Karl Puschmann is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Karl Puschmann: Drawling Saul takes its sweet, sweet time

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Every detail considered in prequel all about the journey.
Better Call Saul is available to stream on Lightbox in New Zealand.
Better Call Saul is available to stream on Lightbox in New Zealand.

For a show about a fast-talkin' shyster, Better Call Saul sure moves slow. It's unhurried and deliberate. As if it has no particular place to be and is in no particular rush to get there.

Saul truly is all about the journey. In large part because it's a prequel to the superb Breaking Bad, meaning we already know its destination.

Crooked yet endearing lawyer Saul Goodman (played with joyous verve by Bob Odenkirk) will hitch a ride into the sunset to escape the extremely dangerous professionals working on both sides of America's drug war.

A grimmer fate awaits the show's other main character, Mike Ehrmantraut, a likeably droll ex-cop turned hitman-for-hire who is portrayed with wry intensity by actor Jonathan Banks.

Via flash-forward, shown in vivid black and white, we've had only an occasional glimpse into the depressing future. Saul is living a wearily paranoid existence among the sticky sweet cinnamon buns and filter coffee of a mall bakery.

He sees every harmless customer as a potential threat who is there to take him down with a speeding bullet or - arguably worse - jail time.

But for now, three episodes into season two, we remain a long, long way from destiny. Saul is nowhere to be seen. Instead, he's still "Slipping" Jimmy McGill, wrestling with respectability and battling the yin and yang of being a fantastic con man and a spiritless lawyer.

His attempts to bridge those waters by bringing some verbal razzamatazz to the stiff law firm he works for backfired massively. First with an accusatory and humiliating verbal dressing down in front of his peers and, as episode three concluded, an early- morning appointment with his pissed off boss and the firm's pissed off partners. The wooden world of corporate law is apparently no place for freewheelin' hucksterism.

It's clear Jimmy's a round peg surrounded by square holes. He knows this and would be off living his dream of hustling rich jerks at fancy hotels if it wasn't for a blossoming romance with a colleague. His crack at wooing her away from the courtroom and into a PG-rated version of Bonnie and Clyde succeeding only for one, brief moment before she burst his bubble and made him choose between his hustling or her.

Meanwhile, Mike has problems of his own. While he's happily reading the day away at his parking booth attendant job, his well-paid enforcing gig has just come to an end after a nerdy client started going out of his way to get either busted or dead.

Buying a pimped out, bright yellow Hummer with money made from selling drugs stolen from your pharmaceutical workplace is not the smartest play for a wannabe drug baron. Nor is it advisable to call the cops to investigate a burglary that's obviously been carried out by the criminals you sell your stolen drugs to. Mike recognises the red flags and attempts to walk away.

Problem is, if the nerd goes down Mike goes down with him. After some tense negotiation makes things right with the Mexican gang, Mike calls in a favour, asking Jimmy if he's still "morally flexible" and able to help get the fuzz off his back.

Delightfully, this action sets our two anti-heroes off together on a wildly entertaining misadventure far earlier than the show's slow-burning first season did. And, as an added unsavoury bonus, it also births the hilarious perversity that is "squat cobbling". Ick.

So there's a lot going on. It's just that it doesn't go on at the brisk pace that today's modern viewer expects. This makes the action easy to miss. It all sort of just washes over you, very naturally and organically.

Better Call Saul is unique in that it focuses tightly on just two people. Unlike, say, Game of Thrones, it doesn't need to furiously flitter between 1200 or so main characters every episode. Unlike True Detective it doesn't mistake complexity for obfuscation. And unlike Fargo it doesn't feel compelled to fire cliffhangers constantly.

This is a show that thinks nothing of opening with a ponderous zoom on to a ticking metronome or having lawyers endlessly discussing the intricacies of the world's most boring case.

But it's also violent, unpredictable and very funny. Visually, nothing on the box touches it. Every immaculately crafted shot offers layers and complexities to unravel.

It's wrong to call it slow. Saul is measured and purposeful, even when being playful. It's indulgent, sure. But indulgence as artfully composed and entirely pulled off as this is easy to forgive.

- NZ Herald

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Karl Puschmann is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

A pop culture junkie, Karl has spent his career writing about the important things in life; music, film, television, comics and video games. He was editor of a popular music rag for five years and has since written regularly for every local culture/arts/lifestyle magazine worth a damn. His recent expansion into travel writing has flung him far, far from the comfort of his couch and into that bewildering place known as the ‘outdoors’. He is also currently endeavouring to make sense of the world by reviewing it over at critikarlreviewstheworld.com

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