Combustible Celluloid
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With: Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Rhea Seehorn, Michael McKean, Patrick Fabian, Michael Mando, Kerry Condon, Omar Maskati, Ed Begley Jr., Mark Margolis
Written by: Thomas Schnauz, Gennifer Hutchison, Jonathan Glatzer, Gordon Smith, Ann Cherkis, Peter Gould, Heather Marion, Vince Gilligan
Directed by: Thomas Schnauz, Terry McDonough, Scott Winant, Adam Bernstein, John Shiban, Michael Slovis, Colin Bucksey, Larysa Kondracki, Peter Gould, Vince Gilligan
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 459
Date: 12/30/2016

Better Call Saul: Season Two (2016)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Giving 'Em the Slip

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

There's no reason this show should have been as good as it is. A spinoff from the greatest TV show of all time, Breaking Bad? It sounds like a terrible idea. But it was always intriguing, given that creator Vince Gilligan (also a writer on The X-Files) was behind it. And, indeed, as soon as Better Call Saul started in 2015, it was instantly its own entity, alive and amazing in its own way.

It gives us little glimpses into what Saul's life might be like after his association with Walter White (probably in some kind of witness protection program), before flashing back to give us his whole story, as well as that of Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) and a batch of new characters. In season two, Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) -- his real name before he adopted the "Saul" -- is still struggling to break into practicing law. He gets a job with his brother's firm, HHM, and his brother, Chuck (Michael McKean), begins doing what he can to subtly knock Jimmy down a few pegs.

Jimmy's relationship with Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) deepens, and they go through a rough patch. Mike tangles with Nacho (Michael Mando), as well as a ghost of the previous show, getting himself beat up, but doing it all to take care of his widowed daughter-in-law and his beloved granddaughter. Finally, Jimmy's talents as a con man come into play for an incredible final act.

Put together by a wide range of writers (Gilligan is only credited on the final episode), Better Call Saul still maintains an exquisite visual look, with wide, beautifully filtered shots of the wispy clouds in Albuquerque skies; the show favors wide angles and as many diagonal lines as possible, presumably to visually underscore the tricky, non-linear way the story is told. The writing is exceptional -- again, penned by many different minds -- with emphasis on characters as well as nasty little surprises and turns.

Perhaps best of all is Mr. Odenkirk; once upon a time, I would have bet against his being able to carry a show of this quality, given that his training was in comedy writing and sketch performing. But he's conjured up a deeply fascinating character, full of showy surfaces and wells of emotion.

I look forward to seeing where this is going, and how it will eventually click into place with Breaking Bad, making, perhaps, a great American television saga. Meanwhile, Sony Pictures Home Video has released the ten episodes of Season Two on a Blu-ray set, on three discs, plus digital copies. It includes plentiful extras, such as commentary tracks on every episode, a table read, a gag reel, fake commercials from the show, a fascinating discussion between actors Jonathan Banks and Mark Margolis, and a dozen or so other little behind-the-scenes featurettes. It's highly recommended.

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