know, being married and having children — and what I do watch is furtively, in fits-and-stops, just whenever I can fit it in. I haven’t “binge-watched” a show in years. I’m always impressed people have time to. Most of the shows I watch, I catch in 10-minute segments while I”m getting dressed, or while I’m on a plane, or, again, when I can’t fall asleep. Some I don’t even like: I just made the dumb decision to start watching them years ago and now have to trudge through every episode to completion, even though I really wish I could just drop it. (I’m looking at you, The Walking Dead. That show is nothing two minutes of zombies getting brained surrounded by 50 minutes of pouting, silent humans looking morosely off into the distance.) I also rarely stream shows, because I’m just not usually in one place long enough: Most of my shows are watched through iTunes subscriptions. My wife and I just finished Stranger Things (it’s ... fine), and I saw that rough Woody Allen show on Amazon, but otherwise: I need to be offline for most shows I watch. So here are my current iTunes subscriptions:

  • Better Call Saul
  • The Americans (I think this show is very good! I do not think it is great. Bet they stick the landing, though.)
  • Baskets (Louie Anderson nearly makes me cry every second he’s on screen)
  • The Last Man on Earth (I hated the first season but am glad I stuck around)
  • Son of Zorn (Tim Meadows is the best)
  • Archer (losing steam with me, but I’m still down)
  • Atlanta (didn’t like the BET episode, too 30 Rock-meta, but everything else has been aces)
  • Legion (I haven’t started it yet, I’ll get to it, get off my back)
  • Check It Out! With Steve Brule (it’s tough to watch John C. Reilly in anything anymore without thinking of SSteve Brule)
  • Frontline (I have almost watched at least three of these)
  • The Walking Dead (just end, please, just end, put me out of my misery, I want to go home)
  • Better Things (it’s sort of like a grown-up, less creepy version of Louie)
  • Documentary Now! (I sometimes think this show is just an in-joke for me and my nerdiest friends)
  • The Good Place (I think I’ve seen every Michael Schur show, from the beginning, at least twice)
  • Brooklyn 99 (I like this and think Andy Sandberg is generally unappreciated, but I much prefer The Good Place)
  • Review (this is probably the only show I love as much as Better Call Saul. It’s about to end entirely, but it’s short and you can catch up quick. Do so immediately.)
Illustration for article titled Volume One, Issue Forty-Six: The One About How Great Better Call Saul Is

But nothing’s better than Better Call Saul. I think I honestly do like it more than I liked Breaking Bad, and I loved Breaking Bad. (Grierson and I even test-drove the podcast talking about Breaking Bad.) If you were a Breaking Bad person and haven’t watched Better Call Saul, you’re missing out.

This has been my poor Alan Sepinwall impression for the week. We’ll be back to the usual tepid dawdlings next week.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. (This is an attempt to have an objective look at the value of my work in a way that I suspect will be difficult to sustain.)

This was a pretty good week! Some good stuff this week, I thought.

1. Watching the NCAA Tournament Has Never Been Better, Sports On Earth. I find it important to remind people that other than the ongoing nightmare in the White House who comes a little closer to blowing us all up every hour, life is in fact better than it used to be. (Optimism, however: That’s harder to come about than it once was. Still trying, though!) The NCAA Tournament viewing experience is atop that list.

2. Book Review: “Dueling With Kings,” The Wall Street Journal. This was an interesting book about a phenomenon — daily fantasy sports — that I do not find interesting at all.

3. NCAA Dogs Didn’t Have Their Day, But There’s Always Tomorrow, Sports On Earth. Sometimes I like to make on-site deadline pieces into ruminations rather than straight reports. Hey, when the games aren’t that exciting, you gotta do something.

4. What Is Atlanta United Doing Right That the Chicago Fire Are Doing So Wrong? Chicago Tribune. This piece appears to have launched some war among Chicago MLS bloggers that I do not understand and have been extremely pleased to stay far, far away from.

5. Review: “Beauty and the Beast,” The New Republic. In which I compare a kid’s movie to Gus Van Sant’s Psycho.

6. Gonzaga’s Final Four Chase Is the Tournament’s Biggest Story, Sports On Earth. Well, it is. I am aggressively not listening to your Northwestern hollerings.

7. Your AL West Division Preview, Sports On Earth. Just one of these left. Getting close to that time.

8. Breaking Down the 2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket, Sports On Earth. This got so dated, so fast.

9. The 2017 Ultimate Baseball Road Trip, Sports On Earth. This piece always takes forever to put together, features a travel plan that is woefully inefficient and isn’t particularly different this year than it is any other year. And it remains a big hit, every year. Online content!

10. Dive Into Five, Sports On Earth. This has words.

As I say every week: If you are the sort to subscribe to a weekly newsletter, I would have to think it wouldn’t be too much of a hassle to subscribe to one of the three podcasts I do. You don’t even have to listen to them! Just download them. Here they are:

Grierson & Leitch, this week filled in by my old friend Mark Lisanti, of MTV News, formerly of Grantland and Defamer and all sorts of places that he was too good for. We discussed Kong: Skull Island and Personal Shopper. Then we put in an old A Fish Called Wanda reboot Grierson and I taped before his polyp surgery, which went great. We’re hoping he only misses one more show.

The Will Leitch Experience, the big annual show with CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander.

Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, this show is already dated — it previews Georgia in the NIT, and the Bulldogs have already lost — but it’s worth listening to the first 30 seconds just so you can hear my two-year-old son Wynn give his prediction as to who will win the NCAA Tournament.

Here is a shot from that podcast, in which William makes his own prediction. (He has Gonzaga over Butler, though I think he only picked Butler because it’s the only time he’s allowed to say “butt.”)

Illustration for article titled Volume One, Issue Forty-Six: The One About How Great Better Call Saul Is

Have a great weekend, everyone.


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