Making the Case: Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul
In an on-going series, Clarence Moye makes the Emmy® case for Better Call Saul to win the Outstanding Drama Series Emmy. As the Emmy voting period winds down, the writers of AwardsDaily TV will pour out their hearts and minds to try and convince Emmy voters to follow their expert opinions.

AMC’s Better Call Saul

Metacritic: 85
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Number of Nominations: 7
Major Nominations: Drama Series, Lead Actor (Bob Odenkirk), Supporting Actor (Jonathan Banks)

Better Call Saul represents television’s current greatest underdog story. It’s fitting that the sophomore season of AMC’s hit continues to face HBO’s juggernaut Game of Thrones in the Drama Series race. All evidence points to a Game of Thrones win, and you can hardly argue with what feels inevitable. Still, it’s not difficult to imagine a Better Call Saul Game of Thrones duel as the Emmy incarnation of the series’ persistent Jimmy McGill / Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill rivalry. Everyone loves an underdog, right?

The second season of Better Call Saul provides an overall enrichment of its successful first season. I’m convinced that’s because the series learned to embrace the capabilities of their incredibly talented cast. Case in point, the evolution of Rhea Seehorn’s Kim Wexler from onlooker supporting player in Season 1 to an adventurous and risk-taking force to be reckoned with in Season 2 provides some of the most rewarding television in all of 2016. Tell me you can’t immediately recall her desperate cold-calling scene (brilliantly photographed through a series of Post-It Notes). Tell me you didn’t cheer when she snagged the longest of long shots in actually winning new business. Don’t pretend you weren’t intrigued by her overstepping the moral and legal limits with Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) as they con deserving marks together. Kim Wexler’s growth as a character and Rhea Seehorn’s growth as an actress was the single most thrilling aspect of Better Call Saul Season 2. That she wasn’t Emmy nominated for her brilliant performance… Shame. Shame. Shame.

Forgive me from borrowing from that “other show.”

Better Call Saul
(Photo: AMC)

But Wexler’s ascension in Season 2 hardly proves the only memorable moments. The complexity of Jimmy’s relationship with brother Chuck (Michael McKean) escalated to near-unbearable heights by season’s end. Those who complain the series takes too long to unravel its plot points (a.k.a. “It’s too slow”) probably don’t appreciate the fine art of character building. It takes time to carefully lay the groundwork for “Big Moments.” We needed to feel Chuck’s desperation at remaining relevant as brother Jimmy seemed to be pulling it together. We needed to feel Chuck’s confusion and panic as Jimmy sabotaged Chuck’s legal case to win minor legal battles of his own. The season may have ended with a much-dreaded cliffhanger, but, to me, the earlier scene between Jimmy and Kim in Chuck’s darkened home provided more thrills. After stretching the boundaries of her morality, Kim Wexler ignores Chuck’s seemingly paranoid, but entirely accurate, theory on Jimmy’s sabotage. She sides with Jimmy over Chuck. She chooses the morally vague path. It’s as cataclysmic an event as the Red Keep explosion at the end of Game of Thrones.

Oh, there I go talking about “that show” again.

Better Call Saul Season 1 was a fine, accomplished season. It gave Bob Odenkirk an amazing opportunity to recast his famous Breaking Bad character Saul Goodman in a new, less experienced light. It realized a lot of fun moments in the process. However, Season 2 provides a deeper, more complex, more resonant, more rewarding experience because it finally starts expanding the world beyond Jimmy McGill. Sure, he’s still the star of the show, but now we’re becoming familiar with a broader array of characters. Vince Gilligan gives the great Odenkirk more colorful palate of characters off which to play in Season 2. And what a thrill that is to behold.

It’s time to put away the Breaking Bad comparisons and accept Better Call Saul on its own terms. It’s such a tonally different show that comparisons feel arbitrary. Maybe that’s why the Television Academy feels behind the curve in recognizing its greatness. They can’t let go of Walter White. It’s their loss, though. As brilliant as Breaking Bad was, it’s time to embrace something new and challenging in its own unique way. Better Call Saul ranks as the kind of show that grows in esteem over time. It holds its cards close to the vest and makes you work to appreciate how incredibly well attuned it really is. The writing, the direction, and the breathtaking cinematography (all of which were criminally ignored this year by the Television Academy) are all hallmarks of a great show. Better Call Saul more than lives up to the reputation of its predecessor, and it deserves equal footing, award-wise.

Again, the Game of Thrones coronation feels inevitable. I can hardly argue with that myself given the vast scope, the emotional trauma, and the legitimate shock value registered by that classic series. Yet, human nature inspires us to root for the underdog on occasion. Better Call Saul is one such underdog worthy of a thousand Emmys. Let it not be buried in the shadow of similar greatness.

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