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

Better Call Saul, the best show on TV, just keeps getting better

Better Call Saul is unquestionably the best show on television. A big call? Perhaps. An easy one? Definitely.

It oozes style, it prizes substance. It's meticulously crafted and flawlessly executed. Full of brain-tickling intrigue and stomach-churning suspense but also delivering bursts of action and excitement. Best of all it even manages to sneak more than a few gags into each episode as well.

Not a moment is wasted. It's extremely obvious that every second of this show has been thoroughly thought out and planned for maximum impact.

Even something as boringly mundane as a character getting a cup of coffee from a scungy coin machine is used as an opportunity to dazzle, presenting the act in an inventive and unusual fashion that's full of odd angles and bespoke camera placements.

If the show had one failing it was its deliberate, almost perversely slow, pace.

There's no denying that the first two seasons simply plodded by.

Michael McKean as Charles "Chuck" McGill, Jr and Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill in Better Call Saul
Michael McKean as Charles "Chuck" McGill, Jr and Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill in Better Call Saul



A less patient pal of mine who gave up on Saul back in season one recently whined in exasperation, "how much backstory do you need?" as he defended his position.

Much as I hate to say it, he did have something of a point.

There's no doubt that creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have certainly been taking their sweet time about getting down to business.

If we were to equate it to Gilligan's Breaking Bad then right now, in the opening episodes of season three, Walter White would still be a cancer-free, high school chemistry teacher and not an increasingly bad-ass, fedora sporting, meth lord.

That's not to say nothing happened in those first two seasons. The pay-offs for your patience have been hugely rewarding. It's just that they've revolved around subtler things.

Instead of Mexican drug lords coming guns blazing for our heroes, a major plot line revolved around how an 'i' came to be undotted and a 't' came to be uncrossed in an almost irrelevant legal document.

Riveting stuff, I'm sure we can agree...

Rhea Seehorn is lawyer Kimberly Wexler and Bob Odenkirk is Jimmy McGill in Better Call Saul
Rhea Seehorn is lawyer Kimberly Wexler and Bob Odenkirk is Jimmy McGill in Better Call Saul

Thing is, it was. With characters heavy with history and laden with backstory, the teeny details of the world's most boring legal case became the basis for gripping, intense television.

When Lightbox brought star Bob Odenkirk down to New Zealand last month to promote the third season I asked him about the nature of the show's slow burn. He described it as Gilligan and Gould "methodically setting up the dominoes".

Season three, he assured me, was when these dominoes would begin to topple. "Boom! Boom! Boom!" was his description of how it would play out. This has proved to be right on the money.

So if Saul's glacial storytelling had previously left you cold then I encourage you to dive back in now. The pace has picked up dramatically and I don't think you'd have much trouble picking up what's going on.

It was in this week's episode that we finally began to see some of those methodically placed dominoes start to sway.

Jimmy (who is still to become the titular Saul) was arrested on a variety of trumped up charges, an action we can already see sending him down his path of immoral legal hucksterism, while his semi-friendly associate Mike Ehrmantraut had his first run-in and terse dealings with Breaking Bad's ruthless drug baron Gus Fring.

Those latter scenes in particular have been a stand-out of the early stages of this season. Last week it was a high stakes game of cat and mouse as Gus and Mike engaged in a battle of wits, jabbing away at each other in an attempt to gain a dominant position. This week it was confrontation followed by an uneasy sort of alliance.

Jonathan Banks stars as Mike Ehrmantraut in Better Call Saul
Jonathan Banks stars as Mike Ehrmantraut in Better Call Saul

It was this showdown that framed the episode. Opening with a sequence of beautifully cinematic shots of a faded old pair of sneakers dangling from a power line above a 'Stop' sign somewhere in the Mexican desert, we saw the laces finally give way sending the shoes falling to the ground.

No explanations were given. By the end of the episode all would be explained. We'd see Mike buy the shoes and, in a scene that echoed Walter White's triumphant season three pizza toss, watch him hiff them onto the lines albeit with a little less panache than old Walt...

It took the rest of the episode for the 'why' to be explained. This was the best sort of frustration as Mike's plan slowly revealed itself.

Eventually, when all become clear, you were left with no doubt that Better Call Saul is unquestionably the best show on television.

• Better Call Saul season three is available exclusively on Lightbox.

- NZ Herald

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