Bob Odenkirk, left, as Saul Goodman, and Better Call Saul showrunners Peter Gould, centre, and Vince Gilligan. Lewis Jacobs / AMC / AP Photo
Bob Odenkirk, left, as Saul Goodman, and Better Call Saul showrunners Peter Gould, centre, and Vince Gilligan. Lewis Jacobs / AMC / AP Photo

Breaking Bad prequel, Better Call Saul, hits UAE TV screens



There is no shortage in the New Mexico desert, it seems, of crusty unfeeling reptiles who lurk just out of sight until they can take you down with a spurt of venom – be they crooks or rattlers.

But the most dangerous sidewinder may well be Saul Goodman, the slippery lawyer in the crazy suit, as Better Call Saul, the madly anticipated prequel to Breaking Bad, debuts at last on Sunday.

The buzz around this legal drama could deafen a hornets' nest. Esquire magazine has already declared it "better than Breaking Bad". Given the adoration heaped on that show, that's high praise indeed.

The AMC network ordered a second season of 13 episodes – three more than the first season of 10 – before the show’s US premiere last night. If this isn’t must-see TV, then we’ve all been bamboozled big time.

The Saul Goodman we came to know and love in Breaking Bad – with his loopy TV commercials, his patriotic "We the People" wallpaper and his giant inflatable Statue of Liberty atop his tacky Albuquerque strip-mall office – would have been nothing more than a throwaway joke, or cheap comic relief at best, were it not for the frenetic acting and seductive charisma of the actor Bob Odenkirk. He convinces us all that "I know a guy who knows a guy who knows another guy" who can get any imaginable dirty deed carried out.

But Saul doesn't start off being Saul in this new series from Breaking Bad's creator Vince Gilligan and co-showrunner Peter Gould. They opted instead to turn the clock back to 2002 and trace the strange, and at times painful, evolution of Jimmy McGill, a small-time lawyer hungry for his destiny as he hustles to make ends meet on the twisty path to becoming Saul Goodman.

“It’s a superhero origins story,” says Odenkirk, describing how he finally got a handle on his character as a series star. “The superhero is Saul and his special power is his mouth, an agile mind and some stones. And instead of a cape, he has a yellow tie and green socks.”

Naturally, the surreal desert vistas of New Mexico from Breaking Bad, almost a "character" in their own right, are back to haunt our HDTVs. But emotionally, Jimmy's world is very different from Saul's.

He is a struggling lawyer who honestly wants to do good as he defends the disreputable while caring for his ailing brother Chuck, an upscale lawyer played by the comedy great Michael McKean (This Is Spinal Tap). Chuck has everything Jimmy wants, including a posh office, while Jimmy works out of his beat-up car or, worse, a phone booth.

He will face some anxious times on the road to becoming Saul Goodman – Better Call Saul is not all laughs and smarmy doubletalk.

"It's total drama, man," Odenkirk told The Hollywood Reporter. "It's 85 per cent drama, 15 per cent comedy."

“Jimmy is a mess,” says Gilligan, “[but] every so often, you’ll catch a glimpse of the man who eventually becomes Saul ­Goodman.

“Jimmy still talks his way out of sticky situations, even if the results are far from perfect. Of course, he isn’t yet a criminal lawyer when we first meet him. In fact, he’s trying to be the ­opposite.

“And certainly the point is not should we be good or should we not. I guess the point is it’s sometimes very hard to be good. I think Saul wants to be [good], but he also wants to cut corners when he can. You see that in the first episode. That’s a lot of the fun for me in the writers’ room.”

One treat for Breaking Bad fans will be the return of the show's beloved "fixer" Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), who will work alongside, and often against, Jimmy. It won't be love at first sight, by any means, as the two get off to an antagonistic, slow-burn start.

Also expect some non-linear storytelling, says Gould, to highlight the cause and effect of Jimmy’s actions.

“We’ve given ourselves the liberty and we have history with these characters, so we have given ourselves the freedom to go back and forth in time.”

Gilligan says: “I don’t know what the world’s gonna think, but I could not be more proud to be a part of it.”

While you’re waiting for the premiere, check out the crazy fun at www.bettercallsaul.com, the real-world website where Saul pitches his shady legal prowess.

Who is Bob Odenkirk?

Don’t be surprised if Bob Odenkirk’s face triggers a bout of déjà vu. We’ve all seen that expressive mug before – but remembering exactly where can be a challenge.

The 52-year-old's most recent brush with fame began with a three-episode stint as a guest star on Breaking Bad's second season in 2009. He made such an impact that his lusciously corrupt lawyer, Saul Goodman, graduated to become a permanent fixture on the drama the following year.

But long before his comic-spin cycle as a money launderer for blue-meth chef Walter White, he had been imprinted on our minds many times over the past three decades in a slew of film and television roles.

A native of Illinois, raised in the wealthy Chicago suburb of Naperville, Odenkirk is a self-confessed fan of cerebral yet simple humour who credits Monty Python's Flying Circus, Steve Martin and Woody Allen as his strongest comedic ­influences.

But it was his writing that landed him a spot in the big leagues, on the staff of the American comedy institution Saturday Night Live. He wrote sketches for the show from 1987 to 1991, alongside the likes of Robert Smigel, Conan O'Brien, Adam Sandler, David Spade, Chris Rock and Chris Farley (for whom he created the late star's most famous character: Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker).

We caught our first glimpses of Odenkirk the actor on TV through his work with his pal Ben Stiller on The Ben Stiller Show in 1992, and in a recurring role on Garry Shandling's acclaimed The Larry Sanders Show as Larry's agent Stevie Grant. He also popped up sporadically on Roseanne and Tom Arnold's The Jackie Thomas Show.

Odenkirk's reputation and visibility took a major leap forwards into cult status with Mr Show, the HBO sketch-comedy series he co-hosted with fellow stand-up and Arrested Development star David Cross for 33 episodes over four seasons between 1995 and 1998, as they introduced now-famous comedians such as Sarah Silverman, Jack Black and the 24 star Mary Lynn Rajskub in their formative years.

Odenkirk also delivered more mainstream turns as a guest star on shows such as Dr Katz, Professional Therapist; Seinfeld; NewsRadio; Just Shoot Me!; Joey; Curb Your Enthusiasm; Arrested Development; Entourage; Weeds; How I Met Your Mother; Everybody Loves Raymond; The Office; and Fargo.

Film fans, meanwhile, may grin as they recall Odenkirk's quirky bit parts in movies such as Wayne's World 2, The Cable Guy, Waiting for Guffman and Monkeybone, as well as more substantial roles in Melvin Goes to Dinner (2003) and Nebraska (2013).

Better Call Saul will be broadcast at 10pm on Sunday on OSN First HD

artslife@thenational.ae

Notable salonnières of the Middle East through history

Al Khasan (Okaz, Saudi Arabia)

Tamadir bint Amr Al Harith, known simply as Al Khasan, was a poet from Najd famed for elegies, earning great renown for the eulogy of her brothers Mu’awiyah and Sakhr, both killed in tribal wars. Although not a salonnière, this prestigious 7th century poet fostered a culture of literary criticism and could be found standing in the souq of Okaz and reciting her poetry, publicly pronouncing her views and inviting others to join in the debate on scholarship. She later converted to Islam.

Maryana Marrash (Aleppo)

A poet and writer, Marrash helped revive the tradition of the salon and was an active part of the Nadha movement, or Arab Renaissance. Born to an established family in Aleppo in Ottoman Syria in 1848, Marrash was educated at missionary schools in Aleppo and Beirut at a time when many women did not receive an education. After touring Europe, she began to host salons where writers played chess and cards, competed in the art of poetry, and discussed literature and politics. An accomplished singer and canon player, music and dancing were a part of these evenings.

Princess Nazil Fadil (Cairo)

Princess Nazil Fadil gathered religious, literary and political elite together at her Cairo palace, although she stopped short of inviting women. The princess, a niece of Khedive Ismail, believed that Egypt’s situation could only be solved through education and she donated her own property to help fund the first modern Egyptian University in Cairo.

Mayy Ziyadah (Cairo)

Ziyadah was the first to entertain both men and women at her Cairo salon, founded in 1913. The writer, poet, public speaker and critic, her writing explored language, religious identity, language, nationalism and hierarchy. Born in Nazareth, Palestine, to a Lebanese father and Palestinian mother, her salon was open to different social classes and earned comparisons with souq of where Al Khansa herself once recited.

Company profile

Name: Elggo
Started: August 2022
Founders: Luma Makari and Mirna Mneimneh
Based: Dubai, UAE
Sector: Education technology / health technology
Size: Four employees
Investment stage: Pre-seed

ODI FIXTURE SCHEDULE

First ODI, October 22
Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai

Second ODI, October 25
Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium, Pune

Third ODI, October 29
Venue TBC

RESULTS

West Asia Premiership

Thursday
Jebel Ali Dragons 13-34 Dubai Exiles

Friday
Dubai Knights Eagles 16-27 Dubai Tigers

The specs: Macan Turbo

Engine: Dual synchronous electric motors
Power: 639hp
Torque: 1,130Nm
Transmission: Single-speed automatic
Touring range: 591km
Price: From Dh412,500
On sale: Deliveries start in October

MATCH INFO

Uefa Champions League semi-finals, first leg
Liverpool v Roma

When: April 24, 10.45pm kick-off (UAE)
Where: Anfield, Liverpool
Live: BeIN Sports HD
Second leg: May 2, Stadio Olimpico, Rome

RESULT

Arsenal 0 Chelsea 3
Chelsea: Willian (40'), Batshuayi (42', 49')

Results

7pm: Wathba Stallions Cup – Handicap (PA) Dh70,000 (Dirt) 1,600m; Winner: RB Kings Bay, Abdul Aziz Al Balushi (jockey), Helal Al Alawi (trainer)

7.30pm: Maiden (PA) Dh 70,000 (D) 1,600m; Winner: AF Ensito, Fernando Jara, Mohamed Daggash

8pm: Maiden (PA) Dh70,000 (D) 1,400m; Winner: AF Sourouh, Tadhg O’Shea, Ernst Oertel

8.30pm: Maiden (PA) Dh70,000 (D) 1,800m; Winner: Baaher, Fabrice Veron, Eric Lemartinel

9pm: Maiden (PA) Dh70,000 (D) 2,000m; Winner: Mootahady, Antonio Fresu, Eric Lemartinel

9.30pm: Handicap (TB) Dh70,000 (D) 2,000m; Winner: Dubai Canal, Tadhg O’Shea, Satish Seemar

10pm: Al Ain Cup – Prestige (PA) Dh100,000 (D) 2,000m; Winner: Harrab, Bernardo Pinheiro, Majed Al Jahouri