Television

Better Call Saul: Season 2

Anthony Merino

Saying that Better Call Saul season two is not quite as good as season one is praising with faint criticism.


Better Call Saul

Airtime: Mondays 10pm
Cast: Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Rhea Seehorn
Subtitle: Season 2
Network: AMC
Air Date: 2016-02-29
Amazon

Last year, men credited with creating two of the greatest shows in TV history introduced a continuation of their original series -- to two radically different reactions. Nic Pizzolatto followed up season one of True Detective with a second season that almost seemed to define the term "hate watch". Replacing Lousiana Detective Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Detective Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) with Southern California Detective Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell), Detective Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), Highway Patrol Officer Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) and pseudo-Buddhist crime boss Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) left viewers with feeling betrayed that the beloved franchise had sunk so low, and bewildered because it had so much untapped potential.

At the other end of the spectrum, Vince Gilligan picked two of the best minor characters in his landmark series Breaking Bad: Saul Goodman/Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) and world-weary tough guy Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) to be the cornerstone of Better Call Saul. The response was much more positive. The show won the 2015 American Film Institute Award for best "Television Program of the Year". The show, as well as Odenkirk and Banks, were nominated for Primetime Emmys.

The series opens with public defender Jimmy McGill referring to his two defendants as "knuckleheads", immediately followed by a videotape of two teenage boys desecrating a corpse. This scene set the bar high for a series that would be equal parts surreal, funny, and vulgar. Gilligan delivered, throughout the first season, many quirky/insane people; some of the funniest moments on television in 2015 happened on this show.

As a drama, however, both Jimmy and Mike manage to embody some very noble characteristics, while both being deeply flawed. Both are exceptionally good at what they do. It's a shame that it’s much harder for them to apply their skill set inside the law as opposed to outside of it.

Season one was a tough act for Gilligan to follow. The first three episodes seem like a marginal copy of the first season: Jimmy and Mike, and mind-numbingly stupid criminals. Introduced last year, drug-embezzling idiot Daniel 'Pryce' Wormald (Mark Proksch) does provide some decent comic relief. His plot line gets resolve with Jimmy coming to his defense at the end of episode two, "Cobbler". Jimmy explains that Pryce had done "Crybaby Squat Cobbler" videos for a lover.

The interaction between Jimmy and the two cops is funny, but the emphasis on scatological humor parallels season one's "Tony, the Toilet Buddy" scene. Inventor Roland Jaycocks (Tim Baltz) creates a toilet that talks whenever something is deposited in the bowl. Both scenes are vulgar, surreal, and funny. It’s just that "Tony, the Toilet Buddy" will be remembered as funny for the next ten years; it's unlikely "The Cobbler" will have the same fate.

At the core of season one was the relationship between Jimmy and his gifted brother, Chuck McGill (Michael McKean). Chuck developed a phobia of electric devices. Throughout the first season, we see Jimmy constantly defending and looking out for his brother, only to have their relationship fall apart at the end. There’s a great deal of pathos in their relationship, with Chuck telling Jimmy that he was always and forever a con man: "slipping" Jimmy.

Another change Gilligan makes in season two is the central relationship between Jimmy and his romantic interest, fellow attorney Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn). While a far more conventional personal tension, there are some very fresh qualities to the relationship. There’s a great deal of endearment between the two, and Wexler serves as the opposite of Chuck. She knows all of Jimmy’s flaws, but continues to champion him.

Gilligan faces a hard narrative problem, in that we know at some point Jimmy becomes Saul Goodman. Thus, the audience knows the answer to the main tension of the series: will good Jimmy or bad Jimmy win? We know that somehow Kim and Jimmy's relationship is going to end. It's a credit to both Odenkirk and Seehorn’s charisma that we are nonetheless engaged in their relationship. Seehorn in particular has the exceptional ability to be both charmed by and concerned over Jimmy.

Saying that Better Call Saul season two is not quite as good as season one is praising with faint criticism. It’s still funnier and more interesting than just about anything on television.

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