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Eric McMahon, Sora McMahon and Arty Fisk, right to left, watch the premier episode of Better Call Saul at The Local Brewhouse on Sunday. Better Call Saul, the Breaking Bad spinoff filmed in Albuquerque, focuses the unsuccessful life of lawyer Saul Goodman.
Eric McMahon, Sora McMahon and Arty Fisk, right to left, watch the premier episode of Better Call Saul at The Local Brewhouse on Sunday. Better Call Saul, the Breaking Bad spinoff filmed in Albuquerque, focuses the unsuccessful life of lawyer Saul Goodman.

TV review: 'Better Call Saul' premiere delivers

'Breaking Bad' spinoff offers strong two-day debut

It’s a rare feat that creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have endeavored to pull off, but if the two-night premiere of “Better Call Saul” is any indication, “Breaking Bad” doesn’t have anything to worry about.

A return to the criminal underworld of Albuquerque was long overdue, but Gilligan and Gould have made it worth the wait with a pair of episodes that are as suspenseful as they are hilarious, as familiar as they are fresh.

Bob Odenkirk plays Jimmy McGill, a struggling, small-time lawyer who acts confident when he’s desperate and works in an office resembling a utility closet. He is so down in the dumps with his career that being able to avoid succumbing to a scam by skateboarding teenagers is considered a moral victory.

McGill’s desperation is excellently conveyed through his inability to pull out any legitimate triumphs in the first two episodes. Gilligan and Gould aren’t out to cheat viewers; it’s evident that this road is going to be long, arduous and at times, painful.

Fans who followed the events in “Breaking Bad” know the identity, and the name that McGill will eventually take up, but it’s obvious he has a long, long way to go.

The beginning of that journey was quirky, beautiful and unexpected. Just when you think McGill is going to undergo his metamorphosis quicker than anyone expected, Gilligan and Gould throw a wrench in his plans in a sequence that is memorable, well directed and full of laughs.

“Better Call Saul” manifests its strengths in its gorgeous cinematography, tight focus on character and the constant presence of tension. The writing has proven from the first pair of episodes to be smart and sly, unique in its ability to layer a story with different supporting elements that the audience just knows will come into a larger role later on, like Jimmy’s brother Chuck and McGill’s prospective “employees.”

The balance of tone is another thing “Better Call Saul” excels at thus far. Whereas “Breaking Bad” was three parts drama and one part black comedy, a lighter fare is ostensibly the name of the game in “Better Call Saul.” That being said, a few scenes are jarring enough to assure us this isn’t like much else on TV.

McGill is a man on the edge of being down and out, but his exploits and mannerisms are flat out hilarious when he’s trying to get his career straight, by way of methods that are decidedly not legal. The show is never too glum but also doesn’t let the audience off the hook – it is gripping, enthralling and bold.

Odenkirk is borderline captivating as McGill. He’s able to capture the lawyer’s part-outlandish, part-somber persona, and no matter what happens during the rest of the show’s run, it can be confidently said that Odenkirk will always please.

McGill isn’t the only fascinating character involved in the premiere. A greedy big-shot rival lawyer, a crazy crook, his abuelita and McGill’s own brother, who looks upon technology like it is death itself are introduced. It’s an ensemble that’s hard to resist and shows that “Better Call Saul” will never have a slow moment in the near future.

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The music is another strength. It helps to set the tone of almost every scene, and helps to elevate every scene to enchantment.

In the early running, the show is one of the most complete on television. Being able to strike a balance between humor and downright horror in some scenes, while backing it up with memorable lines, beautiful thematic shots and a plot that only looks to get thicker and thicker, Gilligan and Gould show they have an acute attention to detail, and it pays off.

McGill is in it for the long run toward when he eventually breaks bad, but seeing what road he takes is only the first in a long list of reasons why the world of AMC’s “Better Call Saul” will be worth returning to.

David Lynch is a reviewer and staff reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at culture@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

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