Better Call Saul — A Review by Liz Warner (Season 3, Episodes 1-3 Spoilers)

 

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 10.15.39 PMBetter Call Saul’s premiere for season three is now history. The cold open featured Jimmy [Bob Odenkirk] as Gene at the Omaha Cinnabon taking a lunch break. When cops try to chase down a shoplifter, he points to the youth, but after police make the arrest, Gene yells out, “Get a lawyer!” Gene returns to work after lunch and passes out, falling to the floor.

The show then picks up immediately after last season’s finale. Jimmy helps Chuck [Michael McKean] take down his home’s mylar wrapping as they reminisce, but Chuck informs Jimmy he won’t forget what Jimmy did to him and the Mesa Verde documents. Chuck, staying on at his law firm, HHM, reveals the confession tape to Howard and “accidentally” to Ernesto when Ernesto brings him fresh batteries for his tape recorder. Chuck gives him a B’rer Rabbit warning.

Jimmy and Kim [Rhea Seehorn] continue their separate law practices, but Kim has to pick up some of Jimmy’s elder law clients (who know about flowers, including perhaps, lily-of-the-valley?) on top of her Mesa Verde work.  Paige tips Kim off as to what happened with HHM.  Kim starts second-guessing her drafting in a typing/retyping montage. The Air Force captain calls out Jimmy for his Fudge Talbot commercial last season.

Meanwhile, in a long montage, Mike looks for and finds a tracker in the gas cap of his car after he received a note, “DON’T” on his windshield. He gets a replica of the tracker, and programs it to call home. He drains the battery on the original so it emits a low power warning to his spies and places it nearby.  He replaces the original with his own, waiting for the trackers to come take it while he lies in wait, eating nuts.  This, ultimately, will lead him to the Gustavo Fring [Giancarlo Esposito] drug ring. While the screenwriter maxim of “show, don’t tell” was illustrated here, it was also an example of why a little exposition is really okay–the montage was a bit of a challenge to follow.

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Screen shot of Mike Ehrmantraut from Season 3 premier “Mabel.”

The show’s been criticized for its glacial pacing, and this season so far hasn’t surprised.  Whether another show could get away with this snail’s pace is uncertain. Here, though, viewers have grown to trust Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould as storytellers.  Also, it’s a prequel and viewers essentially know what happens, making the journey, not the destination, more interesting.

Better Call Saul, a prequel to Breaking Bad, is arguably a better show.  Why? The premise is more tethered to reality.  And, more importantly, the characters are more believable and sympathetic.  Jimmy is a charming and witty conman cum matchbook cover lawyer who looks for the easy way out.  His OCD brother, Chuck, studied diligently for his law degree earning his reputation the hard way, and resents his younger brother.  (Birth order matters here.)  Kim is meticulous and only flirts with thinking outside the box, which is part of her attraction to Jimmy. Crooked ex-cop Mike has the patience and wit to outsmart the best. Howard works at keeping the practice successful, despite personnel problems with neurotic Chuck.

Compare these characters to those on Breaking Bad. Walter White was a long-term high school chemistry teacher who inexplicably had no health insurance, but a pleasant middle class home and SUVs.  His pregnant stay-at-home wife Skyler only sold things on Ebay, despite the family’s financial distress.  They had a disabled teenage son.  Skyler’s childless sister, Marie, stole shoes and had a fetish for the color purple.  Her husband

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Screen shot of Mike and Gus from Season 3, Epsiode 3 “Sunk Costs.”

Hank was an arrogant DEA agent who eventually saw the light regarding Walt, who, after a terminal cancer diagnosis, decided  to “break bad” and start cooking and selling crystal methamphetamine to build a nest egg for his family when he’s gone. He met up with a former student and lost soul, Jesse Pinkman, who had drug connections. They used the skills of Mike, an ex-cop. Eventually, they connected with Fring’s drug ring, with colorful characters, but not very relatable ones.

Breaking Bad was excellent, but even at the onset, it was difficult to like, or be sympathetic to Walt or most of the other characters.  The only ones I ever cared about were Jesse, Mike, and Hank, though these characters weren’t as well developed as they might’ve been.  You know it’s not going to go well for these people, but you stay tuned to watch the train wreck.

Contrast Better Call Saul.  Admittedly, there are many fans who hate Chuck, and in prior seasons, Howard was the subject of viewers’ wrath, but overall, the characters’ faults and transgressions are more credible, even Chuck’s anxiety of electromagnetic spectrum.  They have some pleasing qualities, even Chuck, who is devoted to the legal profession, and Howard, who has shown himself to be charitable at times.  Mike reappears, and we learn a bit of his backstory, which includes the unfortunate death of his cop son, who may or may not have been corrupt.

Personally, I’m in no rush for Jimmy to become Saul or for the Breaking Bad world to re-materialize.  I’ve been down that road already.  In fact, I’d rather see the transition from Saul to Gene, but we’ll likely only get our next glimpse in the premiere to the next season, where the Gene scenes are generally placed.

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Screen shot of Chuck and Jimmy from Season 3, Epsiode 3 “Sunk Costs.”

We know Chuck can’t forget Jimmy’s document tampering. He uses the brotherly psychopathy the McGills are known for to set up Jimmy, knowing Jimmy will break into his house, trash his desk, and threaten to get his taped admission back. In a momentary act of feigned or sincere concern (it’s hard to tell which), Chuck explains he’s called the cops on him for Jimmy’s own good (unlike what Gene did with the kid.) To Chuck, it’s an intervention. To Jimmy, it’s a betrayal, though his sabotage of Chuck last season was nothing less than reprehensible and unforgivable.

Chuck also sets up Jimmy’s friend, Ernesto, proving the rule that nice guys finish last.  He aims to negotiate the terms of Jimmy’s prosecution with the ADA which results in a plea offer that can’t go well and could result, minimally, in ultimately getting Jimmy disbarred.  This could leave Jimmy either practicing law as Saul Goodman without a license to practice altogether, or having him retake the bar exam under a false name.

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Screen shot of Kim and Jimmy from Season 3, Epsiode 3 “Sunk Costs.”

What happens to Kim, who Jimmy truly cares for, remains to be seen, but we don’t see her in the Breaking Bad universe nor have we seen her in the Omaha-Gene milieu (although she originally hails from neighboring Kansas.) Thus far, she’s remained loyal to him, though Jimmy won’t accept her offer for legal help (unlike what Gene recommended to the kid.)

We know what happens to Mike, but there is a good deal about his past that could be interestingly explored in this prequel. The law firm HHM is dependent on Chuck’s not cashing out, so there’s ample room for conflict there in future episodes.

BCS continues its signature style, interestingly now using 3-D printers and drones in the production of the show. The story unravels slowly but surely, with a flair for both drama and comedy.  There are too many show-don’t-tell montages for my taste, but the show’s tightly and intricately written. It’s also exceptionally well cast.  Odenkirk and McKean are particularly award-worthy.

I’ll be aboard this train for the long haul.

It’s Back … Better Call Saul. Scenes from the Los Pollos Hermanos Promotion in NYC.

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Better Call Saul, created by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, and starring Bob Odenkirk (shown in the promotional poster above), Michael McKean, Jonathan Banks, and Rhea Seehorn, makes its Season 3 premier on AMC on April 10, 2017.

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As part of the Season 3 promotion for Better Call Saul, AMC  opened pop-up Los Pollos Hermanos restaurants in several cities, including Albuquerque, Los Angeles, and New York.  This one in downtown New York abutted a parking garage, but was a remarkable facsimile of an actual fast food franchise.  It was only open a few days prior to the premier and attracted fans of both BCS and Breaking Bad.

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Many fans lined up for approximately an hour to enter Los Pollos and from time to time, were able to pose for nice pictures.  Here, a fan is photographed with a mysterious man who carried a bag of what appeared to be “crystal blue” methamphetamine.  Could that be Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul)?  Could he return in an episode of BCS this season?

A great deal of attention went into making the experience authentic, right down to personnel and props.

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It was impossible to not be impressed by the intricate detail the promotional staff went to in recreation, both outside and inside.

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You could order, but at the NYC restaurant, you could only get spicy curly fries and a small cup of water in a signature red plastic basket.  While some fans complained about this, the price was right — free.  Given the difficulty in obtaining city food permits, you’d really have to consider yourself lucky.

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It may have been “Fuck Chuck” all over Reddit lately, but they’re too quick to forget the utterly unconscionable and unethical act of Jimmy’s towards Chuck last season.  When it was suggested to Micheal McKean at the event that Chuck could get Jimmy disbarred, in perfect character, he replied, “Believe me, I’m trying!”

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Season 3 promises to be interesting!

L. Warner on Emmys 2016

In the Age of Peak TV, does it get any better than this?

                                                                     EMMYS – 2016

It’s that time of year when the Television Academy picks the best from their best of the best on the small screen.

No predictions from me; I’m known to not get a true or false question right until the third try, so I’m sure I wouldn’t know.

This is just my wish list.
Continue reading “L. Warner on Emmys 2016”

Lords of the Awards: Who’s Up for Emmys in 2016?

Lords of the Awards: Who’s Up for Emmys in 2016? In the Age of Peak TV, the choices are pretty good…

LORDS OF THE AWARDS:

Who’s Up for Emmys in 2016?

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has released its 2016 Emmy Award nominees.  In the Age of Peak TV, it’s no easy task.  By and large, their choices were good.  (My picks, if any, are asterisked or listed in italics.)

OUTSTANDING DRAMA SERIES

The Americans FX

Better Call Saul AMC

Downton Abbey PBS

Game of Thrones HBO

Homeland Showtime

House of Cards Netflix

*Mr. Robot USA

(They’re ALL good picks, and I won’t be disappointed.)

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A DRAMA 

Kyle Chandler Bloodline

Rami Malek Mr. Robot

*Bob Odenkirk Better Call Saul

Matthew Rhys The Americans

Liev Schreiber Ray Donovan

Kevin Spacey House of Cards

(All very acceptable picks.)

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A DRAMA

Claire Danes Homeland

Viola Davis How to Get Away with Murder

Taraji P. Henson Empire

Tatiana Maslany Orphan Black

Keri Russell The Americans

*Robin Wright House of Cards

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA

*Jonathan Banks Better Call Saul

Peter Dinklage Game of Thrones

Ben Mendelsohn Bloodline

Christian Slater Mr. Robot

Kit Harington Game of Thrones

Michael Kelly House of Cards

Jon Voight Ray Donovan

(These are all very passable choices, but I would nominate Michael McKean as well as Jonathan Banks in Better Call Saul.)

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACRESS IN A DRAMA

Maura Tierney The Affair

*Maggie Smith Downton Abbey

Lena Headey Game of Thrones

Emilia Clarke Game of Thrones

Maisie Williams Game of Thrones

Constance Zimmer UnREAL

OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A DRAMA SERIES

Joel Fields, Joe Weisberg The Americans

Julian Fellowes Downton Abbey

David Benioff, D.B. Weiss Game of Thrones

Robert King, Michelle King The Good Wife

*Sam Esmail Mr. Robot

Marti Noxon, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro UnREAL

(Noticeably absent were any Better Call Saul writers.)

OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES

black-ish ABC

Master of None Netflix

Modern Family ABC

*Silicon Valley HBO

Transparent Amazon

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Netflix

Veep HBO

(To me, this is a no-brainer selection.)

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A COMEDY 

Anthony Anderson black-ish

Aziz Ansari Master of None

Will Forte Last Man on Earth

William H. Macy Shameless

*Thomas Middleditch Silicon Valley

Jeffrey Tambor Transparent

(Another easy one.)

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A COMEDY 

Julia Louis-Dreyfus Veep

Ellie Kemper The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Tracee Ellis Ross black-ish

Laurie Metcalf Getting On

Amy Schumer Inside Amy Schumer

Lily Tomlin Grace and Frankie

(This category could go any way, and I’m okay with that.)

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY 

Louie Anderson Baskets

Andre Braugher Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Keegan-Michael Key Key & Peele

Ty Burrell Modern Family

Tituss Burgess Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Tony Hale Veep

Matt Walsh Veep

(I would’ve selected all the usual suspects in Silicon Valley, an exceptional cast, but I guess that’s just me.)

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY 

Niecy Nash Getting On

Allison Janney Mom

Kate McKinnon Saturday Night Live

Judith Light Transparent

Gaby Hoffmann Transparent

Anna Chlumsky Veep

(I really liked Suzanne Cryer in Silicon Valley myself.)

OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A COMEDY SERIES

Rob Delaney, Sharon Horgan Catastrophe

Aziz Ansari, Alan Yang Master of None

Dan O’Keefe Silicon Valley

*Alec Berg Silicon Valley

David Mandel Veep

Alex Gregory, Peter Huyck Veep

(Though Dan O’Keefe would work, too.)

OUTSTANDING LIMITED SERIES

American Crime

Fargo

*The Night Manager

The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story

Roots

(Though Fargo was pretty good.)

OTHER

Some miscellaneous mentions: Downton Abbey should merit “production design for a (one-hour) narrative period program,” and “costumes for a period/fantasy series.”

Silicon Valley easily earns “production design for a (half-hour) narrative period program” and is an easy shoo-in for “casting for a comedy series.”  (Exceptional!)  Both Mike Judge and Alec Berg of Silicon Valley are up for “directing for a comedy.”

Mr. Robot competes for best “casting for a drama series.”

Better Call Saul’s Kelley Dixon, and the team of Kelley Dixon, Chris McCaleb are deserving of “single-camera picture editing for a drama.”

There are other categories, of course, but these are the ones I’ll be most closely watching on September 18th.

Until then …

The Strange Case of Gilligan’s Gun

Warning. Here be spoilers! Synopsis of “Better Call Saul” Season 2 Finale: “The Strange Case of Gilligan’s Gun.”

SYNOPSIS OF SEASON 2 FINALE — BETTER CALL SAUL

The Strange Case of Gilligan’s Gun

It’s a wrap on Season 2 of “Better Call Saul.”  Unlike the penultimate episode, a candidate for “best of series to date,” the season’s finale, “Klick,” was more of a mixed bag.

The cold open further revealed Jimmy and Chuck’s past (at a time when Chuck was married) as the two await their mother’s last breath in the hospital.  While Jimmy’s out getting hoagies, Chuck, looking old, sits at her bedside. He sobs. She awakens briefly, only to call for Jimmy, ignoring Chuck’s presence. When she flatlines and the nurse appears, Chuck matter-of-factly asks if that’s it. When Jimmy returns, Chuck, composed, tells him she died while he was out. Jimmy asks if she had any last words.  Without missing a beat, Chuck lies and says no.

The show then returns to where it left last episode.  Chuck has fallen and hit his head on a counter after being “bombarded” by electricity at a photocopy shop, where Jimmy had previously doctored Chuck’s legal documents, sabotaging the case Chuck had pulled out from under Kim, now in her own private practice.  Last episode, Chuck had ventured to the copy shop with Ernesto to try to prove his suspicion that Jimmy had forged the documents by questioning the clerk who Jimmy had bribed to keep quiet.

Jimmy dashes into the copy shop, shuts of the electricity, and urges the clerk to call 911.  He does. Chuck lands up back in the same hospital with the same doctor he had last season, tormented by the medical tests requiring electricity.

Chuck undergoes tests.  No EKG, CATscan, Chuck pleads, you doctors don’t have my consent. There are odd POV shots, not quite Chuck’s but not the physicians’ either, depicting the terror Chuck experiences from electricity. At his doctor’s urging, Jimmy decides to obtain a temporary guardianship, pending Chuck’s recovery.   He seems to sincerely apologize to Chuck, who calls for Ernie, waiting in the hall.  Chuck demands to know from them why Jimmy was there so soon after he fell, suggesting, accurately, that Jimmy was lurking around to bribe the copy clerk.  Jimmy is speechless, and Ernie tells him he had called Jimmy because he had been worried.  In fact, he hadn’t called Jimmy.

After, when they’re alone, Jimmy asks Ernie why he said that.  Because, Ernie explained, Jimmy was his friend (from the mailroom at HHM) and Chuck had been saying terrible things about him behind his back lately.

We cut to a scene where the bearded Mexican ice cream truck driver who botched the drug money transport moans in the back of a van, hogtied, with his mouth taped shut.  The van is driven by a ponytailed Mexican and Nacho.  They drive through the desert and go through a gate.  Mike watches from his car and tries to follow discretely.

A torturous POV scene with Chuck as he’s scanned.  Meanwhile, Jimmy waits in the waiting room with Kim, as his newly-produced patriotic and poignant “Call Jimmy, a lawyer you can trust” commercial finally airs on television.  Kim loves it.  Jimmy powers down his cellphone, apparently expecting an avalanche of calls.

After protracted testing, Chuck is determined to be medically fit, having suffered only stress-related syncopy, commonly known as a panic attack, but having now entered into a self-induced catatonia.  The shot is an odd one — with Chuck’s room seeming to reflect off a mirror.  Seemingly angry with the doctor, Jimmy sits down to wait for Chuck to recover, while Kim stands by.

Cut to Mike and the weapons-dealer he met in a prior episode, practicing long-distance shots with some sort of assault rifle. He center hits the target.  The dealer recommends he use .168 hollow point bullets.  Mike takes one box.  The dealer wipes his prints off the weapon, saying “no offense” to Mike. “None taken,” Mike replies.

Through a time-lapse shot familiar to the show, a day later, Chuck awakens in his dark hospital room where Jimmy waits.  He demands water from Jimmy and asks about any involuntary psychiatric commitment. Insisting it’s just a temporary guardianship, Jimmy takes Chuck home, getting him to agree to have Ernie come by later.  Jimmy leaves.

Now alone, Chuck goes to his dark garage full of obsolete electronic items, and with a wooden utensil, retrieves something out of a box which he takes inside.  A music score plays.

Mike takes the weapon and hides out, laying in wait, presumably to shoot a youthful and spry Hector presumably issuing orders to the cousins.  Crickets chirp. Through the crosshairs, Mike watches the cartel’s cars and hut.  Ponytail digs a hole while the others wait in the hut.  From the hut, we hear hollering before returning to Mike and the crickets. Mike cocks his weapon, but never seems to get an unobstructed shot of Hector because Nacho always seems to be covering him.

One of them shoots Beard. He falls into the hole. Mike observes them through his scope. They go back inside.  Mike watches Ponytail bury Beard.

Suddenly, Mike hears a car horn blare in background.  He packs up, returning to his car, where a branch has been wedged to blow the horn.  He removes the branch. The horn stops.  On his windshield he sees a small sheet of paper that warns him simply, “Don’t.”  He looks around with a shotgun and sees no one.  Mike’s weapon never fires this episode.  What’s up with that?

Jimmy, who now runs his own solo practice in the same office as Kim, is interrupted by a call from Howard, Chuck’s law partner at HHM.  Howard asks Jimmy if he’s responsible for something alarming Chuck has apparently done.  Jimmy leaves his office with a waiting room full of elder law clients (presumably due to his riveting TV commercial) to go see Howard, leaving Kim to tend to them by getting them coffee and donuts, and after referring to her as his “associate,” and “young lady.”

Jimmy drives his yellow jalopy to Chuck’s house.  Now locked-out without a key, he bangs on the door until Chuck lets him in.  Chuck has draped aluminum foil on his walls to approximate the effects a Faraday cage to protect himself from anxiety-producing electromagnetic energy.  These walls are just plaster and lathe, he observes, invisible to radio spectrum.

Jimmy urges him to stop for just a minute so they can talk.  Chuck relents.  Jimmy tells Chuck that Howard told him he had quit HHM and the practice of law.  Chuck says he only retired.  Jimmy stresses how important the law is to Chuck.  Quite presciently perhaps, Jimmy comments Chuck can’t retire until he gets Jimmy disbarred and runs him out of town on a rail.  Yes, Chuck says, but he made a mistake and harmed his client. He could no longer perform his lawyerly duties. Instead of admitting to a mistake, he had blamed Jimmy.  He cries, the second time we’ve seen him do so, and in the same episode.

Apparently remorseful, Jimmy reveals that everything Chuck had accused him doing, he had, in fact, done for Kim’s benefit, who had secured the account in the first instance and who had earned and needed it.  He admits Chuck’s brain functions fine. He adds he thought Chuck would just gloss over the error like any “normal” person and move on.  Knowing that now, Jimmy asks if he can tell Howard Chuck wouldn’t retire.  Chuck nods his assent.  Do you realize, Chuck inquires, you just confessed to a felony?  I guess so, Jimmy answers, but you feel better and it’s your word against mine.  He leaves.

The camera reveals: the item Chuck had brought in from the garage was an old cassette tape recorder.  He got Jimmy on tape.  With his wooden utensil, he shuts the recorder off.  The finale ends.