5 ways Better Call Saul surpasses Breaking Bad

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Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill – Better Call Saul _ Season 4, Episode 3 – Photo Credit: Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

It takes its time

I often wondered if Breaking Bad‘s writers were required to fill a high plot development quota in each episode. Each ep was fast-paced and jam-packed with action, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Burning quickly through story makes for a compelling show, but it can also make that show more disposable.

Better Call Saul‘s pacing is downright leisurely compared to its predecessor’s. We get to know Jimmy and the world around him as he becomes Saul Goodman, whereas Walt’s Mr. Chips-to-Scarface transformation was basically inspired in one moment by a cancer diagnosis. It’s much easier to become invested in a character’s descent when you have an understanding of who he is.

It’s possible to read the pacing as the series building a case for or against Jimmy/Saul, just as he and his fellow lawyers do for their clients. Better Call Saul is fairly forthright about legal work being work — often long, tedious work at that. Perhaps the show is delving into the minutiae of Jimmy’s environment because it wants us to know all the facts before we reach a verdict.

Saul is the king of comedy

Saul was my favorite Breaking Bad character because he was the funniest. Yes, he was unapologetically slimy, but he was also the only character who recognized how absurd the world of crime can be. Sometimes making fun of something is the only way to survive it.

Breaking Bad, of course, was often a very funny show, but Better Call Saul is also in touch with its comedic side. The former’s humor was usually used as a respite from the tension, while the latter’s is a part of its overall tone. After all, Better Call Saul is pretty much one elongated lawyer joke.

The show’s world is rife with Gilmore Girls-esque fast-talking banter and pop culture references. That’s how Jimmy communicates and how he connects with Kim. And, since Jimmy is often paired in scenes with Mike, there’s an abundance of straight man-and-funny guy routines featuring the aforementioned eyebrow arch. That’s a gift that keeps on giving.

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Better Call Saul is not the cultural phenomenon that Breaking Bad was, but it really should be. The dramedy builds on its predecessor’s ideas of morality and the diminishing returns of being a maverick outlaw. Yet Better Call Saul also does what Breaking Bad could not: build a female character who is as fascinating in her world as she is in ours, depict a romance that’s worth rooting for and give its narrative time and room to develop.

Even though I already know the end of Jimmy’s story, I still find myself hoping he catches a break and doesn’t mess it up. That’s the power of this series. We watched Breaking Bad to find out what happens next. We watch Better Call Saul because we know what will eventually happen, but we still care.