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Monday, February 9, 2015

Better Call Saul 1.1: The Challenge of Prequels and Spinoffs

Well, I saw the first episode of Better Call Saul, the ballyhooed Breaking Bad prequel on AMC last night.   I'll probably see the second episode, if not tonight, then sooner or later.

Here are some of my impressions -

  • It's not Breaking Bad.  It has some of its absurdity (which is good) but almost none of its intensity (the lack of which is not good)
  • It has lots of color and humor - all of which is good
  • It's a highly original lawyer show - but which I mean, I've never seen another lawyer  show like it on television.  As a new entry in very well worn genre, Better Call Saul is welcome
  • The show does have Mike - one of the best characters from Breaking Bad, and that gives us some promise of more interesting situations to come.
All in all, prequels are a tough proposition, in any kind of story telling - novels, movies, television.   If you stick too closely to the original characters, you'll be deprived of a lot of surprise, since you know what will happen.  There is some fun in seeing people you've come to know very well in their earlier life, but that only goes so far.   The Star Wars prequel trilogy is the only counter-example I can think of, and although those movies were excellent, I thought they weren't quite as good as the original movies, anyway.

Spin-offs on television are slightly different, in that they can take place at the same time as the original success, or slightly after.   They've worked to an extent on everything on television ranging from sitcoms - The Jeffersons and Maude spinning off from All in the Family - and to dramas - Knots Landing from Dallas and the whole host of CSIs from CSI.   But even in those cases, the spin-offs were never quite as good as the brilliant originals.   The same is true for NCIS-LA and NCIS-New Orleans, which are pretty good, but not quite up the masterful mix of the original NCIS (itself a spin-off of JAG, and therefore an enormously successful exception to the general rule).

So Better Call Saul has tough but not impossible road to hoe.  I'll check back here later down the line.

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