Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things movie.

The return of Better Call Saul

Bob Odenkirk talks to Dominic Corry about returning for another season of his Breaking Bad spin-off
Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill in Better Call Saul.
Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill in Better Call Saul.

One thing that became clear during the first season of Better Call Saul is that it is a very different beast to the show from which it was spun-off: Breaking Bad.

Functioning primarily as a prequel to Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul charts the rise of shifty lawyer Saul Goodman, back when he was still going by his birthname, Jimmy McGill.

The end of the first season saw Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) seemingly reject the advances of a respectable law firm and resolve to embrace his true nature as a shifty character.

"It was a surprise," Odenkirk tells TimeOut about the direction season two is taking. "It conflicts a little bit. But in season one, Jimmy is really trying to win the respect and appreciation of his brother, and then that goes terribly wrong.

"In season two, the only person he's connected to, in an aspirational way, is [fellow lawyer] Kim [played by Rhea Seehorn]. So if he wants to stay connected to her, he should try to be in that world. And while we see Jimmy make this choice to try again to fit in in the corporate world, he doesn't really try as hard.

And he's very aware of the fact now that he isn't really gonna fit in easily here."

Better Call Saul has done an amazing job of constructing a fully formed character in Jimmy McGill, illuminating a depth that wasn't even hinted at in Breaking Bad.

"The background is wonderful and true to a person and has an emotional truth to it. You know the thing that's crazy about the work that [creators/writers] Vince [Gilligan] and Peter [Gould] do, is that they claim - and I believe them - to not know what they're doing. I know they work really really hard and they make a lot of notes and they talk at length with this group of writers. But they must get lucky a little bit too. There's gotta be some crazy luck in there, ya know?"

In between seasons one and two of Better Call Saul, Odenkirk returned to the format for which he was previously best-known: sketch comedy. The four-part Netflix series With Bob and David meant a reunion with David Cross and Odenkirk's other collaborators from the cult sketch comedy series Mr. Show.

"People have asked me a lot about what's the difference between comic acting and dramatic acting and in one way they're very similar because, you know, it's about committing to an alternate-reality person. In comedy a lot of the times you're really blowing the characterisation up - big, big, big - and it's only better the bigger it is. And in drama, oftentimes, it's about tuning it in a lot more."

Better Call Saul deftly straddles a line between comedy and drama.

"I get rewarded from doing the dramatic scenes that are really intense and interior and kind of hard. It's like a great feeling to feel like you connected on that and did a good job, in drama, and then it's a reward for me to get to the comedy because it's a relief. And it makes me laugh and it makes me smile and I just know the rhythms of it really well and I feel confident in it. But the two things are still pretty separate. When I go to do With Bob and David on Netflix, it's a different part of me, you know?"

The fact that Odenkirk's been plugging away in Hollywood for several decades as a well-regarded-but-not-exactly-famous comedy writer, director and performer connects him to Jimmy's struggle.

"I certainly relate to a guy who's trying to find himself at an older age, who doesn't feel like he has made his mark yet. I think a lot of people can relate to that feeling of 40-45, feeling like 'Wait a second, where's my f****** moment? Where do I belong? Where can I use skills and have people appreciate it?'"

Odenkirk's storied history also means he has a grounded perspective on the attention that comes with being the lead on a buzzy series. "One thing I realised is that the promotional machine and the effort put behind something that costs this much and is made by this calibre of people like Vince and Peter, is massive. And it's new to me. It's a version of what I've done, but on a much bigger scale.

"I think I made my mark when I was younger. I wrote some big sketches for Saturday Night Live ... those were big moments for me. This is a strange experience. I don't think I experienced the way a person in their 20s would who had a role like this. It doesn't define me nearly as much as you'd think it might. Or it doesn't redefine me to myself, it just doesn't, I've been this guy for too long."

The success of the show has opened up certain possibilities for Odenkirk. "The good thing is that I can write a piece - I just shot a feature, a small feature, and I'm the lead. And that probably wouldn't be allowed, it wouldn't be okay before Better Call Saul. The company would go 'Why is he the lead? Get somebody who plays leads'. So that changes your ability or your options grow - that's nice. But everything else is the same."

- NZ Herald

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