Better Call Saul is a successful spin-off series from the hit television series Breaking Bad in an era of unsuccessful spin-offs. What makes this spin-off different from others?
Article written by: Vaisakh Nair
Spin-offs don’t usually go well with the audiences and we’re not short on examples of spin-offs which were not only terrible but ruined the entire universe of the world the original material created. The challenging part about spin-offs is that they not only have to match up to the original creation in terms of plot and character design, but they have to avoid inconsistencies in the universe and fight the ‘nostalgic’ element that the audiences might carry. The chances of a spin-off to be successful in the current atmospheric conditions are unlikely due to the countless number of uninspired spin-offs that were created solely because of the success of the original creation. Conventionally, a spin-off should have found it comparatively easier to find an audience since the fans of the original show would become the primary targeted audience but writers have realised that this trend does not exist any longer because of the stigma that has been created because of decades of spin-offs which were made solely for milking on the success of the original creation.
Better Call Saul is a spin-off series based on the critically acclaimed TV drama Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad is easily one of the most popular modern TV dramas and is widely considered as the best television drama of all time. A spin-off to such a highly rated show would be a hard act to follow, especially when they have created a universe which is free from any significant plot-holes or inconsistencies. Right now, the series is at its fifth season and the final season of the show is going to be released by 2021. By getting renewed for the sixth season, Better Call Saul achieved a feat that is very rare for spin-offs, which is surpassing the runtime of the original creation. A more nuanced observation is required to understand why the show was able to successfully bank in on the popularity of Breaking Bad and how it even surpassed it in some ways.
Better Call Saul is a prequel based on the character of Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad. Since it is a prequel, the writers had a gargantuan task of writing a story of ‘how’ and not ‘what’ unlike most spin-offs. We get to know the fate of Saul Goodman through Breaking Bad but we are never shown how Saul becomes who he is in the show. Thus, the audience knows where the story is going and the task of the writers would be to hook the audience with details and incidents throughout the story which would make Saul, who he is. The show is a journey where the audience knows the destination but not the pitstops thus, this is a literal example of the phrase, “the joy is in the journey, not the destination”. This can be very liberating for the showrunners because they can focus on methods to do great storytelling on a plot that is already decided. The fate of Saul Goodman at the end of Breaking Bad also plays a part in the success of Better Call Saul because the audience gets to connect the dots on how each decision taken by Saul in his early days led to his eventual meeting with Walter White. The Easter eggs that are carefully placed throughout Better Call Saul make it a rewarding experience for the audience of Breaking Bad. Apart from this, we get to know the origin stories of other characters in Breaking Bad like Mike Ehrmantraut, Gus Fring, Hector Salamanca. In Breaking Bad, they appeared as seasoned professionals in their respective lines of work but with Better Call Saul, we get a clearer idea of how they all became what they are. The whole series is a journey of these men from different states of morality and how society shapes their moral compass. Moreover, there are new characters introduced in Better Call Saul, like Kim Wexler and Howard Hamlin that even make the show stand on its own. In Breaking Bad, Saul and Mike were side characters and we were given a glimpse of them. The audience gets more screen time of these characters only in Better Call Saul. Moreover, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould treat Better Call Saul with the same artistic touch as they did with Breaking Bad, possibly even more as they had more creative freedom with Better Call Saul. The way the writers approached Better Call Saul, we can find a perfect blend of the spin-off having its own story and events while respecting the original plot on which it was based on. With such exquisite mastery over the script, the writers managed to make a spin-off that is as great as the original show itself or even better. It is obvious from the script, camerawork and the production quality, Better Call Saul is like a more refined act of seasoned writers enjoying the success of a great television series and not misusing it.